Why driver mental health matters

Published:  22 February, 2019

One of the biggest issues facing van drivers today is also one of the least acknowledged. FTA explains how business owners can help look after their drivers’ wellbeing.

Official statistics show that one in five van drivers describes their current mental health as poor or very poor, and most worryingly, suicide is now recognised as the biggest killer of men under 45*. But despite its prevalence, many drivers suffering with poor mental health do so in silence, for fear of isolation, ridicule or lack of support from those around them. With 4.3 million vans on our roads, this means a huge number of people could be in need of help and support – not just those who operate vans for a living, but those driving to and from jobs, using a van to transport tools or materials.

It is easy to see why van drivers are prone to poor mental health – the combination of unpredictable journey times, traffic congestion, tight deadlines, a high workload and lack of social interaction can lead to stress, exhaustion, poor nutrition and dehydration. While technical skill and legislative compliance is, of course, integral to road safety, many businesses overlook the importance of driver health and wellbeing on performance. Drivers who get behind the wheel when they are unwell, exhausted or distracted by personal issues are less effective and more likely to be involved in an incident.

Only one in three van drivers suffering with mental health issues has discussed their concerns with their manager; it is clear the industry as a whole needs to tackle the stigma around mental health and foster an environment of support, openness and honesty, free from judgement or shame.

Overcoming the root causes of poor mental health requires a long-term strategic approach – industry must come together to create common standards and guidelines to prevent employers turning a blind eye to drivers sacrificing their health for work. Employers should also take the initiative to educate themselves on how to best manage those who may be struggling, as well as implementing strategies to boost wellbeing in the workplace.

FTA, which represents the logistics sector, is using its Van Excellence scheme to highlight the problem of poor mental health and wellbeing among drivers on British roads – an area which is often overlooked by operators – through its Van Excellence Operational Briefings. Back this Spring 2019, the briefings will focus on the mental and physical challenges facing the industry today. The events will cover topics including mental resilience, fatigue prevention, proper diet and hydration, and de-stigmatising mental health. After all, caring for drivers is one of the best ways for employers to improve their safety record.

The three briefings will take place in Edinburgh on 26 March, Derby on 28 March and London on 2 April. Places at FTA's Van Excellence Operational Briefing can be booked for £75 +VAT per person, by visiting fta.co.uk/events or calling 03717 11 22 22.

Administered by FTA, Van Excellence was created in 2010 to promote the safe operation of vans, represent the interests of the sector, and celebrate operators demonstrating excellent standards. Central to the scheme is the Van Excellence Code, a set of minimum best practice standards all van operators should aspire to achieve, covering safety, efficiency and sustainability.

*according to the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

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