Is It Safe for Sick Truckers to Keep Working?

July 9, 2020 Truck Accident Blog

Truckers Who Fall Ill at Work Encounter Many Problems

There are currently almost 2 million truck drivers focused on delivering food, medicine, and other essential products during the COVID-19 outbreak. Sadly, many of these brave people are likely to catch the coronavirus. Sick truckers who fall ill on the road may face some unexpected problems.

Truckers Are More at Risk for Catching COVID-19

Due to the nature of their job, truckers are particularly likely to catch COVID-19. The virus primarily spreads through person-to-person contact, which is why so many areas have been put under stay-at-home orders. However, as essential workers, truckers are still out and about. Since they are far from their home, they end up having to use public restrooms, restaurants, and stores to fulfill basic needs. Even those who spend most of their leisure time in their trucks end up having to go out and risk infection to refuel. All of this travel means truckers get exposed to hundreds of people’s germs on each trip.

The Problem With Driving While Ill

There are several major concerns associated with truck drivers who work while sick. Of course, the health of the truckers themselves is a cause for worry. When a person has COVID-19, they need to rest and sleep while their immune system fights off the virus. If a person is overworked during a COVID infection, they may get weaker and sicker. Those who end up in the hospital fighting to breathe are often people who were not properly cared for during the earlier stages of the virus.

sick truckers

Another issue is that truckers cannot focus on driving safely when they are ill. A coughing fit that comes at the wrong time could leave a trucker running a light or failing to slow down in time. Many people with coronavirus report that they can barely stay awake while sick because the disease tires them out so much. As trucking accident lawyers can attest, driver fatigue is one of the biggest causes behind major crashes. A truck driver who is so sick and tired they fall asleep can end up in major accidents.

A final problem with driving while ill is that it greatly increases the rate of COVID-19 exposure. Coronavirus particles can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and 72 hours on plastic or steel. This means that a trucker may end up spreading COVID-19 when they deliver goods. Most truckers will also have to make several stops on their route, and each stop can potentially spread coronavirus to others. Even if a trucker just has a mild cough or other subtle symptoms, they can still be highly contagious.

The Best Course of Action for Sick Truckers

If a driver does get sick, continuing to drive a load to the final destination is not advised. Those who are having trouble breathing, have a high fever, shortness of breath, changes to mental state, or chest pain should visit an emergency room promptly. Those who have milder symptoms of COVID-19, like loss of smell and a cough, should get tested and make plans for quarantining if they test positive. The CDC emphasizes that no driver should work when they are ill.

Doctors recommend that a truck driver who catches COVID-19 should find a safe place where they can rest and quarantine. Some may be able to find a motel on their route where they can stay, or others may be able to arrange transportation back to their home. Sadly, this is not feasible for all truckers. Many work with companies that will not help them pay for motel accommodations and other medical expenses on the road. For these people, it may instead be advisable to find a safe spot to park for a while and quarantine in the cab. Keep in mind that this is a last resort place for quarantining. Doctors have pointed out that a truck cab is an unadvisable place to have COVID-19 due to the lack of running water or care from others.

Some Companies May Not Be Properly Addressing the Problem of Sick Truckers

Ideally, a trucker who is ill should be able to find a place to rest and recover. However, many companies are not making it easy for truckers to do so. Instead, they are often dismissing drivers’ concerns about potentially having COVID-19. For example one of the biggest trucking companies in the nation has been sending emails encouraging drivers to just stay in their trucks for a few days when they feel under the weather. They claim most truckers who feel sick just have a cold or allergies, so truckers should rest for a couple of days and get back to work. To some safety advocates, this policy encourages truckers with COVID-19 to keep working until they end up having a health crisis on the job.

Truckers also report that their companies have not put any plans into place for caring for sick drivers. Many drivers express worries about getting sick thousands of miles from home and never seeing their families again. Those who do test positive for COVID-19 may have nowhere to stay besides their own truck cab. This can lead them to accidentally expose fellow workers to their illness when they have to exit their cab to use public bathrooms or get food. Truckers are often underpaid, so they may not have finances in place to stay at a hotel when their company is refusing to assist with expenses.

Do Trucking Companies Have a Responsibility to Keep Their Drivers Safe?

Legally speaking, the companies employing all these truck drivers do have a responsibility to keep employees safe. Best practice guidelines from the CDC say that companies ought to:

  • Encourage sick drivers to stay home
  • Train drivers on preventative measures like hand washing and avoiding contact with others
  • Have a department set up to handle all sick drivers’ needs and make it easy for drivers to contact this department
  • Provide every cab with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Provide truckers with safety glasses and face masks
  • Develop new policies for contactless delivery
  • Give truckers a list of truck stops, hotels, and rest areas that are open and following safety practices

Companies that are doing nothing to protect drivers from COVID-19 could be held liable should the illness lead to some kind of accident. Trucking companies have strict regulations in place regarding employee health. When a driver gets in a COVID-19 trucking accident because they are overworked or poorly trained, the trucking company may be held liable in a lawsuit. Furthermore, companies that have ignored health and safety regulations to get more work from drivers may face other legal consequences.

The knowledgeable trucking accident lawyers at RAM Law have years of experience navigating all the legal complexities of trucking law. If you have encountered an ill trucker or gotten into an accident due to a sick driver, we can help. Our New Brunswick, Freehold, and Somerville offices are closed, but we are still working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, so you can arrange a remote consultation via phone, email, or video call. Dial (732) 394-1549 or fill out our online contact form to discuss your case now.

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