Steering Healthy Minds program changes lanes

Recent studies on truck driver health has pointed for urgent reform to address and prevent poor mental health among drivers.

A year on from the inception of the Steering Healthy Minds (SHM) program, a collaboration between key organisations with interests in the transport industry, it was apparent that funding provided by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) was crucial in establishing mental health first aid training within workplaces.

Whilst no further funding locked in for SHM beyond December 2021, funds have been secured in states such as Western Australia via the Transport Workers Union.

Jo Kitney, a founding member of SMH explains the move signifies a change from a state to a national approach.

“I think it’s gone from being Queensland based to something with has more of a national focus – particularly in Western Australia,” explains Kitney.

“There’s been a significant amount of time and energy invested in getting it to where it is but creating a sustainable program that isn’t solely reliant on funding is the focus at the moment.”

A key area of the programme’s success has been the take up of further programs at industry level. One example being with Kinetic Transport at their Service Side Buses depot at Townsville as part of their national program.

“Looking at it from an organisational perspective, that’s a demonstration of management, worker involvement and the program coming together to be really effective,” said Kitney.

The Central Queensland University in association with Teacho (Transport Education Audit Compliance Health Organisation) are looking at a study from a SHM first aider’s perspective, the management and the workers. The results of that study will be available in the next few months.

Another impact has been the take up of public mental health courses, which are publicly available funded courses that anybody in the transport industry can attend. The take up of those courses has been consistently high and the increased engagement in mental health courses has assisted massively in peer-to-peer counselling – coupled with the SHM Facebook page.

“The consultation between the Steering Healthy Minds management team, its workers and union delegates, establishes the way the program will be completed,” explains Kitney.

“Even having posters, postcards and messaging has shown a greater degree of comfort from workers being able to speak with their peers.”

A range of themes were unearthed at SHM in 2021. Whether it be an incident in the workplace that has either effected a single person or a number of people, or the long journey drivers are undertaking and what they are exposed to or witness as part of the job.

“During Covid, the sense of connection that peer-to-peer support provides shows that mental health is both work and non-work related. These could be difficulties with partners or children. It could be that they are a carer or are experiencing financial difficulties,” said Kitney.

Part of the evaluation process has been whether the topics should signify changes at a regulatory level, but Kitney questions whether this is it timely or appropriate given the amount of noise in the work safety space.

“Safe Work Australia have released their own study on psychological impacts in the workplace,” explains Kitney.

“We’ve also had ISO (International Organization for Standardisation) 4503 released, which focuses on psychological safety, so industry itself has signalled that it’s time to take these things seriously.”

Whilst SHM is searching for a commercial position that enables the program to go forward, it’s still the funding that enables business to engage.

“SHM has resulted in frank and robust conversations around mental health, now we need to make the program sustainable and broaden it to liaise with others where they need to,” said Kitney.

Those wishing to find out more can visit the Steering Healthy Minds website.

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