April 26, 2019

Driving health to top of the agenda

Van Excellence is helping operators look after the physical and mental wellbeing of their drivers. 

The Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence programme is holding three ‘operational briefings’, at sites across the UK, to provide fleet managers and van operators with the necessary tools to help maintain drivers’ physical and mental wellbeing. As with all of us, managers should be considering nutrition, hydration and mental resilience in a holistic approach to driver health.

It is all too easy to stereotype drivers as ‘white van man’ but there are serious issues at play. The British Dietetic Association claims that 56% of van drivers consider themselves overweight, despite 96% feeling that healthy eating was important. However, finding healthy options on the road can be difficult and the BDA’s research shows that only 76% of responding drivers took an actual lunch break. Perhaps less surprisingly, 41% of drivers ate their lunch in the van, while only 37% regularly consume a portion of fruit or vegetables during the working day.

Nutrition is perhaps the most obvious issue for many, though hydration, or the lack of it, can be even worse than nutrition. Research by Mercedes-Benz Vans shows that many drivers don’t consumer enough liquids during the day, partly due to a lack of toilet facilities. Dehydration can also be made worse by air conditioning and warm, personal protective clothing.

Sleep problems

While it is perhaps easy for managers to offer drivers advice about nutrition and hydration it would appear that sleep is also a rare commodity among many workers. It is claimed that 20% of people in developed countries suffer some form of sleep problem, whether through anxiety, concerns about work or other domestic factors. A lack of sleep can cause drowsiness, sleep seizures, stress, mood swings, reduced energy and a lack of vigilance, none of which make for a good driver. Poor sleep can also lead to weight gain and reduced immunity, further affecting nutrition.

“Sleeping just 4-5 hours a night for a week impairs our performance to the same extent as being legally over the alcohol limit,” said Marcus de Guingand, managing director of the 3rd Pillar of Health.

He claimed that fatigue accounts for 20% of accidents on UK roads, rising to 30% of fatal incidents. A driver who is awake for 24 hours, is apparently seven times more likely to have an accident. In addition, tired drivers can experience what is known as microsleeps, which last from a fraction of a second to two seconds. Bear in mind that at 56mph a van travels 25m/sec, so microsleeping for two seconds can result in 50m of unconscious travel.

It is no secret that, alongside physical problems, the UK and many developed countries are realising that people have been, and continue to, suffer from a host of mental health concerns, many of which can affect van drivers. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, with one man taking his own life every two hours. Van drivers, often working long hours alone and under stress to achieve delivery targets, can be a prime target for mental health problems.

To help combat this, Van Excellence has partnered with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably. CALM operates a 24/7 helpline to assist with mental health, particularly in young men. The CALMVan initiative will put a tax disc-sized information sticker in 5,000 vans initially. The discs show CALM’s helpline number and encourages drivers to seek help if they are feeling stressed.

Van Excellence is also calling upon employers to formalise their driver wellbeing programmes. They should assess current policies and procedures, analysing rosters to identify fatigue hotspots. This will provide a baseline of wellness.

Integration

Managers can develop strategies and procedures to support driver health, integrating HR departments, insurance and telematic data providers and training managers and transport office staff to recognise stress points. Improvements can then be implemented, allowing companies to introduce new company policies and benchmark against the initial baseline.

“If people are hiding fatigue, you have no idea what sort of a problem you have,” said Paul Jackson, head of impairment research at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

“Poor driver wellbeing is having an impact on many aspects of your business, from customer service to performance, operational costs and crashes.

“Effective management of driver wellness needs a shared approach. However, a well-designed driver wellbeing programme can not only save money, but can also make money.”

Mark Cartwright, head of vans at the FTA, encouraged member companies to get on board with this push for driver wellbeing, comparing van drivers to industrial athletes. By concentrating on nutrition, hydration and mental health, he believes that companies can have healthier drivers, which can only improve performance and productivity for the business and the industry in general.