A few days ago I was driving home from the west country, scanning the airwaves for something to listen to, when a particularly piece made me stop (not literally mind).
It was all about a UK charity called ‘Mates in Mind’, which aims to help people working in the construction industry. It provides employers with support and guidance on mental health, mental illness and mental wellbeing, and advice on how to effectively manage it within an organisation.
They work in partnership with others, including leading charities and organisations such as Mind, Samaritans and Mental Health First Aid England.
From an interview with the Mates in Mind chap I noted a frankly startling statistic; right now one in six UK workers are experiencing depression, anxiety or stress, and with 2.1 million people working in the UK construction industry that represents 350,000 people at any one time. The sector has a high number of male workers and there are specific risks associated with men and mental poor health, with suicide now the leading cause of death in men between 15 and 49.
This got me thinking.
If a typical construction site, where colleagues frequently work together, where camaraderie and cooperation is key to a successful build, where workers frequently talk to each other during breaks, can't encourage men to open up then what about the road transport industry?
It too employs a high number of male workers and, like construction, many of them fall within a similar age bracket.
If you think about the job of professional driving there are over 800,000 HGV and PCV drivers currently working in the UK, and a significant proportion work long hours away from home or away from the yard, but unlike construction workers they often have very little interaction with colleagues or customers. Couple that with the fact that in-vehicle technology is emphasising the feeling of isolation through more remote instruction, more autonomy and less customer engagement, and it’s clear to me that the risks are obvious and, crucially, on the increase.
I often hear people working in our industry say things like ‘why can’t we attract more people into the industry?’ or ‘why do we have a driver shortage?’ and I question if the perception of driving a large vehicle, from those both within and outside the industry, has really changed all that much over recent decades. Surely a factor in this struggle to attract new drivers is the potential loneliness that a driver may experience?
As part of the team behind FORS (the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) I have worked with colleagues throughout the year to help develop the new Standard (to be introduced on 14 January) and we recognised the issue of mental health by introducing a requirement for members to write a policy (with supporting procedures) that address ‘mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety’ to ensure FORS members introduce and maintain an effective system to manage mental health.
While this type of intervention will certainly help I believe there’s a need for more coordinated action to tackle mental health in road transport. Collaboration with the likes of Mates in Mind may help, but it’s ultimately up to the employer to start recognising the importance of engaging with drivers to help alleviate those pressures that may lie buried deep within an employee.
As we move towards a new era (in so many ways!) I believe it’s a priority for employers to become more inclusive, and for the health of our industry there’s a need for more emphasis on support through networks, support through law and support from colleagues in order to make a real difference to those who need it most.