Opinion

Mental health – the invisible adversary for HGV drivers

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Long and lonely hours at the wheel can wreak a heavy toll on the mental wellbeing of HGV drivers, so it’s essential haulage companies do everything they can both to reduce the work-related causes of stress and create an open and accepting environment where drivers feel comfortable reaching out for support with their mental health.


Everyone knows what being healthy means. If you feel healthy you feel good. But just because your physical health is good, it doesn’t mean that your mental health is equally as good.

Mental health is the term used to describe emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. The quality of a someone’s mental health is often measured by how they can cope with everyday stress.

For many years, poor mental health has often been confused with mental illness. This is not the case. Mental health is about someone’s state of mental wellbeing, whether or not they have a psychiatric condition.

Kate Gibbs: "The logistics industry is still over 95 per cent male. It’s a workforce that has almost been ‘conditioned’ not to show weakness, particularly around mental health."

There is now a much greater awareness of mental health. In particular, HGV drivers commonly experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress, all of which impact their ability to work effectively and safely.

Solitary profession

It can be a solitary profession – long hours at the wheel, often with only the radio for company. Of course, for many drivers, this is one of the main attractions of the jobs; not everyone wants or needs company. For others, long hours, night shifts, traffic and time away from home can contribute to some significant mental health issues in drivers.

It’s simple. HGV drivers are the lifeblood of the UK industry and with drivers being in such short supply, maintaining a strong and healthy workforce to drive the haulage industry is essential to success.

Responsible employers of HGV drivers therefore need to be doing all they can to ensure that their workforce stays 100 per cent healthy.

Supporting drivers’ physical health is fairly straightforward. Aside from the fact that all drivers have to take a medical exam before they’re even allowed to earn their licence, most of the issues HGV drivers experience are easy to predict and treat. For example, some of the physical issues HGV drivers might experience include spine and neck pain, injuries from heavy lifting, eye strain (particularly for night drivers), and chronic fatigue.

All these issues can be addressed with proper training, instruction and preventative healthcare options.

If a transport company or other business that employs HGV drivers isn’t already offering some form of help to prevent and treat physical issues in their HGV drivers, they need to start now.

Stigma around mental health

One of the biggest problems of mental health is that it’s difficult to recognise. Because of its long association with mental illness, mental health has, for far too long, carried a stigma. It’s estimated that approximately one in four people in the UK will experience some form of a mental health problem in any given year, with one in six experiencing this every week.

But despite this, it’s one of the most common issues our country faces. Studies conducted by the mental health charity MIND have found that 30 per cent of illnesses in the transport and logistics industry are mental health-related – although this is self-reported and the proportion may even be higher.

30 per cent of illnesses in the transport and logistics industry are mental health-related. Photograph: iStock

Male drivers ‘conditioned’ not to show weakness

Despite its best efforts, the logistics industry is still over 95 per cent male, which means it’s a workforce that has almost been ‘conditioned’ not to show weakness, particularly around mental health.

Statistically, men are much less likely to admit or seek help for mental health problems, leading to a much higher suicide rate among men. This means that HGV companies will need to be extra vigilant around mental health in their employees and put policies in place to support them as much as possible.

Mental health is a much more challenging thing to help with, particularly in the transport and logistics field. Difficult working hours, night shifts, tight deadlines and traffic all build up to a significant risk of mental health issues, and businesses need systems to mitigate them. This may include introducing mental health days, providing mental health care benefits and providing free and confidential counselling to employees at any time.

But more importantly, companies need to create an open and accepting environment, so that employees feel they can talk about their mental health.

When it comes to essential services, HGV drivers are often in the forgotten sector. But without them, most industries would grind to a halt. Without someone to deliver goods and supplies, many businesses simply wouldn’t be able to function. That’s a lot of pressure to begin with, but when you add in the fact that there has been a constant driver shortage for many years now, HGV drivers across the country have been feeling the strain.

Create a safe and secure environment

It will always be challenging for people to come forward with mental health issues so it’s important to provide a safe and secure environment, with no judgment and no fear of people losing their jobs because they’re struggling. Whether that’s providing a hotline for drivers to use, instating ‘mental health days’, or providing free and confidential counselling to employees at any time.

Promoting a good diet and exercise among drivers really can help with mental health struggles. Diet and exercise have been proven time and time again to contribute to mood, making it easier to be positive. So, where they can, transport companies should promote a healthy lifestyle in their drivers, and provide the tools to make that possible.

Focusing on creating a culture of openness and acceptance in your company is essential. HGV drivers who are struggling with their mental health need to be able to feel secure and safe in coming forward with issues, and not fear for losing their jobs, or even just being judged.

So, if you employ HGV drivers, you should be doing everything you can to ensure the physical and mental health of your drivers stays in tip-top shape. Your business depends on it.

The Road Haulage Association is a member-led trade association that supports people and businesses in the road transport industry. The RHA recently joined HSE’s Working Minds’ campaign as a campaign partner.

The Working Minds campaign is now targeting HGV drivers – and their bosses – to promote good mental health whilst at work.

When safe to do so, HGV drivers can also text “BeAMate” for free confidential health support 24/7 – a service provided by Working Minds campaign partner, Mates in Mind. Mates in Mind is a sister charity of the British Safety Council that aims to provide clear information to employers about the available support and guidance on mental health and wellbeing, and how they can address this within their organisations.

See:
rha.uk.net
workright.campaign.gov.uk
matesinmind.org

Kate Gibbs is UK policy and media advisor at the Road Haulage Association (RHA)

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