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Prioritising driver mental wellbeing to reduce fleet risk

In the UK, one in four people experience a mental health problem each year, and one in six report a common mental health problem – such as anxiety and depression – each week.

When we look at the fleet industry, professional drivers have been identified as a high-risk group when it comes to poor mental health. In fact, one in five drivers describe their mental health as poor. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, leasing company, Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) Fleet is shining a light on the potential impact of poor driver mental health on fleet safety – sharing its top tips to help fleet operators drive positive change.

The impact of driver burnout

Studies have shown that a high level of stress can increase driver errors and traffic violations, with there also being a strong correlation between this and aggressive driving styles. These behaviours all increase the chances of road collisions.

“If our minds are preoccupied when driving, our reaction times can be delayed, and our concentration can lapse,” says Paul Starkey, Product Manager for Commercial Vehicles at VWFS Fleet. “It’s essential that fleet operators take their drivers’ mental wellbeing seriously to minimise road risk.”

Stress can come from a range of sources. For example, a study in France illustrates the effect of personal issues on driver safety, finding that the risk of being involved in an at-fault collision was four times higher for people going through a divorce.

But the role itself can be a root cause of stress for fleet drivers, adds Paul. He says: “Having to spend many days or weeks alone, away from family, stuck in traffic jams and dealing with tight delivery deadlines can also harm a driver’s mental health.”

Duty of care

According to data from the Department for Transport (DfT), over 25% of accidents on the UK roads involve people driving for work purposes. In response to this, UK health and safety initiatives have focused on strengthening the laws related to driving at work, aiming to provide robust protection for both employees and employers.

“All employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related stress and support good mental health by conducting regular risk assessments and acting on the results,” shares Paul.

“Identifying stress as early as possible should be an important part of managing risk among your fleet drivers. Aside from providing the relevant training, communication protocols and risk assessments, fleet operators can also implement other initiatives. This could include offering mental health support, stress management resources, and counselling services.”

Supporting drivers’ mental health

To help fleets put safety in the driving seat, VWFS Fleet shares its top tips to help prioritise driver safety and wellbeing:

  1. Fatigue management

DfT statistics show fatigue has a role in 20% of collisions on major roads.

The first port of call is to ensure drivers’ schedules are in line with working time regulations. But, as per Health and Safety Executive guidance, support needs to go beyond managing shift times, as this doesn’t take into account undiagnosed sleep disorders, poor sleep habits and commuting times, which may not allow for sufficient rest between shifts.

Fleet operators can implement flexible policies for those suffering from fatigue, share tips on how to get better rest, as well as highlight the appropriate actions for drivers who are feeling fatigued on shift.

  1. Check in on a regular basis

“Making sure drivers feel empowered and encouraged to share when they’re struggling is key,” explains Paul. “Regular check ins and promoting openness about mental health can help to drive a culture of information-sharing amongst fleet drivers.”

Alongside this, it’s important fleet operators are also clearly communicating to drivers who they can go to if they need a confidential conversation. Businesses can also consider having qualified Mental Health First Aiders throughout their fleet team, as well as implementing an Employee Assistance Programme to allow more tailored support for those who need it.

  1. Promote positive stress management techniques

Given its significant impact on road safety, fleet operators also need to put measures in place to support drivers in managing stress.

This can be as simple as promoting positive stress management techniques, including sharing deep breathing and mindfulness exercises, as well as encouraging a healthy, balanced diet alongside a good exercise routine.  

  1. Monitor telematics data

Telematics data can be an incredibly powerful tool in helping fleet operators to identify and act on driver mental wellbeing concerns.

“Telematics technology can identify any trends or behavioural changes in fleet drivers,” shares Paul. “It can highlight increases in instances of speeding or harsh braking or acceleration, for example, which can be potential indicators of a stressed driver.”

  1. Post-collision care

If a driver has been involved in a road collision, it’s important to ensure the process you have in place for managing this and the driver’s return to the road considers their mental wellbeing and driving confidence.

“Sometimes, fleet drivers can feel pressure to get back on the road quickly after a collision, once the vehicle is in a road-worthy condition,” adds Paul. “However, it’s important that fleet operators are assessing how mentally-ready drivers are, before they get back behind the wheel.

Following a collision, drivers should be given access to emotional support as required, and fleet operators should consider whether there’s a need for additional training to address a lack of confidence or increased driver anxiety following the incident.

“Again, a culture of openness and information sharing is key here – drivers need to feel confident to say when they’re not comfortable,” says Paul.

Stress can manifest itself in different ways for different people. With drivers being on the road, it can be all too easy to miss the warning signs. But fleet drivers are a high-risk group when it comes to stress and poor mental health.

“Fleet operators need to consider the different factors that can impact a driver’s mental wellbeing and create a culture where drivers feel safe and comfortable when they are struggling. It could easily save a life,” concludes Paul.




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