5 min read

Managing driver mental health to mitigate safety risks

Where employee mental health was once widely misunderstood or not acknowledged, in recent years, much progress has been made in both understanding the importance of mental health and taking supportive action to promote positive mental health and wellbeing at work.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that, at any one time, just under one in seven (14.7%) UK workers are dealing with a mental health problem, costing UK businesses an estimated £35bn a year.

These statistics are further supported by figures released by mental health charity MIND, which show that one in four people experience a mental health problem of some kind each year and that one in six people report experiencing a mental health problem in a given week.

stressed workers

Indeed, the scale of the issue on a global basis is underlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as it calculates that 12 billion working days are lost every year across the world due to issues linked to depression and anxiety, leading, inevitably, to huge losses in productivity levels.

Mental health is clearly a critical area that employers can ill-afford to discount. As we enter the winter months, with darker nights and potentially increased workloads for some industries, this becomes even more important. This World Mental Health Day, we’re shining a spotlight on fleet driver mental health and wellbeing, sharing our top tips to keep your drivers healthy and supported on the road.

Driver mental health and wellbeing

Driving is a significant workplace-related activity for many, with 9 million vehicles used for business journeys on a regular basis. It’s a major safety risk for employees – one in three (29%) of all UK road fatalities and more than one in five (21%) of all workplace casualties are due to driving for work.

It’s clear driving brings critical safety concerns for fleets, so ensuring drivers are fit and able to drive safely is key – and looking after mental health and wellbeing is an extremely important part of that.

stressed driver

Poor mental health can have a significant impact on driving safety, making drivers more likely to take risks and be less cautious. Other symptoms of poor mental health include lapses in concentration, heightened fatigue and road rage – all of which are high-risk behaviours that can increase the likelihood of collisions on the road.

Workplace stress can also have an adverse effect on a person’s ability to drive and their behaviour behind the wheel. Research demonstrates the link between driver stress and unsafe driving behaviours – including poor road position and aggression, which can result in excessive speed and acceleration, again, increasing the risk of collision.

In transport, logistics and supply chain industries, a significant proportion of workforces will be male and under the age of 50; a group more susceptible to having poor mental health and wellbeing in today’s society. Additionally, professional drivers have been identified as a high-risk group when it comes to mental health – but keeping an eye on their mental health isn’t as easy as checking their driver’s licence.

“The impact of mental health on driving safely shouldn’t be underestimated. In an era where mental health is just as serious as physical health, it’s important that those charged with managing fleet drivers understand the issue, mitigate risks and seek to identify and resolve these before they magnify. For business fleets, driving will inevitably continue to be a critical part of employees’ day-to-day responsibilities. Prioritising and promoting positive driver mental health and wellbeing is critical in keeping those businesses and employees operating safely on the road.”

Emma Loveday, Senior Fleet Consultant at VWFS Fleet

What can employers do to help with driver mental health and wellbeing?

There are a number of things employers and fleet operators can consider to prioritise driver mental health and wellbeing, such as:

  • Promoting openness about mental health
    Making it a focus and a priority throughout your organisation. Fleet operators should have regular, open conversations with drivers and be available for drivers to express any potential concerns that may impact their driving abilities. A two-way communication process is critical to show management are listening and willing to create change to support drivers where necessary.

  • Check in with drivers on a regular basis
    Schedule frequent 1-2-1s, either face-to-face or via video calls, to monitor and help you to recognise any concerns or changes in character or mood.

  • Using technology to identify driver mental health issues
    Telematics technology can identify any trends or changes in drivers’ behaviour behind the wheel, which might point to mental health concerns. For example, it can highlight significant increases in speeding, excessive harsh braking or concerning events detected. These events could be early indicators of a stressed employee. Additionally, if a driver has had multiple collisions over a short period of time, there may be something else going on with them that needs addressing.

  • Including mental health in health and safety policies and setting targets for improvement
    These targets may be around the number of people off work with stress or the number of work days lost due to stress, for example, which can be good leading indicators of the mental health and wellbeing of your organisation and employees.

  • Signposting drivers to the support available for confidential conversations
    (Outside of their line manager) around mental health concerns – consider qualifying employees as Mental Health First Aiders and offering an Employee Assistance Programme to offer personalised, specialist assistance.

At VWFS Fleet, we understand the importance of driver mental health and offer guidance to help fleet operators support their colleagues who drive for work.