Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities

Burden, Need and Impact

Banner of workers in the transportation, warehousing and utlities industries

There were approximately 8 million workers in the Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities (TWU) sector in 2017. Although TWU is 5.3% of the workforce, it had 17.8% of the fatalities for U.S. workers. It also had approximately 103,800 occupational injuries and illnesses, 9.9% of the total.1 Injuries and illnesses are challenging to track and are frequently undercounted, but this is the best estimate available at this time.2

NIOSH strives to maximize its impact in occupational safety and health. The TWU Program identifies priorities to guide investments, and base those priorities on the evidence of burden, need and impact. Below are the priority areas for TWU.

Burden

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 2017, 32% of all work-related fatalities associated with transportation incidents occurred in the TWU sector, the highest percentage of any industry sector.2 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. Data illustrate the significance and impact of these injuries:

  • In 2017, there were 666 transportation-related deaths of TWU workers. These deaths occurred across TWU sub-sectors, with the greatest burden in the truck-transportation sub-sector.2
  • In 2017, 68% (455) of on-the-job deaths due to transportation incidents in TWU were in the truck-transportation sub-sector.2
  • In 2017, an estimated 12,740 occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work in transportation and warehousing sub-industries were due to transportation incidents. The rate was 26.9 per 10,000 workers, the highest rate in 5 years, and 5 times the rate for private industry workers.2

Need

NIOSH is the only federal entity responsible for conducting research and developing recommendations to prevent work-related injuries across all TWU workers. Risk of injuries from transportation incidents are a primary concern for TWU workers. The organizational structure of work in the TWU sector, such as long hours of work and time pressures, can exacerbate factors associated with transportation incidents, including fatigue, stress and distraction. Advances in technologies, such as cars and trucks with advanced driving systems, have the potential to improve safety, but they may also present new risks for TWU workers. Research is needed to: identify risk factors; evaluate interventions; explore Prevention through Design (PtD) approaches to improve the safety of vehicles, equipment, and work practices; and understand barriers and aids to adoption of proven control strategies.

Impact

Surveillance and prevention research with our partners improved aviation safety in Alaska leading to a 53% decrease in fatal crashes from 2000 – 2009 and the prior decade. Additional efforts have resulted in the availability of body shape and size data to manufacturers and designers to help design safer truck cabs. Future research findings can be used by our partners to establish best practices and standards, and has the potential to influence equipment and vehicle design.

Burden

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.3 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.4 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.

Need

NIOSH is the only federal entity responsible for conducting research and developing recommendations to prevent work-related injuries across all TWU workers. The new NIOSH Center for Occupational Robotics Research positions NIOSH and partners to proactively address the safety and health implications of advancing robotics technologies for TWU workers. Surveillance research is needed to understand the impact of advances in technologies on injuries, illnesses and the well-being of TWU workers. Research is needed to identify risk factors, develop and improve control technologies, and evaluate emerging technologies as sources of, and interventions for, workplace injuries and illnesses.

Impact

NIOSH review of emerging trends in robotics5 and exoskeletons4 has identified the need for the occupational safety and health community to proactively address the impact of these technologies on worker safety and health. Research has the potential to identify safe and effective human-machine interface designs, develop and improve training for human workers, and evaluate and improve standards and policy. In some sub-sectors, translation research is needed to understand barriers and aids for implementing proven interventions to prevent machine-related injuries of TWU workers.

Burden

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.6-9  Recent data illustrate challenges and health concerns for TWU workers.

  • For the period 2004 to 2013, 34% of TWU workers reported being obese (BMI>30) and 26% reported ever being diagnosed with hypertension.10
  • For the period 2004 to 2013, 45% of TWU workers met CDC guidelines for physical activity.10
  • These same data showed that only 74% of TWU workers had seen a primary health care provider in the 12 months prior to being interviewed.10

Need

NIOSH is the only federal entity responsible for conducting research and developing recommendations to address the health and well-being of TWU workers. Research is needed to better understand how working conditions for TWU workers impact their health and well-being, particularly obesity and associated chronic diseases. Additionally, research is needed to determine the best methods for employer-based programs and to evaluate return-on-investment.  Finally, translation research is needed to understand barriers and aids for employer-based programs to improve TWU worker health and well-being.

Impact

Previous work has been used to raise awareness about health concerns for TWU workers, for example, we disseminated an infographic on obesity risks for truck drivers and have communicated a number of research findings through the NIOSH Science Blog. Our partnerships with labor, industry, government and academia pave the way for future research to be used to improve the health and well-being of TWU workers.


  1. U.S. Census Bureau/BLS [2019]. Current Population Survey (CPS), 2017. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cps/external icon
  2. BLS [2019] Data Tools, Workplace Injuries, Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and Fatal Injuries Profiles, 2017, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/data/#injuriesexternal icon
  3. International Federation of Robotics [2018]. Executive summary world robotics 2018 industrial robots, https://ifr.org/downloads/press2018/Executive_Summary_WR_2018_Industrial_Robots.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
  4. Lowe BD, Dick RB, Hudock S, Bobick T [2016]. Wearable exoskeletons to reduce physical load at work. NIOSH Science Blog, March 4, http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2016/03/04/exoskeletons/
  5. Murashov V, Hearl F, Howard J [2016]. Working safely with robot workers: Recommendations for the new workplace. J Occ Env Hyg 13(3): D61-71.
  6. NIH [1998]. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: the evidence report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 98-408, https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/tools-resources/evidence-based-resource/clinical-guidelines-on-the-identification-evaluationexternal icon
  7. Thompson D, Edelsberg J, Colditz G, Bird AP, Oster G [1999]. Lifetime health and economic consequences of obesity. Arch Intern Med 159:2177-2183.
  8. Martin BC, Church TS, Bonnell R, Ben-Joseph R, Borgstadt T [2009]. The impact of overweight and obesity on the direct medical costs of truck drivers. J Occup Environ Med 51(2):180-184.
  9. Hruby A, Hu FB [2015]. The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. Pharmacoeconomics 33(7):673-689.
  10. NIOSH [2013]. Health behavior charts: National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 2004-2013. Unadjusted prevalence of obesity among workers by industry. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, https://wwwn.cdc.gov/Niosh-whc/chart/nhis-behavior/behavior

Page last reviewed: December 12, 2019