Pulse

A journey dotted with burnouts and no insurance

| Updated on July 06, 2018

Sleep and rest-deprived: Vijay

Sleep and rest-deprived: Ravi Kumar

It’s time to build a highway of health for truckers, who are a neglected lot

Ravi Kumar from Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, has been driving his truck across UP, Haryana and Punjab for many years.

“In these 12 years, no owner has offered medical reimbursement. Whenever I need a doctor, I look for a government hospital,” he says. Long-distance driving has affected his back and wrists, “The heavier the load, the more strain I feel on my wrists. Last winter, I had to have them bandaged because of swelling,” he recalls. And though he needs spectacles too, he cannot afford a pair.

India has one of the largest road networks in the world. Trucks account for a major share of the freight transported, with over 6.6 million trucks traversing the length and breadth of the nation.

But the driving force behind this business, the truck drivers, are facing a burnout.

Strenuous working conditions, long hours and apathy towards their own health contributes to this, says recent research. Truck drivers face high rates of fatality and on-job injury. And what’s worse, more than a third of them have no insurance cover. Research organisation Kantar IMRB and Castrol India conducted a month-long study of 1,000-plus truck drivers between 25 and 55 years, across Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata.

The research revealed that about 25 per cent of truck drivers slept less than or equal to two hours a night while on assignment. As many as 35 per cent catch just 2-4 hours of sleep and another 31 per cent, 4-6 hours. With 12 long-haul trips a month on an average, the sleep duration of truck drivers was inadequate by normal standards.

Drivers often spend over 12 hours a day behind the wheel and work in irregular shifts. Long hours, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, result in many of them complaining of body aches. Over 61 per cent reported constant back pain, which they attributed to non-stop driving.

Apart from physical ailments, 18 per cent of the truckers said they had to deal with physical strain, while 12 per cent complained of mental stress. And this was due to the pressure of reaching destinations on time, meeting tight deadlines. As they seldom got to go home, 10 per cent of them also reported loneliness.

Steps to reduce stress

While the study recommended yoga for drivers to reduce physical and mental stress, and improve mind-body co-ordination, some companies have taken a different approach. Tata Motors and Tata AIG General Insurance launched a programme for heavy motor vehicle drivers to train in defensive driving, have regular medical check-ups, be aware of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse and manage stress.

But drivers like 30-year-old Vijay from interior UP are insecure. He has been driving for eight years and has a wife and two daughters. Having witnessed older drivers worry over their health problems, he understands the need for insurance. “But unfortunately, we all drive private vehicles and are given no medical compensation or assistance of any kind,” he says, reflecting the sorry state of truckers’ health in the country.

The writer is studying with

IIIT-Bangalore

Published on July 06, 2018

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