Australian study has truck driver health in its sights

Monash University

Wednesday, 25 September, 2019

Australian study has truck driver health in its sights

Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne have commenced the second stage of the Driving Health research project, a major study into truck driver health geared towards making the industry safer. In this second stage (initiated in September 2019), the Monash Driving Health research team are calling on professional drivers of all kinds of trucks — from light rigids up to road trains — to participate in a survey about their health.

The survey

The survey is being administered by Monash in partnership with the Centre for Work Health and Safety, Linfox Logistics and the Transport Workers’ Union, and with the support of the National Health and Medical Research Council. “Driving is a tough job,” Michael Kaine, National Secretary for the Transport Workers’ Union, said. “We must do more to ensure our drivers are healthy and safe at work. This survey will give us a baseline of information that will allow us to put in better strategies for the future.”

The survey opened this month and can be completed on any device with internet access. It has three phases, with involvement in each phase being voluntary:

  1. Online survey: This 10-minute online survey includes questions around the general health of drivers and aims to provide an overview of driver health and associated factors.
  2. Follow-up survey: Those who complete phase one are given the option to participate further in the study via a 25-minute telephone interview that will offer the researchers further insight into the factors that influence driver health. More information on this phase of the survey is available here.
  3. In the final phase: Participants are given the option to provide the research team with access to their Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme information, which will yield further insights. The Driving Health Explanatory Statement has further information and is available here.

“This survey will provide new insights into factors in the workplace, at home and in the community that affect health in positive and negative ways,” Dr Ross Iles from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine said. “Driving for a living poses many health challenges, both mental and physical, and yet there is little research or documentation that can drive change to help drivers be healthy and stay healthy at work.”

Earlier research

The survey marks the second stage in Monash’s Driver Health project, the first stage of which was completed last year. As part of the first stage in the project, researchers analysed three insurance claims databases. They reported that professional truck drivers are 13 times more likely than any other workers to die on the job — findings that Kaine described as “a wake-up call”. In their earlier research, these researchers analysed data spanning 12 years, a period in which more than 120,000 injury and fatality claims were made. Research also reveals that the driving workforce is getting older and that truck drivers are more than three times more likely to break bones at work compared with other workers.

Occupational health and safety-related risks that professional truck drivers face include: long hours, chronic fatigue and isolation. Tight delivery deadlines also contribute to elevated stress in an already challenging workplace. Mental health is a persistent issue faced by professional truck drivers, with research showing that truck drivers take, on average, more than 10 weeks’ leave when work-related mental health factors result in a driver being unfit for work. Mental health risks are also associated with transport workers in other sectors. As Kaine points out: “Bus drivers are also at higher risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, burnout, suicide and alcohol abuse.”

Road ahead

With the help of Driving Health’s partners, the researchers will use the survey’s findings to engage the industry and assist in developing new approaches geared towards the prevention and reduction of risk to physical and mental health within the sector, which marks the final stage of the project. According to the Driving Health website, the researchers will combine insights from last year’s study with the survey data and “on the ground” transport sector knowledge to formulate a set of “ready to implement” interventions that can be implemented by employers and drivers.

“We know that employers can play a huge part in workers’ health and some employers in the industry will need guidance to support the health of their drivers,” Iles said. The researchers will distribute both preliminary and final study findings — the former are expected in early 2020, while the latter are expected to be available by the end of 2020.

More information on the study, including registration to take part in the survey, can be found here.

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