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Welcome to this broad and diverse topic. It ranges from physical to mental health, wellbeing, prevention, detection and of course, advice on each area. Whilst physical health is generally understood by all, mental health can be easily missed or ignored with extremely serious consequences. It is therefore essential that guidance on all areas of health is considered, implemented, and reviewed.

Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Research has shown that work-related stress has an adverse effect for businesses in terms of maintaining business output and performance, staff turnover, attendance, along with business image and reputation.

It is therefore paramount that you understand what you are looking at but also the potential consequences that your business could face should they decide to ignore the problem.

Work-place stress can also adversely affect a person’s behaviour behind the wheel and their ability to drive safely. There is plenty of research that shows a link between driver stress and unsafe driving behaviours – such as poor road positioning and aggression relating to greater speed and road traffic violations. Consideration should also be made to the impact that an individual driver’s behaviour can have on other road users.

In the UK, the increasingly demanding work culture is one of the biggest contributors to stress among the general population. Identifying stress as early as possible is an important part of managing risk amongst your business drivers.

There are other key contributors to stress, such as financial wellbeing, relationship issues, bereavement or the risk of unemployment. All of these have been very much exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – see our Covid-19 supplement for more details.

Mental Wellbeing

Mental health is defined as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’. (World Health Organisation).

Mental wellbeing can be broken down into these 7 key areas as defined by www.87percent.co.uk (87% are a team of experts in psychology, technology and business that has come together to solve a critical issue that businesses are facing today and the 87% platform has been designed to provide the insights necessary to measure, understand and improve mental wellbeing).

  • Quality of Life – your overall feeling of wellness and satisfaction.
  • Emotions – how you cope and react to people and situations.
  • Work – How you engage with your job, career, and colleagues.
  • Growth – Your desire and opportunity to learn skills and knowledge.
  • Body – Your physical wellbeing, exercise, and activity.
  • Relationships – How well you are connected to other people.
  • Self Esteem – Your ability to know yourself and make mindful decisions.

How common are mental health problems? 

  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
  • 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.
  • Depression is among the most common psychiatric disorders affecting the population.
  • Work-related stress is a major cause of occupational ill health causing severe physical and psychological conditions.

Symptoms

Anxiety: 

  • Worry and fear
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Pounding heart
  • Tense muscles
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling sick
  • Restlessness
  • Panic attacks

Depression: 

  • Low mood
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Low energy and appetite
  • Numbness
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Self-harm

Stress:

  • Feel overwhelmed
  • Have racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  • Be irritable
  • Feel constantly worried, anxious or scared
  • Feel a lack of self-confidence
  • Have trouble sleeping or feel tired all the time
  • Avoid things or people you are having problems with
  • Eating more or less than usual

Consequences

Mental Health problems can lead to:

  • Lapses in concentration leading to poor productivity and human error
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Road rage, willing to take risks and generally being less cautious
  • Increased incidents
  • High staff turnover
  • Poor performance

Legal requirements and known costs

Employers have duties under health and safety law for on-the-road work activities. Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees whilst at work. This duty extends to ensuring the health and safety of employees when they are “driving at work” so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must also ensure that others are not put at risk by their work-related driving activities.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires you to manage health and safety effectively. You must carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of your employees, while they are at work, and to other people who may be affected by your organisation’s work activities (Health and Safety Executive).

  • 15.4 million working days lost because of stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Conservative estimated cost of £5.2 billion (HSE statistics).
  • 13% of GB road deaths involve a driver over the legal alcohol limit.
  • Drug driving (illicit and medicinal): 5%-20% of road deaths.

General considerations

The 6 key areas for which systems must be in place (see HSE Guidelines):

  • Demands – Workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control – How much say do the people have over the way they work?
  • Support – Encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided.
  • Relationships – Promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – Role clarity and role conflict.
  • Change – How is organisational change (large and small) managed and communicated?

Additional O Licence 

Do drivers of heavy lorries have the appropriate medical certificate? Especially when this is a legal requirement.

Lone workers

The number of lone workers is increasing. HGV drivers are usually lone workers and likely to experience long, unsociable hours, high physical and mental demands, and often long periods of sedentary work.

  • Employers should monitor drivers’ health regularly and adapt their work to accommodate any individual health needs.
  • Employers should assess the risk from lone working for your drivers, especially those that work out of hours.
  • Employers should train, supervise and monitor lone workers.
  • Employers should keep in touch with your workers and respond to any incident.

Training/Coaching 

Are your staff properly trained to include understanding the distracting effects of devices used in vehicles?

Are your drivers coached to develop their understanding of how their health and well-being can have an impact on the way they drive?

Best Practice/Advice for Fleet Managers

Be mindful that to move anything forward will require backing from the top within your business.

Getting buy-in from your senior leadership team that driver wellbeing is important can be challenging, especially when new initiatives will have an associated cost. Consider monetising the annual cost of absenteeism, occupational health costs, third party accident claims, own repair costs and staff turnover along with the associated legal and reputational costs. Present this to your business to help obtain their focus and buy-in.

Advantages: a healthy workforce can have a hugely positive impact on their organisation. Healthy staff are more likely to: •

  • Perform their role and responsibilities well and safely.
  • Be willing to ‘go that extra mile’ when required.
  • Take fewer sick days.
  • Build good relationships with colleagues and customers.
  • Want to stay longer with the organisation.

The results of managing driver wellbeing and the mental health of your driver populations can lead to:

  • Less stress and/ or anxiety when driving.
  • Less likely to be distracted when driving.
  • Drivers are less likely to be physically or emotionally fatigued.
  • Better and safer operation of the vehicle.

Managing driver wellbeing – physical and mental – will help reduce the likelihood of road traffic contraventions (such as speeding), reduce wear and tear and maintenance costs of your vehicles, and reduce the likelihood of vehicle collisions. There are legal and moral reasons to manage driver wellbeing, but financial savings can also be made.

Potential Consequences of not managing wellbeing and mental health.

An unhealthy workplace is usually quite easy to recognise. It can often have:

  • Poor management.
  • A bullying and/or less diverse culture.
  • Ineffective or negative communication.
  • Poor health and safety record.
  • Poor customer service.
  • High levels of absence and employee turnover.
  • Reduced productivity.
  • Unreasonably high work demands.
  • Sickness absence is often rife and there is little commitment by the employee to the organisation.

Employers can help with drivers’ mental health and wellbeing by promoting a culture of openness about mental health. Make it a focus and a priority within your organisations. Ensure top-down awareness and leadership.

Having support and backup from your senior leadership and health and safety teams will allow for you as a Fleet Manager to promote driver wellbeing and good mental health within your own areas of influence and also help to ensure that employee-wide commitments are fully adopted.

Fleet and line management should keep the dialogue open with drivers and have a readily available channel for drivers to express any potential concern that might impact on their driving activities. It needs to be a two-way communication process to demonstrate management are listening and willing to create change if necessary.

The use of technology can also help identify mental health issues. There are many wellbeing phone apps currently available which enable employees’ mental health to be monitored. Telematics technology can also identify any trends or changes in behaviour of drivers behind the wheel. Is there a significant increase in speeding of a driver, or has there been more harsh braking or cornering events detected? Is this a sign of a stressed employee? Perhaps even, a driver has had multiple collisions over a period of time. Is this an indicator of something else going on with that driver?

If one of your drivers has been involved in a vehicle collision, consider the processes you have in place immediately following the incident, and also for the extended period after.

  • Do you require, or expect your drivers to get back behind the wheel immediately following the collision if the vehicle is in a road-worthy condition?
  • Do your drivers believe there is that expectation to get ‘back on the road’? The vehicle may be safe, and the driver maybe physically able to drive, but what has the impact been on their emotional well-being following that collision?
  • Are they emotionally well enough to drive safely?
  • Did you know that one of the highest risk times for a vehicle collision, is the time immediately preceding a previous incident?

Check that your drivers feel comfortable getting back behind the wheel following an incident and make sure that they feel empowered and encouraged to say that they are not. Also make sure you have measures in place that can allow for a driver to be collected and returned to a place of safety if they do not wish to drive.

Aftercare following an incident is really important. Many organisations undertake post-collision investigations, which look at obvious reasons and contributing factors to why the incident occurred (such as speed, road conditions, mobile phone use etc.). However post-collision and near miss investigations should also include direct questions to understand the drivers stress levels along with their wellbeing and mental health – both as a potential factor in the incident, but also as a consequence of the incident itself. This should be recorded and reviewed through H&S management in the office. Drivers should be given access to emotional support if needed and consider that they may require coaching to help them develop their confidence or reduce anxiety following an incident.

Document how you manage employee health and wellbeing within your H&S policy document, with specific consideration for employees that drive for work. Monitor absence from work due to stress and set targets for improvement. The number of employees that are off work with stress, and the number of work days lost due to stress are useful and easily obtainable measures of the mental health of your organisation and its employees.

Regularly engage with your team members and staff by scheduling regular 1-2-1s. These can be informal and can provide a good opportunity for you to ‘check-in’ with your employees. Include open questions such as “How are you feeling?” or “Is there anything bothering or concerning you at the moment?” as part of the conversation. Make sure these are done using a video call if a face-to-face, 1-2-1 isn’t possible.

Ensure that all staff know who they can go to (not just their line manager) for a confidential chat. Consider qualifying employees as Mental Health First Aiders. Having an Employee Assistance and Education programme, including online resources is also important and can offer personalised specialist assistance to help employees to overcome personal issues.

Physical health and medical conditions

Remember driver wellbeing is a holistic approach which includes; emotional and mental health as well as the physical health of your drivers. Drivers are sometimes unseen in a workplace as they are out on the road and unfortunately it is often harder for drivers to access healthy food and drink options or to exercise and take suitable breaks. Over time this can have a bad impact on the health of your drivers. Promote good physical health and wellbeing amongst your drivers. Some important physical health checks and considerations include:

  • Regular eye-sight checks, at least every 2 years.
  • Notification to the DVLA of any medical condition that may impact an employees’ ability to drive – such as Type 1 diabetes, or Sleep Apnoea. Employees don’t have to disclose their medical condition to you as an employer but they do have the legal responsibility to notify the DVLA. Ensure that your drivers are aware of their responsibility with notification of medical conditions.
  • Medicines and pharmaceuticals can impact a person’s ability to drive. Make sure that there is an awareness with your drivers to check the label/ leaflet for direction on whether it is safe to drive. This applies to both prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
  • Alcohol: ‘The morning after effect’. It is illegal to drive with unsafe levels of alcohol in your system. Reiterate to drivers at any appropriate opportunity that alcohol may still be in their system and they may be over the legal limit the following morning after consumption. The safest and best advice is to avoid alcohol completely the night before you have to drive.
  • Consider introducing an occupational health service. They will be able to carry out a range of tests and monitoring on your drivers including:
    • Completing a health questionnaire.
    • Introducing blood and urine testing.
    • Checking blood pressure.
    • Mobility, hearing and eye assessments.
  • If a problem is identified, measures can be put into place to monitor the situation. This will not only benefit you, but also the employee, who may not even know they have a medical condition that needs to be addressed. •
  • Driving ergonomics – prolonged exposure to driving vehicles has been identified as a risk factor for lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Make sure your drivers are informed about good driving position and posture.

They should be familiar with the in-cab adjustments (seat, steering wheel, seat belt, head rest etc.) and how to adjust them to ensure an optimum driving position and posture.

Fatigue

Are drivers aware of how dangerous tiredness can be and do they know what to do if they start to feel sleepy?

  • Sleepiness increases reaction time and reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration impairing their ability to drive. The speed at which information is processed and quality of decision-making can also be affected.
  • Drivers are most likely to suffer from fatigue:
    • On long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways,
    • Between 2am and 6am or 2pm and 4pm,
    • After eating,
    • After long working hours,
    • On journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts.

Stress 

  • Prolonged periods of stress, including work-related stress will have an adverse effect on health, with strong links between stress and physical conditions such as: heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal problems as well a psychological effects such as; anxiety and depression.
  • Stress can also lead to other behaviours that are harmful to health, such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, drug abuse or smoking.
  • Tackling the causes of stress before they lead to ill health problems can potentially prevent long term harm.

Organisations that can help:

Samaritans

Call 116 123 for free

jo@samaritans.org

 

 

MIND

 

Call Infoline 0300 123 3393

Email info@mind.org.uk

 

 

CALM LogoCall 0800 58 58 58 – open 5pm-Midnight

Webchat here

 

 

 

Useful Links

Check if a health condition affects your driving:

https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving

Telling DVLA about a medical condition:

https://www.gov.uk/driving-medical-conditions

Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach

A step-by-step workbook (HSE)

https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wbk01.html