There is always a healthy debate that ensues when people begin considering whether or not new laws should be enforced in the trucking industry. But the debate tends to take on a more robust tone, and sometimes becomes borderline riotous, when the idea of enforcing personal lifestyle choices on drivers becomes the topic of debate. There are a number of trucking companies that have begun to enforce weight restrictions as a hiring criteria in recent years and I believe we’re going to hear a lot more about this in years to come, especially if the economy remains below par and the standard requirements for truck driving jobs remains higher than it has been in the past. The question is, should body mass index be allowed to be a criteria for hiring?
What Is Body Mass Index?
According to the Nutritiondata glossary:
“Body Mass Index is a standardized ratio of weight to height, and is often used as a general indicator of health. Your BMI can be calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in meters). A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal for most adults. Higher BMIs may indicate that an individual is overweight or obese”
In basic terms, it’s an approximation of how much you should weigh based on your height.
Why Would Trucking Companies Enforce This?
Trucking companies are generally looking to find qualified drivers that strike a balance between safety and cost. In other words, they’re not willing to pay a safe, experienced driver tons and tons of money, but they also can’t afford to put drivers out on the highway that have proven to be unsafe just to save a buck on payroll. Profit margins are very tight in the trucking industry and the reality is you have to find a way to turn a profit. Unfortunately, some level of compromise is necessary to achieve this.
A driver’s ability to make safe and responsible decisions is absolutely paramount in the trucking industry and companies are always trying to find new ways of determining whether or not they can trust someone to make the right decisions when they’re out on the road. Checking a person’s credit score is one way in recent years that companies have tried to determine the character of an individual.
Body mass index is becoming another way for trucking companies to attempt to judge the character of a driver, try to reduce their costs, and increase their efficiency. Generally speaking, and this is where people are going to freak; they’ve determined that people who are quite obese do not have the self-discipline, attention to detail, ability to make prudent decisions, or energy level that someone who takes better care of themselves would have. The image they portray of their company and the higher costs of healthcare associated with their level of fitness is also a detriment to the company.
Is Enforcing Body Mass Index Limits Discrimination?
First, the definition of discrimination from Wikipedia:
“Discrimination toward or against a person of a certain group is the treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit”
This is one of the arguments people will make against enforcing such rules. They say you can’t discriminate based on sex or race, so you shouldn’t be able to discriminate based on somebody’s weight. I would agree with this assertion if a person being significantly overweight:
- Had no effect on the ability for them to perform their job as well as someone who is in good shape
- Posed no additional risk to those around them when compared with someone who is in good shape
- Posed no additional costs upon their company compared with someone who is in good shape
I think you’ll find it quite difficult, or nearly impossible, to make those arguments stick – the evidence clearly points to the contrary.
I would also argue that if people believe being morbidly obese is a personal choice and they should have the ability to make that choice for themselves, then why wouldn’t a trucking company be given the equal right to hire the people they believe will give them the best chance for success? If a company can prove that hiring drivers who are morbidly obese will negatively impact the company, they should have the right to refuse hiring that person based on that factor alone. It has not been proven that an employee’s race or sex will have a negative impact on a company or on an employee’s performance of the job, therefore neither are allowed to be a hiring criteria.
How Heavy Is Too Heavy?
Make no mistake about it, companies are not talking about forcing everyone to become lean and mean. Not even close. They’re basically talking about eliminating those that most would consider “morbidly obese”. In other words, we’re not talking about an extra forty or fifty pounds, were generally talking more like an extra hundred pounds or so.
A current example would be from Prime Inc where the maximum BMI is 39, which means someone who is 5′ 7″ can weigh up to 250 pounds. The “ideal weight” they list for 5′ 7″ is about 150 pounds.
Should The FMCSA Be Allowed To Enforce BMI Standards?
As you can see, I clearly believe that body mass index should indeed be allowed to be a factor in whether or not a company chooses to hire an individual. The question for me now becomes “Should the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration) or other government agency be allowed to enforce body mass index standards on the entire trucking industry?”
In my opinion the government should not be the one to enforce these standards on the industry. I feel the companies should be allowed to enforce their own standards on this issue as they see fit. The main reason I feel this way is because the trucking industry is incredibly dynamic. Small changes to the economy can have a massive effect on how many drivers are available for hire. A strong, fast economy can cause a tremendous shortage of drivers, and a big downturn like the one we’re facing now can cause a large surplus of drivers in the industry.
Not only are there large swings in driver availability based on the economy in general, but the ever-changing circumstances within each company can create a large demand for new drivers, or the need to sharply decrease the size of the fleet by letting some drivers go. Swings in the economy, changes by a competing company, the gain or loss of customers, an economic crisis within a company, and a whole range of other factors can have a large effect on the driver requirements within any individual company.
I feel trucking companies are held responsible for their safety by FMCSA enforcement, including the new CSA 2010 Program getting ready to take effect, local law enforcement authorities, and our judicial system. Trucking companies need to retain the flexibility needed to employ higher hiring standards when they have a surplus of drivers available, and lower their standards a bit when a sudden need for drivers arises.
We Want Your Opinion
So how do you feel about it? Should body mass index be allowed as a criteria for hiring within the trucking industry, and should the Federal Government be the one to impose standards, or should trucking companies impose their own standards as they see fit? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think!