Families of US truckers killed on the job left struggling for help

12 days ago

Families of US truckers killed on the job left struggling for help

The Guardian

On the day after Christmas, 56-year-old Daryn Worster, a long-haul truck driver, was seriously injured in a crash near Grants, New Mexico. He died from injuries sustained during the crash.

Though Worster worked for a trucking firm, his wife Joani said she received no help from the company in bringing her husband home from New Mexico to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he would be laid to rest.

“I can’t get a hold of their insurance director. I’ve left four voicemails,” said Joani Worster. “Which hurts. I first asked if I could ride down and pick him up as they retrieved their truck, but they never got back to me.”

She is one of many surviving loved ones of truck drivers in America who die on the job, and feel left to figure out the logistics of retrieving the body as many trucking companies refuse to offer any assistance.

Joani Worster was able to contact Truckers Final Mile, a non-profit dedicated to helping bereaved families coordinate and pay for the costs of transporting a truck driver who lost their life on the road, or helping with travel costs in the case of an injury or illness.

“They’ve given me and our four kids some breathing room. We’re paycheck to paycheck with no savings,” added Worster. “I would still be trying to find the money and means to bring him home.”

Truck driving has long been one of the most dangerous jobs in the US, with truck drivers experiencing fatalities and serious injuries on the job at significantly higher rates than other occupations.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 843 truck drivers lost their lives on the job in 2019. Truck drivers killed on the job accounted for more than one in seven workplace fatalities in the US, with a fatality rate of 26.8 per 100,000 workers, compared with the rate for all US workers of 3.5 fatalities for every 100,000 workers.

A 2014 survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) found truck drivers having to work under tight delivery schedules, through fatigue, dangerous weather conditions and inadequate training as contributing factors to high fatalities and injuries among truck drivers. Covid-19 has increased risks to truck drivers and worsened working conditions as drivers have faced reduced access to services such as food and bathrooms.

For unionized truck drivers, this issue is non-existent, as language in master agreements covering over 100,000 truck drivers ensures companies are responsible for transporting workers and covering expenses in the case of a fatality, illness, or injury on the job, according to Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ safety and health department.

“With deregulation, there’s been this race to the bottom, and these companies have really made driving being a truck driver really tough – long hours, tough work, not paid for all of the work that’s done, and they’ve really trashed the industry. That’s one of the things as a union, we’re trying to fix,” Byrd said.

Today, only a fraction of the more than 3.5 million truck drivers in the US are represented by unions, leaving many workers to rely on the whims of management to assist truck drivers and their families in the case of a fatality, injury or illness on the job.

Robert Palm, an over-the-road (long-haul) truck driver since March 1981, started Truckers Final Mile after experiencing several instances through his career when a loved one or himself was abandoned by a trucking company after an accident.

In 1993, he lost his stepbrother to a trucking accident, and his family was left to retrieve him and his belongings and bring him home. In 1997, his family had to collect him several hundred miles from home after a collision put him in the hospital and the company he worked for provided no assistance for him or his family.

Then in 2010, his appendix ruptured while on the road, and he had to drive himself to an emergency room and experienced the same issue, with the trucking firm he was working for providing no assistance. He was forced to arrange and pay for his own transportation from St Louis, Missouri, to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Shortly after an incident in 2012 when he stopped to assist a truck driver who overturned their trailer into a ravine, he began looking into forming a non-profit to provide assistance to truck drivers and their families who experience accidents on the road and aren’t helped by their employers.

“To our knowledge, with eight years’ of experience doing this charity, there’s no law, no statute, no regulation, no mandate to compel any employer or any company to bring any driver home for any reason,” said Palm. “It’s a thing a lot of drivers need to be educated about because they have the assumption they would be taken care of by their employer.”

On the road on Interstate 10 in Benson, Arizona.
On the road on Interstate 10 in Benson, Arizona. Drivers are often left to fend for themselves when far from home. Photograph: Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy

Palm asserted there were several trucking companies that do provide assistance for drivers and their families in the case of an accident.

“There are those that can’t, won’t, or they simply don’t help bring a driver home. But they’ll go retrieve the truck, they’ll go get the load,” said Palm. “This happens every day.”

Richard Ivey, 53, of Shelby, North Carolina, was at work truck driving in Ohio, when he stopped to assist a mother and her infant child who had been in a traffic collision. While stopped on the side of the road, another vehicle hit them and Ivey was killed on 28 December.

“He was going down the interstate, when he noticed a wreck that had already occurred. He stopped and the lady was trying to get someone to help her get her infant son out of the vehicle,” said Ivey’s daughter, Kristen Ivey. “Another vehicle ended up hitting the car with the baby inside. The baby and mother sustained minor injuries. My dad’s were unfortunately fatal. He was killed on impact.”

Her father’s employer referred them to Truckers Final Mile to assist in retrieving the body and the expenses required to transport him to North Carolina. The death was a shock to Ivey’s daughters, who had just reconnected with their father after five years and re-established a relationship.

“My father was someone who’d give the shirt off his back,” added Kristen Ivey. “He told us he wanted to die doing what he loved and that he did. He was on the road like he wanted, helping someone else. Don’t take your loved ones for granted because we never know what tomorrow holds.”

Ad