By Dan Rankin
Joe Wilhelm, vice president of Ulch Transport Ltd., is well aware of how truck drivers are often portrayed in pop culture.
“The stereotype some people might think of is a truck driver that smokes cigarettes and eats donuts,” he said. “Historically, truck drivers are not always the healthiest people.”
“We want to change that.”
To help ensure their work force doesn’t reinforce that stereotype, on Saturday, Nov. 26 during a safety meeting at Westover Inn in St. Marys, Ulch presented 57 Fitbit fitness trackers to its employees. The move was part of an $11,000 commitment by Ulch, according to Judy McKeegan, safety and compliance. “In our industry we lose good men and women daily to the unhealthy lifestyle and we have decided to be proactive,” she said. “We will be running contests throughout the year to keep up the energy on the project.”
Behind the idea, Wilhelm said, is the fact that in the last 15 years, four Ulch truck drivers have died of heart attacks. “In the last 18 months, we’ve had three drivers who have had heart attacks,” he said, noting that those drivers survived, however they were all left unable to work for periods of time.
On June 9, when Chris Beard, former operations manager and Wilhelm’s brother-in-law, became the latest Ulch employee to have a heart attack, the issue hit home, Wilhelm said. “We need to change people, whether they’re driving a desk or driving a truck,” he said. “We need to educate people, and get them out moving and eating right.”
One employee that has been leading the way in that regard is dispatcher Paul Podsadecki. “A couple of years ago, Paul went through a weight loss and lifestyle change,” Wilhelm said. “He’s a healthier, happier, more productive employee. Luc Lapierre, one of our drivers, he went through it too, and he’s lost over 100 pounds. I said, we need to do this with all of our employees.”
Wilhelm is excited about the new Fitbit challenges the company will begin holding in the new year as they won’t rely on the ‘honour system’ as did previous initiatives, such as on to cut down on smoking.
“It’s easier for me to see, because I can encourage and reward them with these different challenges,” he said. “The first month is ‘Beat the Boss.’ Anybody who does more steps than me for the month of January gets a $50 gift card for the grocery store in town, so you can eat healthier.”
Concurrent three-month and six-month challenges will encourage everyone to get out and move more, he said. “The overall winner for the year, the most steps, is going to get a watch,” said Wilhelm.
Mt. Brydges-based nutrition, strength and conditioning coach Mark Regan, who has helped Ulch employees Paul Podsadecki and Luc Lapierre reach their weight loss goals also spoke Saturday morning about the importance of fitness and nutrition in living a long, healthy life.
“Everybody wants more energy. Everybody wants to feel better. That’s not enough,” he told the assembled employees during his motivational talk. “What’s your reason why you need to take care of your health? I call it my ‘why’.”
Health and nutrition advice will continue for Ulch employees, Wilhelm said, including the best places to stop to eat when they’re on the road, and smarter choices for meals and snacks when using the appliances right there in their trucks. “Instead of a chocolate bar, eat a banana,” he said. “We’re teaching them choices. I don’t know if they’ll participate, but we’ll encourage them and educate them. Hopefully, if it just saves one driver’s life, or if it adds to their quality of life, it’s a win.”