Prime Mover Magazine

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Peter Anderson

Take stock of your operation’s mental health

October 2018

At times in our industry, fixation on measurable indicators of business performance such as profitability, margins and the impacts of variable costs such as fuel, maintenance and tolls, mean people and staff related indicators, like health and wellbeing, can be overlooked.

This certainly isn’t to suggest safety isn’t a priority for transport operators because it absolutely is.

I’ve worked in transport for over 40 years and can say with complete confidence that we are investing more in health and safety than ever, because as well as having this as a duty of care to our people, it makes good business sense to have workers that are physically and mentally fit.

A recent Monash University study commissioned by Linfox and the Transport Workers Union gave many of us pause to focus even more squarely on the inherent risks of physical and mental injury, not just from an operational performance perspective, but from a human perspective as well.

The study provided insights into the mental and physical impacts of working in transport, most notably that transport workers are five times more likely than other workers to be injured on the job, and that rail transport workers are 30 times more likely than other workers to develop a mental health condition.

While the transport industry has long-known its workers are more vulnerable to health and medical conditions because of its sedentary nature and heightened exposure to collisions, the findings of this study are timely and enable us to progress the important conversation about improving physical and mental health in transport.

Linfox and the TWU are to be commended for commissioning the study, which provides valuable evidence for our industry.

October brings with it the commemoration of World Mental Health Day on the 10th of the month, which is an opportunity for operators to reflect on and take stock of policies and practices regarding the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce, as an important subset of overall health.

The National Mental Health Commission believes there is a link between the mental wellbeing of Australians and our economic growth as a nation, estimating the cost of mental ill-health in Australia every year to be $4,000 for every tax payer.

Considering the transport industry employs around 625,000 workers1 who pay tax that represents a cost of $2.5 billion to our sector of the economy alone.

So, as well as being the right thing to do by our people, maintaining an operation and associated business practices that fosters positive mental health and wellbeing is good for our economy and makes good business sense.

Road transport drivers – particularly workers travelling long distances away from home – are especially susceptible to loneliness, depression, chronic sleep disturbances, anxiety and other emotional problems.

These can be exacerbated by less of an ability and opportunity for them to communicate with others.

There are practical steps operators can take to promote good mental health and help workers identify signs they may be at risk.

Healthy eating and a regular sleep regimen are important prevention measures, so encourage frequent rest breaks and incentivise good dietary practices, for example by providing complementary fruit and other healthy options at depots.

Most importantly, maintain regular and direct communication with your workers.

Fostering a workplace culture that encourages people to say something if they have physical or mental health or other concerns, is the best way to prevent them becoming larger, more serious problems.

WorkSafe Victoria publishes a range of information sheets to provide guidance to employers about managing work-related stress, described as an employee’s physical, mental and emotional response when they, for example, feel the demands of their work exceed their abilities to complete the work.

The WorkSafe material is also helpful for outlining OH&S Act requirements of employers around maintaining work environments that are safe and without risk to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Other state-based workplace safety regulators provide similar resources and operators are encouraged to re-acquaint themselves with these requirements as part of any organisational mental health stocktake.

These and other resources are vital tools to help operators identify and achieve organisational changes that can move them closer to best practice when it comes to mental and physical health at work.

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