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Truck drivers’ health issues raise their crash risk

Truck drivers are 13 times more likely to die at work than other workers.
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Truck drivers’ health issues raise their crash risk

Truck drivers’ health issues raise their crash risk

17 February 2021

By Gaby Grammeno

More Australian men are employed driving trucks than in any other single occupation, but driving for a living involves major health and safety risks. Truck drivers are 13 times more likely to die at work than other workers, and crashes account for a high proportion of disability due to illness and injury.

A study of truck drivers’ physical and mental health has shown that almost one in three truck drivers suffer health conditions that raise their risk of road accidents.

The study

Carried out by Monash University in conjunction with the Transport Workers Union, Linfox and the Centre for Work Health and Safety, the study involved almost 1,400 drivers from all over Australia. Most of them drove B-doubles, including both long-haul drivers (who drove more than 500km in a day) and short-haul drivers (less than 500km per day), as well as owner operator and employee drivers. Most worked from 40 to 60 hours a week, though the long-haul drivers often worked over 60 hours a week.

The study aimed to get a snapshot of drivers’ health and to better understand what can be done to help them be healthy and stay healthy at work.

Twice as many drivers rated their general health as ‘fair to poor’, compared with the average for Australian men. Poor general health was more common in those who worked longer hours, were obese and had more than one medical condition.

Most drivers were overweight or obese – more than in the general population – and reported a variety of other medical conditions they were dealing with. Almost a third of the drivers had three or more diagnosed medical conditions, which is four times more than the average for Australians. The most common medical issues were back problems, high blood pressure and mental health conditions.

For young drivers especially, mental health was a major concern. Around one in five of them had severe levels of psychological distress, compared with one in nine Australian men of the same age. Drivers of all ages were more likely to report severe psychological distress if they worked longer hours, drove short-haul and if they had more than one medical condition.

Two thirds of the drivers reported chronic pain, or pain that had lasted three months or more. Drivers with more than one medical condition were more likely to have severe pain and pain lasting longer than a year.

Driving performance and accident risk

The study assessed driving performance by the number of crashes reported in a year and number of near misses reported in a month. Two thirds of the drivers said that on average, they had one near miss per week. Younger drivers, those who worked longer hours and had more than one medical condition were more likely to have more near misses.

Most of the drivers were satisfied with their ability to do their job, but drivers who were overweight or obese and had more than one medical condition were more likely to say that their work ability was poor.

The study highlighted the impact of poor health on the drivers’ ability to stay safe on the road, as well as other risk factors such as youth and working long hours.

Effects of poor mental health

The consequences of poor mental health have been further underlined by an organisation known as Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds (HHTS), a charitable foundation aiming to promote the prevention and understanding of mental health issues in truck drivers, distribution centre and warehouse staff, and other road transport industry participants.

HHTS cites previous studies reporting that almost half of road transport workers experience a mental health condition, and more than a third of those say their workplace caused it or made it worse.
They note that suicide is one of the top three causes of death in the industry, after heart attacks and heart disease, and that drivers with depression are seven times more likely to have been in a crash.
They also claim truck drivers are less likely to access mental health services.

For all these reasons, normalising, promoting and supporting the mental health of workers in the transport industry is the focus of Steering Healthy Minds, a transport industry mental health initiative.
Among other things, it provides links to resources to assist with psychological health issues.

For more information on the Driving Health Study, including the project reports it’s published, visit Comcare’s website.

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