Putting Heavy Vehicle Drivers in Top Gear
The national suicide prevention organisation OzHelp is designing a new program for Aussie truck drivers to help increase their capacity to look after their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Drivers of heavy vehicles, predominantly male, work under some of the toughest conditions and are vulnerable to high incidence of ill health, injury and disease.
A preliminary literature review found that Australian heavy vehicle drivers are subject to constant time pressures and demands relating to meeting regulatory burdens, long workdays, and tight deadlines.
“It has been described as one of the ‘unhealthiest’ and ‘deadliest’ jobs in the country,” says the review.
“Increased work hours, shift work, fatigue, irregular shifts, being away from families, and the need for mental alertness contribute to some drivers turning to alcohol and drug use.
“Not surprisingly, heavy vehicle drivers carry a higher burden of disease and injury than other occupations. The sedentary nature of their occupation, combined with a poor diet and lack of exercise, puts drivers at risk of obesity and developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, mental ill-health, and cardiovascular health issues.
“Truck drivers represent the second highest occupational group, after construction workers, at risk of suicide.”
In 2020, there were an estimated 209,300 truck drivers in Australia, with the average age of 47 years. About 97 per cent of drivers are men and on average, heavy vehicle drivers work 49 hours per week compared to 32.3 hours in the average Australian working week.
The new OzHelp Foundation program is funded through the Commonwealth Government’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative (HVSI). The literature review says drivers’ experience must be central to the design of any solution that addresses their physical and mental health needs.
The findings of this review will help inform the OzHelp Foundation’s development of a health promotion and assistance package that is relevant and meaningful for owner drivers.
“Drivers are subject to constant time pressures and demands, which can lead to depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders,” says the review.
“Stress, long shifts and tight deadlines have been described as barriers to a healthy lifestyle.
"Long days on the road combined with high work demands play a role in shaping drivers’ coping strategies and, ultimately, contributing to their health and wellbeing outcomes.”
The program ‘Health in Gear’ is soon to commence its pilot phase.
“The constraints under which drivers operate have a direct bearing on drivers’ physical health and wellbeing and there is a genuine desire from the driving community for things to change,” said OzHelp Chief Executive Officer, Mr Darren Black.
“Drivers are exceptionally resilient and have a special strength of character. Many have been incredibly open in sharing the challenges and contributing to the design of the upcoming program.” said Mr Black.