A combination of health problems, an ageing workforce and a failure to recruit younger workers is creating a severe shortage of drivers that could damage the overall economy, trade union Unite has warned.
It has called for the industry to invest in the health and welfare of drivers to reverse this.
Unite note that the average of drivers was 48 in 2016 – up from 45.3 in 2001 – and that 13% are aged over 60, while just 1% are under 25. In addition, about 43-60,000 drivers come from the European Union – roughly a quarter of drivers in the UK – a figure that may decline once the UK exits the EU.
Meanwhile levels of injury and ill-health are high for the transportation and storage sector, which includes lorry drivers. Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive record that 52,000 workers suffered from a work related illness and 39,000 had reported a non-fatal injury. The most common form of workplace injury was musculoskeletal, accounting for 53% of cases, followed by stress, depression and anxiety – 29% of cases.
Research has found that driving, particularly long-haul (over 250 miles from base), is recognised as an occupational detriment due to excessive anti-social working hours and unhealthy lifestyles. The risk factors include: obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and disturbed sleep and stress. This leads to diabetes, sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disorders. These disorders are also linked to an increased risk of accidents.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones, said: “The UK is sleepwalking into a driving crisis and we face the genuine prospect of being unable to move goods around the UK, just at the time when Brexit means it is essential that our transport network is operating efficiently in order to keep the economy afloat.
“In order to both recruit new drivers and retain the existing workforce, the industry needs to have a long hard look at itself and end the race to the bottom attitude that currently exists on pay and conditions. Many drivers are forced to operate on a casualised basis, often operating via employment agencies.
“The way drivers are treated is making workers ill and forcing highly dedicated drivers to leave the industry years before their normal retirement date.
“Working conditions will only improve across the board by introducing national collective bargaining so that pay, conditions and driver welfare become standardised. Currently even if one company tries to look after the health and welfare of their workforce they face the prospect of being undercut by rivals.”