‘Essential Worker’ Truckers Encounter New Struggles in Pandemic

by Rosen & Ohr, P.A. | Workers' Compensation Blog
truck drivers essential workers

More than 3.5 million strong, truckers are the backbone of American business. They crisscross the country, keeping us stocked and well fed despite the hazards. Unfortunately, the risks to truck drivers have increased over the last few months during the global pandemic, COVID-19.

Life on the road as a long-haul truck driver has never been glamorous but the recent challenges posed by the coronavirus are threatening the industry’s survival. It’s especially hard on those who are independent or who drive on contract. Many lack the financial umbrella to keep them afloat as demand for their services has declined or as they’ve been sidelined due to illness caused by COVID-19. 

Truckers are designated as “essential workers” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They’re indispensable but exposed to infection and their plight is overlooked, according to The American Trucking Association, a trade industry group.

For those who are out of work after having tested positive for COVID-19, worker’s comp may be an option. Rosen & Ohr is skilled in this area of law in South Florida, giving truckers the upper hand in achieving the results they deserve.  

Contact us now for a free claim review.

How the Pandemic Has Affected Truckers

Since COVID-19 hit America in March, working conditions for truckers have been unpredictable at best. They find rest stops, restaurants and fast food eateries closed due to the virus. It’s often difficult to find a safe haven to park their big rigs so they can catch a few winks.

When they reach their destination with their payload in tow, loading docks may be under-staffed to accept their goods. This makes it difficult for truckers to efficiently head out to the next stop and remain on schedule. As in many other industries, time is money.

Like the rest of America, truckers find it difficult to get hand sanitizers, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. That’s the word from Ingrid Brown, a vocal advocate for truck drivers.  She drives an 80,000-pound truck loaded with produce across the country and back. 

“We’re going into this naked,” Brown said in a New York Times interview. “We are running through a fire with a pair of gasoline pants on. That’s what’s happening. Drivers have no protection.”

As someone who is in regular contact with people across the country, she says, she could become a carrier and infect someone else. Despite the challenges, the 58-year-old grandmother loves the job and relishes her advocacy role.

Many truckers in the industry are under-utilized and underpaid, Brown said. Truck drivers’ income has been hurt as the tonnage transported has declined precipitously. 

Tips for Drivers Who Are On the Road During the Pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides guidance to long-haul truckers:

  • Stay home if symptoms arise. 
  • Follow CDC-recommended steps if sick. Don’t return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met.
  • Follow CDC recommended precautions if a sick family member is at home with COVID-19.
  • Limit close contact by maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet.
  • Limit time spent outside of the truck cab during fueling, loading and unloading, and at rest and truck stops.
  • Use paperless, electronic invoicing for fueling, deliveries and other tasks.
  • Contact customers in advance to make an appointment to load/unload cargo. Be aware that some businesses may not grant access to restrooms.
  • Pack food, water and supplies to limit the number of stops.
  • Avoid shaking hands.
  • Keep the truck well-ventilated.
  • Wear face coverings if there’s a chance of being within six feet of others.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on a routine basis, including the sleeper berth.
  • For disinfection, use products that meet EPA’s criteria. 
  • Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a 60% alcohol hand sanitizer.
  • Use pre-qualified truck stops or hotels identified as having appropriate COVID-19 protections.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep prior to driving. If fatigued while driving, pull over, drink a cup of coffee or take a short nap.
  • When team driving or ride-alongs are required, wear cloth face coverings inside the truck and avoid sharing bedding in the sleeper berth.

Are Essential Workers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19? 

Despite following CDC guidance, truckers and other essential workers may find themselves a victim of COVID-19. If the virus was contracted on the job and being out of work is the only logical option, workers’ comp may be a financial lifeline to replace lost income. 

Workers’ comp law is complex and varies from state to state. Filing a successful claim is a challenge and can take months or even years.

At this time there is no clear answer as to whether essential employees, even those who are on the frontlines of patient treatment, and their surviving families would be entitled to workers’ comp benefits. For this reason, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), a trade publication, expects claims related to COVID-19 to be controversial. 

Many insurance companies that underwrite worker’s comp will fight initial claims relating to on-the-job exposure to the disease. Also, it may be months or years until guidance specific to COVID-19 is established in each state by either the courts, workers’ comp board or legislative intervention.

Interestingly, case law that speaks to this issue harkens back to the 1940s with respect to tuberculosis (TB). OHS advises workers exposed to COVID-19 on the job or the surviving family members of those who have passed away as a result of that exposure to seek the guidance of an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.

Do You Need an Attorney Concentrating on Workers’ Compensation?

The legal team at Rosen & Ohr offer real-world insights into workers’ comp and truck cases, bringing new hope to truckers and other essential workers. 

Rosen & Ohr, P.A. is a personal injury law firm representing injured clients in Fort LauderdaleHollywood, and throughout South Florida. An initial consultation, which is completely confidential, is free. 

Our firm is sensitive to clients’ need to limit exposure to COVID-19. For this reason, they offer video conference capability upon request. Contact us now.