Maintaining the safety of your drivers should be a priority for all organisations and ensuring your drivers stay healthy and mentally fit, should be very high on your list of concerns.
Organisations need to understand the impact that stress and fatigue can have on company drivers and the associated risks. Employees who drive for the majority of the working day are at an exceptionally high-risk of lifestyle-related health problems. Being exposed to long hours of sitting, poor access to exercise, working mainly alone and having limited availability to healthy foods on the road, are all factors that mean drivers can soon slip into a very unhealthy routine. A routine that if left unchanged, could have a significant impact on their mental well-being, health and ability to work and especially drive safely.
It is obviously essential to monitor your drivers and for them to inform you, or potentially DVLA, about a medical condition that could affect their driving. But fatigue or stress cannot be so easily identified or addressed, and a more focussed understanding is required to improve health and mental well-being.
Absenteeism, and driver turnover have a direct impact on fleet performance, so it is important to get to know your drivers and look for the ‘signs’ of anything that could be affecting their work or life in general. Employing people is not just about paying a wage, their management needs more of a holistic approach.
Sleep deprivation is a key factor in increasing the health and safety risks associated with employees driving tired, and can usually be attributed to stress. During sleep, the brain rebalances both the immune and endocrine systems, so having regular and ‘good sleep’ is essential.
Many collisions caused by drivers can be linked to fatigue. Recent research indicates that driving tired is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Fatigue limits people’s ability to learn and to accurately interpret events. It can also affect perception, memory, or attention and especially response times – skills that are essential for reacting quickly and appropriately whilst driving.
Sleep does not occur without warning, and most people can recognise symptoms, but they do underestimate the dangers of continuing to drive. Warning signs include: increased difficulty in concentrating; yawning and neck muscles relaxing, making the head droop. A ‘micro-sleep’ can occurs when someone sleeps for between two and 30 seconds without realising or remembering, it is often known as head-nodding. This occurs when people are tired but trying to stay awake and can occur especially on monotonous road environments, where the lack of interruptions or driver stimulation can be a contributory factor.
So, what can organisations do?
- Have an open-door policy for your drivers and take time to talk to them – not just about work!
- Build in a social support structure that helps drivers stay on track with their mental well-being
- Find ways to encourage drivers to think more about eating a healthier diet – organise social events that don’t just mean grabbing ‘a pie and pint’
- Provide water bottles for staff – staying hydrated improves concentration
- Subsidise exercise equipment that can be made available at your vehicle hub or depot – taking regular exercise even for a few minutes a day can invigorate the mind and body
- Implement safe driving programs and incentives
- Equip your vehicles with warning systems that keep drivers alert
- Make efforts to keep shift patterns regular and reasonable
- Make sure you are enforcing compliance with driver hours to ensure that your drivers are not driving tired
- ‘Buddy up’ drivers who may be struggling to ensure they are supported
The time you invest in supporting and getting to know your drivers and ensuring they are happy at work will pay dividends in helping you to create a better working environment that will help reduce your organisations exposure to risk.