A combination of health problems, an ageing workforce and a failure to recruit younger workers, is creating a crisis in HGV drivers creating severe skills shortages, which will damage the overall health of the economy warns Unite, the UK’s largest union.

The industry is failing to attract younger workers and the average age of large good vehicle (LGV) drivers has increased from 45.3 years in 2001 to 48 in 2016. Thirteen per cent of LGV drivers are aged over 60 with just one per cent aged under 25. 

The skills shortage is made more severe as many UK firms have become reliant on eastern European workers to fill gaps, a recruitment strategy that is likely to prove more difficult in future, once the UK leaves the European Union.

It is estimated that out of the UK’s 250,000 drivers, between 43,000-60,000 are from the European Union. Earlier this year the Freight Transport Association warned that the availability of migrant drivers was declining.

Ill-health very high

Levels of injury and ill-health are incredibly high for the transportation and storage sector (which includes lorry drivers). The latest figures from the HSE 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 per cent of cases, this was followed by cases of stress, depression and anxiety which are 29 per cent of cases.

Occupational detriment

Research has found that LGV 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.

The health problems associated with driving could be a contributory factor in drivers falling asleep at the wheel. In April this year a confidential survey by Unite of its HGV drivers found that 29 per cent admitted having fallen asleep at the wheel of a lorry.

The problems facing drivers are set to increase due to European Union proosals which will see maximum driving times increased and minimum rest times cut. 

Driving crisis

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.”


Notes to editors:

Long hours and poor facilities risking driver lives 

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.  Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.