Organisers of the first major survey of truck driver health said the findings point to a need for urgent reform to address and prevent poor mental and physical health among drivers.
The three-year study of almost 1400 truckies by Monash University found that over 80% are overweight or obsess, one in five suffer from severe psychological distress, over 70% live with chronic pain, and almost a third have multiple chronic health conditions.
Conducted in partnership with TWU, Linfox and the Centre for WHS, the survey also reveals risk factors such as: long working hours, sedentary roles, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, and fatigue.
Nick McIntosh, Assistant National Secretary of the TWU, said the study should put pressure on the federal government to address problems in road transport which are linked to driver health.
“This study is utterly shocking in revealing for the first time how poor the health of our drivers is,” said McIntosh.
“Drivers are living with chronic pain, obesity, mental health problems, high blood pressure and back problems. It is bad enough that these poor health outcomes affect so many workers and their families but evidence linking them to truck crashes and near misses shows that the entire community is affected by the problems.
“It is vital we improve the health of drivers, given that trucking is Australia’s most common job, employing one in every thirty three men, or 200,000 drivers. We want to see this made a priority by the federal government and for the entire supply chain examined with a view to regulating the industry.
McIntosh said that the economics at the top of our industry is creating the dynamics which result in poor health for drivers at the bottom of the supply chain and high death rates of drivers and other road users.
“The financial squeeze by major retailers, manufacturers and oil companies which continually demand lower cost contracts from transport operators, results in an industry continually under pressure and subsisting on tight margins.
“This is the reason for the long hours, the stress and the injuries that drivers experience. Now that the evidence is abundantly clear just how badly this impacts drivers, we urge the federal government to act.”
A second report from Monash also tabled in-depth interviews with drivers describing their health conditions.
“Just last week, I had a driver say that he nearly pulled the wheel on the truck to head straight into a tree, because it was just crap; it was too overwhelming for him,” said one driver. “And he’s breaking down crying on the phone.”
“Myself and my ex-wife separated… because I was away so much. So that’s probably one time where I lost everything,” said another truckie.
“My son’s been looking for my guidance and my love I suppose and it hasn’t been there because I’ve been too busy driving trucks and, you know, fighting my own battles,” said another.
Steering Healthy Minds, a project aimed at training transport workers to support colleagues with mental health problems, is being rolled out nationally.
Supported by the TWU, the programme involves encouraging work colleagues to discuss mental health issues or concerns and giving them the information and support they need.
•Half of those surveyed work 41-60 hours per week and 37.5% working over 60 hours per week.
•13% of drivers reported having a crash in the past year with over 70% stating they had a near miss on average once per week. Having three or more chronic conditions nearly doubles the odds of experiencing a crash.
•Over a third of drivers have a diagnosed back problem, double that of the average Australian male, and over a quarter have high blood pressure.
•Almost a third reported being diagnosed with three or more of the health conditions listed, compared to 7.8% of the general population.
•One in two drivers reported some level of psychological distress.