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Driving towards better mental health

Date: 13 August 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Considering mental health could help fleet managers keep drivers safe. Sean Keywood reports.

Fleet managers should consider the mental health of their drivers in the same way they would the maintenance of their vehicles when it comes to safety.

That's one of the tips on offer from a new guidance report from road safety charity Brake, entitled 'Positive Mental Attitudes: Monitoring Driver Behaviour'.

The report, sponsored by telematics firm Teletrac Navman, is aimed at fleet managers and HR professionals.

With advice from leading fleet industry experts and academics alongside multiple industry case studies, it focuses on the importance of employers being aware of driver attitudes, and highlights the need for organisations to develop a culture that values and prioritises people and their welfare.

The report states, "While there is no guarantee that a happy driver with positive attitudes will be a safe driver, transport psychologists have found that poor attitudes and a negative state of mind can have a detrimental effect on driver safety.

"There are useful procedural steps, at recruitment stage, and when assessing and monitoring drivers, that employers can take to help identify attitudes and state of mind, while also developing an organisational culture that values and prioritises people and their welfare."

Among the experts quoted in the report is Alison Moriarty, road risk and compliance manager for Skanska.

She said, "All fleet vehicles should undergo regular and thorough maintenance checks, to ensure they meet the standards required for safe and efficient operation. In much the same way, the mental welfare of drivers should also be assessed before they are allowed behind the wheel. 

"This helps to ensure the safety of both the driver and other road users, while also limiting the physical, financial and legal repercussions of a crash involving at-work drivers."

Moriarty said that with drivers often spending a lot of time alone in their vehicle, there could be a lack of face-to-face interaction making it difficult for managers to realise something is wrong.

She said potentially risky conditions for drivers included depression, which could make them unconcerned for their own and others' safety, and anxiety, which could cause sufferers to experience periods of unintended helplessness close to a state of paralysis - potentially dangerous when drivers may need to take split-second decisions to avoid a crash.

Moriarty said there was still a stigma around mental health that meant drivers may not want to discuss it with managers, or may not want to mention medications they could be taking, which could have side effects that could affect their driving, such as drowsiness or difficulty concentrating.

She said, "More work needs to be done to raise awareness about mental illness within the fleet industry so that it can be viewed in the same way as any other health condition.

"Only when the problem has been recognised can measures be put in place to ensure drivers with mental illness get the help they need to manage their symptoms, and reduce the risk to themselves and other road users. 

"Fleet managers have a responsibility to introduce a culture that promotes positive mental health within their organisation and supply chain."

The report concludes there are many steps organisations and fleet managers can take to develop and promote a culture that values and prioritises people and their welfare.

It states organisations can create safeguards to identify vulnerable drivers, and ensure they receive the professional help and support they need, and introduce procedural steps, at the recruitment stage, that identify attitudes and state of mind.

For managers, steps can include creating a safe environment for drivers to share their problems without feeling threatened; monitoring and assessing driver risk by introducing tools that profile key behaviour risk characteristics; implementing cross-departmental strategies that address mental health and aim to meet best practice standards; and communicating company policy on mental well-being to all employees.

Managers can also educate employees about mental health conditions via regular emails and training workshops, run targeted interventions that promote and familiarise employees with internal support networks, encourage good driving habits among employees and be aware of the signs of mental health issues, in the workplace and among individual employees.

The report is available for free to Brake Professional members through the charity's website, or to non-members from its online shop.