by Eliza Booth, Journalist, Infrastructure magazine

The need for a national mental health body for the freight and logistics sector has reached a critical point. Infrastructure spoke to mental health and wellness initiative, Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds, Interim CEO, Lachlan Benson, about the goals of the organisation and what can be done to improve mental health outcomes for workers in freight and logistics.

Alot of time, effort and finances are invested in minimising and eradicating workplace accidents. However, there is often an aspect of workplace safety that is overlooked– mental health and wellness.

One industry that is especially susceptible to poor workplace mental health is the freight and logistics sector. Realising the critical need for improved workplace mental health in the freight and logistics industry, national initiative Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds is looking to raise awareness and improve the lives of workers across the whole sector.

A critical need for better mental health outcomes

Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds is the national body responsible for the promotion and management of improved mental health and well-being outcomes for the freight and logistics sector.

From truck drivers and delivery drivers, to warehouses and head offices, Healthy Heads is working with industry to create conversations, provide support and improve the mental health and well-being of workers to ensure they are happy and healthy.

“The aim of Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds is to deliver a single national mental health plan to road transport and logistics industries,” Mr Benson said.

“The principal object of the foundation is to promote the prevention and control of mental health issues in truck drivers, distribution centres, warehouse staff, and other road industry participants, as well as to support healthier options around diet, exercise and individual well-being.”

The Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds initiative was officially launched on 18 August 2020, marking two years of preparation work that involved raising awareness, creating support systems and national industry initiatives.

“It began as a working group, and then a steering committee of the major transport logistics industry players and their customers,” Mr Benson said.

“It’s been driven very heavily by those founding members, particularly Woolworths, Coles, Linfox, Toll, Qube, Ron Finemore Transport and Australia Post, all of whom have had senior representatives involved in the process since day one to tackle the issue of mental health, which they saw as a challenge, not only in their own businesses, but across the sector as a whole,” Mr Benson said.

The dangers of poor mental health

Statistics show that mental health in this industry is a major issue, not just for individual workers, but also companies both large and small.

Mr Benson said that factors such as long hours, shift work, contact work, fatigue, isolation, traumatic critical incidents, and being away from friends and family for extended periods of time, all contribute to poor mental health outcomes.

“If you look at the statistics across the sector, we’re at a point where almost one in two workers in the sector will experience a mental health issue. Of those, close to 40 per cent of them will say that that issue was caused, or exacerbated by work.”

Furthermore, Mr Benson said that surveys indicate that over 13 per cent of truck drivers have been diagnosed with depression, meaning there are tens of thousands of drivers across the country struggling with potentially fatal mental health issues.

“What we are seeing is that drivers who have depression are seven times more likely to be involved in a crash. But even when you look at the well being piece, the leading cause of death in this industry is heart attack, heart disease and suicide. These are significant issues.

“In fact, when looking at the major statistics from the Super industry around the sector, you’ll find that mental health is the second highest disability claim consistently,” Mr Benson said.

Impacts of covid-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing numerous sectors to slow down and even shut up shop for months, the exactopposite is happening in the freight and logistics sector.

As panic buying swept the nation at the beginning of the lockdowns in Australia, and more people requiring home delivery as retail outlets closed, the demand for goods has risen exponentially.

This has caused a massive strain on workers and resources across the sector and resulted in heavier workloads than ever before.

“It has undoubtedly been a very tough period for the freight logistics sector, very tough,” Mr Benson said. “This has placed incredible stress on supply chains, because at the same time as everyone was being asked to stay at home, we were asking the people in our sector to keep working, and to work above and beyond to keep supply chains functioning.

“It was effectively like the equivalent of Christmas day every day.” The lockdowns have been especially difficult on truck drivers who are facing a number of unique challenges and restrictive rules, causing even more isolation and concern than usual.

Mr Benson said that what many people didn’t realise is that when businesses closed, truck stops also closed, which prevented drivers across the nation from accessing these integral safe spaces.

“That’s the lifeline to keeping those guys on the road and actually their only place of social interaction on those deliveries. To either talk to someone behind a counter, or over a cup of coffee next to their truck,” Mr Benson explained.

“So we actually increased the pressure on them by initially shutting those facilities, and took away their support mechanisms.

Fortunately, that decision was reversed very quickly. “By the same token, when you look at environments around the border closures, there are different rules for borders, so it’s difficult for a transport operator because he’s obviously doing a job and delivering essential goods to people across the country.

But in the back of his mind is the question, ‘‘Will I be able to get home again?’. That’s pretty tough for someone.” Yet throughout the difficult circumstances and pressure on workers, Mr Benson said that the sector should be recognised for its role in helping to keep the economy afloat and businesses open.

“It’s been a period of heightened pressure for the sector, but the sector should be equally commended for its efforts in keeping the economy open, and keeping the economy moving,” Mr Benson said.

A holistic approach to better mental health

The culmination of industry challenges, coupled with the added stress of the pandemic, has highlighted the drastic need for better mental health support of workers to not only save lives, but improve business outcomes for companies – leading to more jobs and happier workers.

In fact, Mr Benson said that it has been demonstrated that for every dollar that goes into mental health in the transport sector, there can be up to a $2.80 return.

This can be seen through improved worker productivity, reduced sick leave and longer serving employees. Mr Benson also said that as an industry it is integral for the larger companies to pitch in and help out the smaller-scale businesses who may be struggling to fund and implement health initiatives in their teams, creating a holistic approach to mental wellness across the sector.

“Those companies that have invested in mental health, which is typically the larger end of town where they have the resources to do so, have mental health programs.

The challenge is that the majority of the industry, starting with single-owner drivers, through to mum and dad transport companies or warehouse companies, and family businesses, is where we need to get the most help, and that’s what Healthy Heads is about.

“This is about the big end of town coming together to support the industry as a whole. We’re doing this for the whole industry. If we don’t look after the people in our sector, we’re not going to have people to drive our trucks or work in our warehouses.”

Mr Benson said the work of Healthy Heads is centred around three main pillars of action: training, standards and wellness. These three pillars inform initiatives with the aim of improving mental health and wellness across the sector including:

  • Increasing and introducing more trained mental health care professionals at transport and freight facilities, including warehouses, distribution centers and truck stops
  • Standardising policies and regulation at transport and logistics facilities, forming a cohesive and industry-wide standard of operations
  • Focusing on the physical, dietary and overall mental wellness of individuals

However, Mr Benson said that the Healthy Heads initiative is only as strong as the support it receives from the industry. It is integral for companies to back the foundation and support the advancement of mental health programs that are available and accessible to all.

“This is an industry for industry solution, and we are only going to be successful if we have all of the industry behind us. We want to work with everyone, and to support all the excellent initiatives that are going on around mental health in the sector.

“What we need is for companies to reach out to Healthy Heads and get involved in the campaign, and to put their resources behind what we’re trying to achieve. We can’t do it on our own, we need the support and participation of the whole industry.”

Photo credit: Ron Finemore Transport

To find out more about the Healthy Head in Trucks & Sheds initiative, and to get involved in creating better mental health support in the freight and logistics sector, please visit www.healthyheads.org.au

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing a personal crisis, or needs someone to talk to, please reach out for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Beyond Blue Coronavirus support service: 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or suicidecallbackservice.org.au

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