25th September 2016

Mental health, fleet drivers and the positive role organisations can play

Earlier this year, a spotlight was quite rightly shone on obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS), a joint survey1 of 500 UK firms by RAC Business and the OSA Partnership Group finding that one in ten drivers, especially the professional and commercial, are affected by the condition. Approximately one fifth of accidents on main roads and motorways are caused by drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel – and 40% of these incidents involve commercial vehicles. Such statistics hopefully pricked up the ears of fleet managers.

The most at-risk group for sleep apnoea is blokes under the age of 30, over half of the businesses surveyed admitting that they don’t know a great deal about the condition, and just 20% of business drivers saying they would take their concerns to their GP or employer, or inform the DVLA, according to government road safety initiative, THINK!2.

This got us wondering about another somewhat taboo subject that has encouragingly gained more coverage and awareness in recent months, partly due to various celebrities’ stories: mental health.

To uphold safety, it’s understandable that the DVLA makes it mandatory for drivers to inform them if they suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, fits, seizures or convulsions. People living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or paranoia also need to tell the DVLA if their difficulties are serious enough to bring their ability to drive safely at all times into question.

It’s also against the law to drive if the side effects of medication prescribed for common challenges like depression and anxiety cause someone to be drowsy. The DVLA3 holds around 47 million driver records and the HSCIC4 reports that 61 million antidepressants of one kind or another were prescribed in the UK during 2015. A number of fleet drivers will inevitably be left balancing health and employment needs, as even commonly-prescribed SSRIs and SNRIs like Sertraline and Citalopram are known to cause drowsiness. Drivers whose mental health results in “significant memory or concentration problems, agitation, behavioural disturbance or suicidal thoughts” must notify the DVLA, which is concerning because antidepressants have been reported as increasing such occurrences.

Advancements in automotive technology over recent years have greatly benefitted businesses and their people, from hands-free conference calls over Bluetooth and cars that read out text messages over their speakers, to fully connected cars with Office 365 integration. There’s a danger, though, that employees who find driving stressful enough at times and who perhaps even suffer from occasional panic attacks now feel under even more pressure, effectively feeling expected to work and drive simultaneously.

Driving has always clearly been classified as an ‘at work’ activity in The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 but some organisations perceived the Act to only apply to company car or van drivers on their payroll. The Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 and the Health & Safety (Offenses) Act 2008 subsequently hammered home to organisations that anyone who drives regularly or even occasionally for work purposes, including grey fleet drivers and external contractors, is protected by these laws and should be shown a duty of care. Otherwise, organisations could face tough fines under new sentencing guidelines that came into play in February.

Ad-hoc journeys such as driving to meetings, site visits, business events, awards ceremonies and training sessions, along with out-of-hours journeys and even informal visits and deliveries made en route to a temporary or fixed place of work are all deemed as ‘at work’ driving. Following the ruling against Baldwin’s Crane Hire5, the corporate manslaughter landscape changed irreversibly and will hopefully result in safer conditions for business drivers of all kinds throughout the UK.

Unrealistic driving schedules or other work demands can quickly result in stress, high blood pressure and fatigue, exposing drivers to added safety risks. It’s therefore encouraging when employers and their fleet managers engage in two-way communication with drivers, which will reduce absenteeism and other inefficiencies, ultimately boosting bottom lines. Managing a fleet’s driving risk also typically reduces costs and motor insurance claims.

Fleet managers are typically advised as part of their occupational health policies to request annual health declarations from their drivers, in which they can declare any mental health issues. Many employees are understandably reserved about discussing such matters, though, so a proactive approach along with the provision for confidential meetings would encourage more to come forward.

HR departments, OD&P business partners and indeed drivers’ line managers and colleagues can make a huge difference by showing reasonable flexibility to staff who suffer poor mental health that doesn’t regularly affect their roles. For example, if an employee arrives late on a particular day, a discrete, caring word may reveal that a mild panic attack resulted in him or her making a brief stop en route in the interests of safety – which is more commendable than continuing their journey regardless.

Other positive steps include investing resources in educating fleet drivers and managers on mental health and safe driving, and ensuring that both company and grey fleet vehicles are ergonomically and generally suitable.

Telematics can play a large role in fleet management, too, keeping drivers and those around them safe partly through smooth and efficient driving, which is in turn more economical. Traditional hardware-based telematics solutions can be prohibitively expensive for some organisations, especially charities and smaller businesses, so app-based products like Appy Fleet can prove ideal. Additionally, employees needn’t feel that their privacy is compromised, thanks to the ability to switch between Business and Private modes. Request a free trial to discover how Appy Fleet can contribute to keeping your organisation’s people and other road users safer while continuously strengthening your safety at work and CSR policies.

Sources:

  1. http://www.rac.co.uk/press-centre#/pressreleases/business-need-for-greater-awareness-of-sleep-disorders-at-work-1430928
  2. http://think.direct.gov.uk/fatigue.html
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/driver-and-vehicle-licensing-agency
  4. http://digital.nhs.uk/article/7159/Antidepressants-show-greatest-increase-in-number-of-prescription-items-dispensed
  5. http://www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/company-car-tax-and-legislation/2015/07/27/first-driving-case-under-corporate-manslaughter