Bus driver health is a serious industry issue. We all read METRO’s article on Aug. 9 on Zen and the Art of Bus Driving (some headline writer obviously read Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in college.) In the article, writer John Fillipone, who is the safety and training manager for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in Aspen, Colo., says that if a driver can become one with this vehicle and at peace with the traffic around him/her then he/she will experience less accidents because they will be less stressed and won’t experience knee-jerk reactions to the situation around them.
“If the operator commits to the Zen method of bus driving (it actually works in any vehicle) from the beginning of his or her career and stays with it all times, he or she will experience less crashes and less stress, which is a win-win for the operator and the company,” write Fillipone.
Whether you practice Zen mastery or not, the truth of the issue is that being a bus driver is a stressful job. Research has shown that bus drivers have higher rates of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal disorders than other occupations. You have to drive around in traffic, bobbing and weaving around oblivious pedestrians and kamikaze cyclists, all while keeping to your schedule and providing excellent customer service. Add to that the pressure of knowing that you have a bus-full of people’s lives in your hands. Anyone would experience stress from these conditions.
The good news is that you can work with your drivers to create an environment and culture that can actually improve bus driver welfare and in the end, improve your company’s bottom line and reputation.
Ways to Improve Driver Health
1. Improve the driver area: Ensure the driver is able to drive in a comfortable position. Ensuring the driver is comfortable will relieve tension in his/her shoulders, back and lumbar areas, which can reduce the possibility of injury.
2. Improve eating habits: While driving on long or even short trips, it is important to stay hydrated and well nourished. Encourage drivers to ensure they have plenty of water and healthy snacks for their trips. Fruits and nuts are good snacks to keep on hand for when they get a break instead of hitting a fast food restaurant or vending machine.
3. Improve management relations: While many drivers enjoy the fact that their normal working environment is free from bosses constantly looking over their shoulder, others feel abandoned by management. Hold regular meetings with your drivers to discuss how their routes are going, ask if they have any questions or concerns and give them an opportunity to meet with management so they feel more attached to the company than being “just a driver.”
4. Create a Quiet Area: Sometimes drivers just need to “chill” after a trip and maybe get their Zen on. By offering a place for drivers and other employees to go when they feel stressed out, you are showing your employees that you care about their needs. Providing a quiet place for drivers to just sit and relax in for a few minutes after a stressful trip can do wonders for their well-being.
5. Make it easier for bus drivers to be healthy: Establishing a wellness program for the company will go a long way to keeping drivers and other employees healthy. Think about putting an exercise room in the garage. Develop semi-regular nutritional and health seminars. You will see that these efforts will go a long way to cutting down healthcare costs as employees take better care of themselves.
While you can’t take all the stressors of driving off the road, as an employer you can encourage your drivers to live heathier by eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and finding activities to help them alleviate stress, which may be exercise or meditating. Spending some money on providing healthy lifestyle benefits to employees will go a long way in not only cutting down healthcare costs for the company, but can also improve customer service and your company’s reputation. Healthier and happier drivers make great customer service ambassadors for your company.