Logistics and occupational health
By Dr Lucy Wright
Occupational health (OH) is a branch of medicine that is concerned with the relationship and interaction between health and work; namely how an individual’s health affects their ability to work and how the work affects their health.
This is very relevant to the work done by logistics companies where fitness to drive and the ability to perform heavy lifting is important but also the stereotype of the unfit and overweight long distance driver is very powerful.
As in most organisations, stress and musculoskeletal issues are a common cause of absence in logistics companies with around 3 per cent of working days lost per year.
Stress in haulage, distribution and warehousing is often seen as part of job with delivery pressures, traffic queues and potential violence from members of the public all being issues that the sector has to manage. Working alone for long periods may also cause issues of isolation from family and colleagues.
Musculoskeletal problems occur in the warehouses among stock pickers but also in drivers who may have to load and unload vehicles. Not just the common issue of back pain in those who lift loads but also shoulder problems from the use of curtain sides on vehicles all require assessment, management, staff training and potential treatment of any issues that arise.
In warehouses dusty conditions can cause potential problems with breathing and freezer work may have an adverse impact on those with some pre-existing medical problems.
Staff behaviours can also cause potential safety risks and drug and alcohol use has serious side effects in this industry not just in vehicle drivers but also in those who work in warehouses where mistakes in shelf loading can be potentially fatal. It is important that companies have clearly stated drug and alcohol policies and robust testing procedures for drug and alcohol testing when required. Specialist advice is needed if developing a drug and alcohol policy especially if it includes testing.
Tiredness and poor sleep are potential problems in staff who drive for a living. This needs to be considered when rostering shifts and medical issues that may impact on this such as sleep apnoea should be screened for and those who have it should be investigated and correctly treated.
Long periods of time in vehicle cabs and shifts are all known to impact on the amount of physical exercise staff take part in. Lack of exercise allied to the ease of availability of high calorie fast food while travelling means that the stereotype of the unfit overweight trucker is well recognised. Being overweight is a significant risk factor in the development of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease all of which carry a risk of losing the Type 2 licence needed to drive heavy goods vehicles as well as causing risk of serious health problems. This means that the logistics sector is one where the benefits of health education and health and wellbeing interventions have a potentially significant business benefit.
The level and type of OH service required will vary according the size and risks of your organisation. The HSE produces useful guidance on logistics to help you work out what you need .
You can contact COHPA to help you contact OH providers to talk over your requirements and SEQOHS accreditation provides reassurance that your provider of choice is working to audited standards of practice.
Dr Lucy Wright CMO OHAssist on behalf of COHPA
Absence Management 2014. Annual Survey Report. CIPD 2014
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