Truck driving is the most common male occupation in Australia, and findings from a study on the health of Australian professional drivers confirm that it’s also one of the most challenging.
The reports released earlier this year are the sixth and seventh in the Driving Health study run by Monash University’s Insurance Work Health Group in partnership with Linfox, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Centre for Work Health and Safety.
The Driving Health study is the first of its kind in Australia and aims to develop evidence on the physical and mental health status of Australian transport workers and factors affecting health and provide recommendations for interventions for improvement.
Interviews with professional drivers and members of their families reveal common themes that impact driver health and wellbeing, including unrealistic demands, financial pressures and lack of respect and recognition, including not being appreciated by the public or management.
“This year has shown us the critical role that truck drivers have in keeping Australia moving,” said lead researcher, Dr Ross Iles.
“They frequently experience isolation and separation from loved ones, and the nature of long-haul work in particular offers limited opportunities for incidental physical activity and good nutrition. This reveals a need for additional supports to ensure they can do their work safely – it’s our turn to keep them moving.”
If anyone is familiar with the pressure on drivers in the trucking industry, it’s Linfox founder Lindsay Fox. The son of a truck driver, Lindsay left school at the age of 16, bought his first truck when he was 19 and went on to build the largest privately-owned transport company in Australia.
Lindsay has experienced first-hand that truck driving can be highly demanding work. This insight inspired the launch of the Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds Foundation (HHTS) in partnership with industry heavyweights in 2020, in the first national approach to tackle mental health in the road transport and logistics industry.
Lindsay is the trusted inaugural Patron of HHTS and Mark Mazurek, CEO Linfox Logistics Australia and New Zealand, is a founding board member. The creation of HHTS is Linfox’s commitment to a unified industry mental health response.
“Drivers touch every part of this vast country, from busy metro areas to the great open roads,” Lindsay explained in a video message following the virtual launch of the HHTS foundation. “They carry every product imaginable, from groceries, grain, livestock, liquids. They work in the mines and serve our ports.”
“Every task they do and every place they go creates its own pressure,” Lindsay said. “I’ve seen the impacts mental health can have on people in our industry and know that it’s time that we speak up on this issue as much as we have done on safety.”
“When you’re under pressure, you try to keep it to yourself. But the only way to get rid of that is to download it to people that you believe in and trust. We do everything we can to encourage this open dialogue between our workforce and our management.”
According to Linfox Group Manager Safety, Health and Wellbeing, Chris Wilks, Linfox’s holistic approach to health and safety includes a range of initiatives covering mental health, nutrition and fitness through Linfox’s Healthy Fox program.
For example, Healthy Fox’s recent remote Connect. Move. Motivate. campaign was aimed at providing a trusted community for men to interact and share which resulted in a 24 per cent improvement in the mental health of team members who joined the challenge. Linfox’s annual companywide Summer of Safety campaign began in November. The first in a series of nine weekly activities features a short video of drivers sharing ideas for ways to stay fit and healthy on the road and will prompt discussion about how individuals can lead the way in safety.
“We know this is highly demanding work,” said Chris. “This critical research gives us further insight into the work and life impacts of truck driving. Since the study began, Linfox has responded to common risk factors that have emerged with tailored initiatives and programs to support our drivers.”
“Truck drivers keep our country moving and nothing is more important than their health and wellbeing,” Chris said.
He said while the journey has begun, the latest results of the Driving Healthy study show that there is much more work to be done.
“Now that we have deeper insights into the challenges that our drivers face, we must continue working together as an industry to help shape the future health of our transport drivers.”