Opinion

VTA – Time to take stock of your operation’s mental health

VTA-column-Issue-21-mental health

The mental health of Australians has dominated much of the medical and wellbeing discussions about COVID-19, which is fair enough considering the impact of lockdowns, restrictions on movement, and stress about loss of jobs and income on our communities.

Notwithstanding the physical impacts of contracting coronavirus for the very small proportion of the population that have, state and Commonwealth governments have recognised restrictions can have adverse mental health outcomes on the broader community and have allocated unprecedented spending to support Australians.

October is National Mental Health Month and it’s worth reflecting on the mental health and wellbeing of the transport industry, and how we are supporting operators and the people they employ to stay on top of their mental health.

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 mental health and wellbeing, can be overlooked.

This certainly isn’t to suggest safety isn’t a priority for transport operators because it absolutely is. As an industry, 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 Monash University study for Linfox and the Transport Workers Union provided insights into the mental and physical impacts of working in transport. Transport workers are five times more likely than other workers to be injured on the job, and rail transport workers are 30 times more likely than other workers to develop a mental health condition.

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 taxpayer.

Considering the transport industry employs around 625,000 workers  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.

The VTA was one of 26 organisations to secure a share in $5.9 million of Commonwealth funding under Round 5 of the Australian Government’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative. This funding will deliver safety benefits for the heavy vehicle industry and other road users.

Projects being funded target areas such as developing or testing innovative new technologies, mental health support for drivers, educational campaigns and much-needed training and development.

The VTA HeadFit, BusinessFit program is designed to effectively drive change and significantly improve the mental health and well-being across the Victorian transport and logistics industry.

Mental ill-health affects not only the health and wellbeing of employees, but also the productivity of operators, and it makes good business sense to address mental health in the workplace.

The VTA project objective is to implement an integrated change management approach to mental health and well-being into transport organisations. It is designed to create a positive workplace environment in employer companies by building workplace cultures, positive leadership, systems and process and individual support into transport and logistics organisations.

To date, recognising and addressing work-related and associated mental health problems has been very small. The VTA recognises effective change requires proactively addressing the organisational and individual factors which influence work-related mental health issues.

This project has an industry wide focus with real benefits for both industry and the community and will roll out across Melbourne and regional Victoria. It will promote and raise the awareness of mental health issues and facilitate and connect organisations with professional service providers when implementing an integrated approach to mental health.

We look forward to sharing more information about the program in due course.

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