Australia’s transport industry has struggled with a serious mental health crisis for some time. With transport and logistics pushed into overdrive to meet increased demand brought on by COVID-19, drivers are starting to feel the pinch more than ever, both physically and mentally.
New studies from Monash University and OzHelp Foundation have revealed that 80 per cent of Australian truckies are either overweight or obese, with one third suffering from multiple chronic health conditions. Compound this with working 49 hours per week compared to the average working week of Australians, which was 32.3 hours in 2019, and the long hours of life on the road have a direct effect on social interactions, which in turn impacts mental health.
“Drivers are living with chronic pain, obesity, mental health problems, high blood pressure and back problems. It is bad enough that these poor health outcomes affect so many workers and their families but evidence linking them to truck crashes and near misses shows that the entire community is affected by the problems,” said Nick McIntosh, Assistant National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union (TWU),
It's high time that supporting driver’s mental and physical wellbeing became a top priority for all companies with employees on the road. Here’s what you can do to get started.
Long hours at the wheel are taking a toll on drivers. Now more than ever.
When deadlines are inflexible and there is a growing workload, it’s all too easy to forget the cost of pushing people to breaking point. Despite the need to keep on trucking, it’s imperative for managers and operators to keep driver health front of mind.
Encouraging drivers to make the most of the time they spend outside of work can help improve the time that they spend at work. Organised sports and other activities based around work groups can help staff to have a healthier attitude, more active lifestyle, and a host of other benefits.
And by effectively managing road hours and ensuring that drivers aren’t being worked into the ground, you can show your staff by deeds rather than words that their wellbeing is important. This encourages them to rest and revive rather than feeling an unspoken demand to keep going to meet the next deadline, even if unsafe.
A focus on safety and wellbeing needs to begin at the top. Without a clear commitment to health from those in leadership positions, there’s less chance of buy-in from the rest of the business. Why should they take it seriously when you don’t?
Building a workplace culture that pushes health, safety and wellbeing to the front of how you operate is important. For example, you could ensure that your business has a robust risk assessment plan. By identifying events and activities that can negatively impact drivers, you can better prepare for them, and institute policies and procedures that can mitigate them. Or, if you’re using telematics and other smart solutions, you can commit to doing more than just monitoring. Use the information you collect to improve driver safety and wellbeing through teaching and information sessions.
Organisations that live and breathe health and safety make it easier for their staff to recognise the importance of looking after themselves, and each other. And it can all start with an open-door policy.
Talking openly and honestly is crucial to drive change for the better.
It’s not easy to talk mental health or to ask for help. Traditional barries to talking about it still exist in many industries, and transport is no exception.
Giving staff in your organisation the impetus to speak candidly need to be prioritised – no matter what the topic. Workers can’t be made to feel scared or ashamed of speaking up. Set the example by speaking first. It will encourage others to follow suit. Ensuring there is also a space where people can feel comfortable to share what’s on their mind is as important as an open-door.
Equally, there needs to be a free flow of information from management to staff. Employee assistance programs, hints and tips on keeping healthy on the road and other forms of assistance need to be business as usual, not unusual. Ensuring everyone feels valued is important.
Australia is a big place, and with such vast distances to travel, drivers can find themselves on the road for days at a time. When you’re removed from friends, family and the usual support frameworks for long periods, it’s easy for physical and mental struggles to become worse.
Managers and support staff must take on a leadership role when it comes to reducing the isolation of drivers on long haul trips. Encouraging socialisation, even if it’s through something as simple as a phone call, can make all the difference for people otherwise isolated a lot of the time. When you’re stuck alone in the cab for longer distances, it can be as simple as listening to your favourite playlist you put together with your family, or the songs you enjoy belting out like nobody is listening.
A powerful way of encouraging and supporting healthier employees is through employee initiatives.
It’s not uncommon for workers to feel like they don’t have a stake in what goes on in the workplace, beyond coming in to work every day. But by enshrining initiatives that instil good health and wellness habits, managers can bring workers into the fold and place them in a position where they control their own health narratives.
Taking the time to introduce exercise and fitness challenges or showing support for national awareness days and causes can normalise subjects that still carry a stigma.
One in two Australian truck drivers reports some level of psychological distress, and almost a third report being diagnosed with three or more health conditions. Mental and physical wellbeing can often get ignored when on the road, and transport managers need to take the lead in providing all staff with the frameworks, capabilities and confidence they need to make health a high priority.