Mission to tackle mental health challenges in transport industry
On March 9, a special kind of vehicle will roll through the gates of the Wodonga depot of Australian transport and logistics company Ron Finemore Transport.
It’s a big blue truck on a life-saving mission – to raise awareness about mental health and to break down the stigma that’s still attached to talking about the issue.
It’s at the heart of a national road show tour run by Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds, a not-for-profit initiative launched in 2020 with the backing of some of the biggest names in the Australian transport, warehousing and logistic industry – including Ron Finemore Transport – as part of a strategy to address the dangerous state of worker mental health in the sector.
Now in its third year, the Healthy Heads Road Show is heading to regional centres to reach workers at the coalface of the industry, including truck drivers, warehouse and distribution staff, delivering mental health and wellbeing resources and support.
Importantly too, the Road Show events provide a chance for colleagues to come together and have conversations over a cuppa.
“For a lot of people in our industry mental health is something they just don’t talk about – they suffer in silence and don’t get support,” said Ron Finemore Transport Managing Director Mark Parry who is also the Deputy Chair of Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds.
“I think the stigma is starting to lessen but there are many people who aren’t used to having those conversations. We want to make it easier and to have mental wellbeing seen as importantly as physical wellbeing.”
Research reveals the size of the issue compared to other industries. An ongoing study that measures the state of mental health and wellbeing in companies, the Thriving Workplace Index, ranked the transport, warehouse and logistic industry 19 out of 19 industries in Australia.
Mr Parry said there were intrinsic features of jobs in the industry that are mental health risk factors, including fatigue, isolation, and social disconnection.
“Drivers spend long periods of time alone and away from their family and friends and increasingly we’re understanding the impact that isolation can have on mental health,” he said.
“Most of us know when we go to work we’re going to come home at a certain time and can plan that time with our family – that’s not always the case for drivers because they’re delayed on the road or in unloading or loading.”
The ever-present pressures and dangers of being on the road can mean many drivers also have to deal with stressful and sometimes traumatic events.
“When trucks are on the road and the truck pulls out because you’re in their blind spot and you abuse the driver, they’re subject to those things each and every day, the same drivers who are ensuring we have our groceries, our fuel, the things we’ve bought online,” Mr Parry said.
“They are also often witnesses to accidents on the road, and it’s trauma they have to deal with.”
Ron Finemore truck driver Kelli Lynch, who’s been behind the wheel for 12 years, said while her job is rewarding in many ways, it can also be a lonely profession, spending up to 15 hours on the road in one shift.
“They’re long days to sit there and think about things, so I try not to be too much in my own head,” said Ms Lynch, a nominee for this year’s Australian Trucking Association Driver of the Year by Transport Women Australia. “And it can feel very lonely,”
“I listen to audio books a lot and call other drivers and friends to catch up.”
Since joining Ron Finemore’s five years ago, Ms Lynch has been grateful she is only required to do daily runs so she is back home each night in her own bed.
In previous jobs, she could be away for three to four nights a week, sometimes up to two weeks and it eventually took its toll.
“That was really hard being away from my family and friends for so much time,” she said. “You miss out on so many things, especially those spontaneous times when people would be getting together and you couldn’t be with them.”
In 2022, the Healthy Heads Road Show ran 25 events, setting up at warehouses, depots and service stations across five states in its strategy to bring face-to-face engagement to its front line audiences on the road and in their workplaces.
“For things like social disconnection and isolation these Road Show events are particularly important,” said Naomi Frauenfelder, CEO of Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds.
“For drivers, it’s that nature of the role that can have a huge impact on both their mental and physical wellbeing. When you’re driving up to 16 hours a day there’s also limited time for exercise, locating healthy meal choices, and being able to see a doctor or counsellor.
“We know most truck drivers absolutely love their jobs but there are just things we need to do to take better care of them to help them do their jobs.”