Recent publicity about The Open Road, Open Up initiative, encouraging truckies to talk to their peers about mental health issues, was welcome.
It made me think about comments I made a year ago about mental health and our industry.
Mental health isn’t an easy subject for many people in road transport to talk about, despite widespread de-stigmatisation campaigns in the broader community.
The construction industry has long recognised it has a similar issue with tradies.
Australian construction suicide prevention charity Mates in Construction revealed last year that suicide rates between 2011-19 among male tradies were about twice that of other male workers.
The recent collapse of major construction businesses like Porter Davis in Victoria can only have heightened anxiety.
One of the few studies into the mental wellbeing of Australian truckies was published by Monash University a few years ago. It found that 19 per cent reported having mental health issues, which is roughly in line with the rest of society.
What was disturbing was that one-in-two drivers also reported some level of psychological distress – and that this was most prevalent in those aged under 35.
Suicide has been shown as one of the leading causes of death in young transport workers, second only to external causes of injury, such as motor vehicle crashes.
The bottom line is that truck drivers represent the second highest occupational group at risk of suicide, after construction workers.
Incidentally, the National Road Safety Partnership Program (a project by Monash University and the Accident Research Centre) has released an important paper, The Effect Of ‘Suicide By Truck’ On Drivers.
It found that just as Australian train drivers are exposed to ‘suicide by train’ three times a week, heavy vehicle drivers face a similar rate of truck-related self-harm incidents.
It’s not as if our industry has been standing still.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator funded the OzHelp Foundation to develop a health promotion and assistance package for owner-drivers.
NatRoad is right behind OzHelp, and also has a relationship with The Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds Foundation (HHTS) which works on the prevention side across the road transport and logistics industries in Australia.
Sometimes, it’s hard to be upbeat in the face of what seems like a barrage of bad news. High overheads and inflation, driver shortages and rising charges are all making it harder for operators and drivers to make a living.
Covid-19 took a toll on the mental wellbeing of millions of Australians – and truck drivers were right in the middle of that as constantly changing and confusing health rules made an already taxing job even harder.
When you factor in mounting red tape and a regulatory regime seemingly intent on punishing the most trivial administrative offence, you start to appreciate how tough it is to be a truckie.
Long hours on the road aren’t conducive to healthy lifestyles and it’s important to recognise that some drivers can fall into unhealthy lifestyle habits.
But we badly need more pro-active and reactive mental health support for drivers.
Maybe it requires a partnership with the construction industry? It certainly needs more attention from government.
Road freight is an essential service. We need to treat the people in it as essential service workers.
We need a national approach to what is a national problem.
• Lifeline: visit the website or call 13 11 14.
• Beyond Blue: visit the website or call 1300 22 4636.
• Health In Gear: visit website or call 1800 464 327.
- Warren Clark is NatRoad CEO