Owner Driver, by Tony Sheldon, January 2015
Truck drivers are likely to experience a more stressful working situation when compared to other industries. But help is at hand, writes Tony Sheldon.
It’s a brand new year and a time when many of us will make resolutions for the year ahead. Resolutions to earn more, drink less or lose weight are common, but what about your mental wellbeing?
We all know long-haul truck driving is a stressful industry and usually a solitary profession. You can be driving for hours on end without anyone to speak to, making road transport one of the industries with the highest levels of mental stress.
According to a recent report from Safe Work Australia entitled The Incidence of Accepted Workers’ Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia, road transport was one of the top industries for workers compensation claims for mental stress with 180 claims per 100 million hours worked. In particular, drivers complained of work pressure and exposure to a traumatic event.
Truck driving is Australia’s most dangerous job, with 330 people killed every year in truck smashes. Truck drivers are 15 times more likely to be killed at work than any other industry. Add to that pressure from major clients like Coles that set unreasonable delivery times and you have an industry with a high likelihood of drivers being exposed to trauma or major stress in their lifetime.
That’s why the TWU is backing a service called 1300-DRIVER. It is a free, anonymous and confidential helpline set up by St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and staffed by experienced health professionals. It is designed to provide support and referrals to truck drivers and their families for health and lifestyle issues related to alcohol, tobacco, drugs and other problems. The helpline is available to drivers Australia-wide and will deliver information, counselling and self-help tools to prevent, manage and end unhealthy behaviours, including substance abuse, which is of great concern within the long-haul trucking industry.
Suffering from stress and trauma is common and nothing to be ashamed of, but some people can be afraid to seek help for fear of others finding out. The helpline is a good option if this is something that concerns you, as your phone number does not appear when you call, nor are calls recorded.
1300-DRIVER is a number you should remember this year if you or a friend are facing economic or health pressures while doing your job. We know that economic pressure to stay on the road can be immense, 40 hours becomes 50 hours, 50 hours becomes 60, and sometimes 60 becomes 90 hours just to make ends meet.
A major focus of our job as a union has been to make conditions better for our members so that the stresses and strains of their jobs are reduced. After years of campaigning by the TWU, the Road Safety Remunerations Tribunal was set up with the aim of ending the pressure drivers are put under to speed, skip breaks or overload their vehicles to meet unrealistic deadlines. The government is now reviewing the tribunal and has signalled it may close it down – though it appears a decision on this has been put off until 2015. Closing down the tribunal would only add to the stresses of the job in undermining the Safe Rates legislation that serve to protect truck drivers.
One long-haul owner-driver, Frank Black, says he believes every driver knows speed and fatigue are the major causes of truck accidents. Mr Black said, “No one wants to risk their own or anyone else’s life, but when drivers aren’t paid enough to maintain their vehicles or earn a living wage, they can be forced to speed, skip breaks or carry overweight loads just to survive. It can really strain their health and their safety. The pressures on drivers are huge, and can lead to physical and mental problems so 1300-DRIVER is a good initiative to treat the symptoms.”
The hotline aims to support drivers dealing with other forms of ill health too. Drivers suffer from a range of health and wellbeing issues related to the job. Not only are truck drivers more likely to die at work than others, they are twice as likely to smoke, about 80 per cent are overweight or obese, about 26 per cent abuse alcohol, 54 per cent have poor diets, and 30 per cent are at higher risk of heart attack, diabetes and gastro-intestinal illnesses. If you or a friend would like advice on your physical health or lifestyle habits as they pertain to your job, 1300-DRIVER can help with this too.
This is a unique resource and we urge all drivers to remember the number and if they need to, to make that call. 1300-DRIVER is 24/7 and also operates a website with self-help tools and tips for drivers. They’re not here to tell anyone how to live their lives, just to give a bit of support and lend an ear to people who don’t get heard often enough.
Make it your resolution this year that if you are concerned about the well being of yourself, a friend, or a family member, to call 1300-DRIVER or click on www.1300driver.org.au. If you need help, it’s available here.