When we think of workplace Health and Safety, we often picture worksites with high-risk machinery, tools or chemicals. However, some of the most dangerous environments for employee safety can be found in the heavy vehicle trucking industry - namely commercial long-distance driving.
Long-distance drivers can increase their chance of having an accident due to physical issues such as:
The transport industry is making strides to reduce crashes and road trauma due to fatigue, according to the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland “There has been extensive research aimed at developing on-board driver monitoring and crash prevention devices to reduce fatigue risks.
This includes alarm rest-break reminders and technology to monitor brain wave activity, eye and steering wheel movement, in a bid to alert the driver of a crash risk before it happens. Projects such as this one, are also underway to determine how bio-signals can be used, to detect increasing levels of drowsiness in commercial long-distance drivers.
But, despite best intentions, the effectiveness of these as crash prevention measures, remains unproven.
One possible reason for this is the lack of interactivity; an alarm may remind the driver and brain wave monitoring may detect fatigue, but can either incite action?
The health and safety concerns for long-distance drivers does not stop with physical symptoms, such as dehydration and fatigue. Mental health issues such as depression can also arise, often caused by occupational stressors such as social isolation, sleep deprivation and time pressures. Heads up research found that professional truck drivers have a 7% higher chance of developing depression than other Australians.
According to icare “Truck drivers have a disproportionately high risk of suicide when compared to other male-dominated occupations. In younger truck drivers, it's the leading cause of death”.
These mental health issues can translate to heightened safety risks on the road. This article states that a mental health issue can affect a driver’s performance by “creating an impairment such as an inability to maintain concentration, ill-timed decision making, aggressive driving tactics, or inconsistent judgment”.
The Australian Rotary Health survey I mentioned before found that 27% of drivers experiencing severe depression are six times more likely to have an accident.
So let’s talk about solutions.
We touched on tech earlier, there’s no doubt that innovation is paving the way forward for the transport and logistics industry. I can see huge benefits for employees in using the Talk 5 app and where it may fill in the gaps, that other tech can’t reach.
Firstly, let’s look at the physical wellbeing risks. Talk 5 is able to remind drivers, not only to stop and sleep, but also provide in-truck alerts to dangers they may be less aware of, like drinking more water and eating regularly, to avoid dehydration.
It can also keep a record of rests, sleep duration and food/beverage consumption for line managers to track and measure.
From a mental wellbeing aspect, Talk 5’s talk and text feature enables two-way dialogue and real-time interaction between the driver and manager, counterbalancing the long lonely hours on the road.
Talk 5 can also help overcome the stigma of speaking out about mental health issues. Research shows that Australian truck drivers suffering mental illness are less likely than any other workers to seek medical help and a study by Monash University has revealed that Australian truck drivers suffering mental illness are less likely than any other workers to seek appropriate medical help.
The Talk 5 app allows drivers to answer mental health questions digitally, in a less confrontational forum, employers can look to Safe Work Australia’s psychosocial risk assessment tool for business, for support in this area.
Before I go let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Talk 5 is an app, yes the app is located on the drivers mobile phone, and yes the use of a mobile phone while driving increases crash risks, even when such use is legal. But we’ve counteracted that.
Talk 5 enables users to fill in WHS information and interact with managers by speaking and listening, as well as reading and writing. It’s hands-free all the way, which takes away another excuse for the driver not to regularly report in on their physical and mental wellbeing.
More information on depression within the heavy vehicle trucking industry can be found here and support to improve the health of truck drivers can be found here.