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Driver health: Holistic wellbeing

Van Excellence has focused its attention on maintaining driver health, both physical and mental, says Dan Gilkes.

Paul Jackson, head of impairment research at the Transport Research Laboratory

The Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence programme has held three Operational Briefings across the UK, offering fleet managers and van operators an insight into maintaining driver wellbeing. This includes nutrition, hydration, mental resilience and a holistic approach to driver health.

Research by the British Dietetic Association shows that 56% of van drivers consider themselves overweight, while 96% felt that healthy eating was important. However, only 76% took an actual lunch break and 41% of drivers ate their lunch in the van. Unsurprisingly, only 37% eat at least one portion of fruit or vegetables during the working day.

Despite this, hydration is for many, worse than nutrition. Research by Mercedes-Benz Vans shows that many drivers don’t consume enough liquids during the day, partly due to the lack of toilet facilities. In addition, dehydration can also be driven by air conditioning and hot, protective clothing.

The third pillar of health, alongside nutrition and hydration, is sleep, which it seems is a rare commodity among many workers, 20% of people in developed countries suffer some form of sleep problem. A lack of sleep can cause drowsiness, sleep seizures, stress, mood swings, reduced energy and a lack of vigilance.

“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 claims that fatigue accounts for 20% of accidents on UK roads and 30% of fatal incidents. A driver who is awake for 24 hours is seven times more likely to have an accident. Tired drivers also have what is known as microsleeps, which last from a fraction of a second to 2 seconds. At 56mph a van travels 25m/sec, so microsleeping for 2 seconds means 50m of unconscious travel.

Beside physical problems, there are of course a host of mental health concerns that can affect van drivers. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, with one man dying every two hours. To help combat this, Van Excellence has partnered with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably.

CALM operates a 24/7 helpline and a range of campaigns to promote 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 the helpline number and encourage drivers to seek help if they are feeling stressed.

Van Excellence is also calling upon employers to ensure that they have a formalised driver wellbeing programme in place. This can be achieved in three phases. Phase one is an assessment of current policies and procedures, analysing rosters to identify fatigue hotspots.

Phase two involves developing strategies and procedures to support driver health, integrating HR, insurance and telematic data and training managers and transport office staff to recognise stress points. Phase three is the implementation of improvements, checking compliance against new company policies and benchmarking 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.”

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Written by Dan Gilkes

Dan has been a commercial vehicle and construction equipment journalist for almost 30 years. An automotive engineer and former fleet manager, he has driven almost every van, pickup and truck that has been launched in Europe over that time. As editor of VFW, his aim is to keep readers up to date with the latest developments in the light commercial world.

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