W. Karl Sieber PhD, NIOSH; Jennifer E. Lincoln MS, MEd, NIOSH; R.J. Matetic PhD, NIOSH
The NIOSH Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities (TWU) Program works with partners in industry, labor, trade associations, professional organizations, and academia to address the leading causes of work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among TWU workers. The Transportation sector includes industries that transport passengers and freight, scenic and sightseeing transportation, and support activities for transportation. The Warehousing sector covers industries providing warehousing and storage of goods. The Utilities sector includes industries which provide, service, and distribute electric power, natural gas, steam supply, and sewage removal. Although TWU workers account for 5.4% of the workforce (approximately 8.4 million workers in 2019), they accounted for 17.5% of the fatalities for all U.S. workers. They also sustained approximately 108,000 occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, 12.1% of the total for all US workers. The goals of the TWU program are (1) reducing transportation incidents and related injuries among TWU workers; (2) addressing human-machine interaction to reduce injuries and illnesses among TWU workers; and (3) reducing obesity and chronic disease among TWU workers. The TWU program strives to fulfill its mission through high quality research, practical solutions, partnerships, and Research to Practice (r2p).
Transportation incidents are the leading cause of work-related injury death among all major industry sectors, and the burden is especially high in TWU. In 2019, 31% (658) of all work-related fatalities associated with transportation incidents occurred in the TWU sector, the highest percentage of any industry sector. The greatest burden of transportation related fatalities was in the truck transportation sector (471). Numbers of nonfatal injuries due to transportation incidents are similarly high. Fatigue, long hours of work, and irregular work schedules are contributors to transportation-related injuries among TWU workers. Transportation-related injuries of TWU workers can result in pain and suffering to the workers, and sometimes long-term disability that impacts future employment. Employers bear workers? compensation costs and lost productivity, in addition to other associated costs such as replacement and training. There are also societal impacts, given how critical TWU workers are to the nation in delivering goods and services. In 2019, the rate of occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work from transportation incidents was 25.4 per 10,000 workers in transportation and warehousing sub-industries, 5 times the rate for all private industry workers.
Interactions between workers and machines in TWU have been beneficial to the employer and worker by reducing workload, repetitive tasks, and increasing production capabilities. The International Federation of Robotics reports sharp increases in sales and is projecting that a new type of robot, collaborative robots that work alongside and in conjunction with human workers, will have a market breakthrough in the next several years. Wearable robotics, such as exoskeletons to reduce physical loads on workers, are being marketed and have the potential to reduce musculoskeletal disorders among TWU workers. Vehicles increasingly have automated safety features, and fully autonomous vehicles, including commercial trucks and transit vehicles, are currently being piloted on U.S. roadways. Technologic advances have the potential to improve safety in many areas. However, the pace of these technologic advances increases the potential for unforeseen hazards being introduced in the workplace.
The demands of many TWU jobs make it difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle. Psychosocial stressors and the work demands of TWU workers create special challenges: tasks may be sedentary in nature, limited options may be available for where and when to eat, sleep periods may be suboptimal, and work arrangements may be nonstandard. TWU workers have a high prevalence of obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic disease that manifests itself in health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and diabetes; premature death and disability; increases in health care costs; lost productivity; and social stigmatization. From 2004 to 2013, 36% of TWU workers reported being obese (Body Mass Index >30), 27% reported ever being diagnosed with hypertension, and 47% of TWU workers met CDC guidelines for physical activity. These same data showed that only 76% of TWU workers had seen a primary health care provider in the 12 months prior to being interviewed
The TWU program collaborates with partners to identify relevant research and to help disseminate research findings and translate them into practice. The program publishes research in scientific journals and translates findings into materials that can be used by a variety of partners and stakeholders to improve the safety, health, and well-being of TWU workers. Products include scientific journal articles, fact sheets, blogs, infographics, and social media messages.