Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats. It is therefore reasonable to say that people are experiencing a sense of dread in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world stays at home to curb the spread of Covid-19, our truck drivers continue to work under added pressure. In normal circumstances truck drivers may suffer from physical and mental health issues, however during a worldwide crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, the emotional impact on drivers should be earnestly considered.

Long driving shifts, disrupted sleep patterns and social isolation can lead to health issues such as sleep deprivation, obesity, diabetes, as well as drug and alcohol abuse to name a few. Added to this is working to rigorous delivery schedules and time spent away from family, all impacting on a driver’s mental state.

“Mental health difficulties affect everyone, and they don’t discriminate,” says John Loxton, WesBank Head of Fleet Management & Leasing. “Trucking poses several risk factors when it comes to mental and physical health issues, and can contribute towards loss of productivity, lack of motivation and loss of business.”

Drivers with mental health problems are in effect distracted drivers. Not having a clear focus on driving can have an adverse effect on concentration, reaction time and judgement and can increase the chances of an accident.

Anxiety or stress is a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. It can contribute to health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, and skin conditions. Having to meet delivery deadlines, getting stuck in traffic or knowing that a job is going to take much longer than anticipated can all be trigger points for stress.

Hopelessness or depression is one of the most common mental health problems and those struggling with depression are often unaware as to why they feel so down. Depression in turn can lead to chronic pain and interfere with the ability to recover from illness or injury. Stressful life situations such as COVID-19 can increase the risk of developing depression.

There is no mistaking that stress, depression and anxiety affects one’s driving ability and fleet managers must be able to support the mental health and well-being of their drivers.

One way to do this is to ensure that all policies and procedures about the health and well-being of employees are in place and that everyone is aware of what they are.

Fleet management systems could also assist in efforts to assist drivers during these challenging times. The availability of and access to a call centre, with highly qualified technical staff, provides an element of peace-of-mind for the driver on the road.

The effective use of telematics may well serve as one of the most important interfaces between the company and the driver. For the driver to be acknowledged as a valuable resource to the company, as well as constant communication with drivers, are two simple actions that may well go a long way in avoiding the risks associated with the current operating environment.

‘Wellness’ days are also good mechanisms to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. The annual World Mental Health Day on 10 October is a perfect time to start such an initiative. Distributing self-help information and introducing confidential counselling through company wellness structures can all be of help as well.

“Added to the fear of contracting Covid-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. Faced with new realities of life as we know it now, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is that we look after our mental as well as our physical health,”concludes Loxton.