Following on from its regulatory advice on physical health, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has released an advice on mental health. Below is a rundown of this latest regulatory advice.
Who is this latest regulator advice for?
This advice is relevant for all parties in the chain of responsibility (CoR), especially employers, heavy vehicle drivers and other workers.
Why is mental health important?
Mental health and wellbeing is a significant issue in the heavy vehicle industry. According to the NHVR, workers in this industry, particularly drivers, are disproportionately represented in poor mental health and suicide statistics, with suicide being a leading cause of death for drivers.
It won't come as a surprise to those in the field to know that poor mental health can adversely affect the performance of drivers and other workers in the industry. It can affect decision-making processes, cause momentary lapses in concentration and can even cause drivers to crash.
Creating a work environment that is conducive to positive mental health can have significant safety and other benefits for drivers and other workers, their employers and other road users.
Relevant legal obligations
Just like physical health, mental health considerations are extrinsically linked to ensuring the safety of a business' transport activities. As part of businesses' primary duty under section 26C of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), employers have an obligation to manage, as far as reasonably practicable, the risk of psychological hazards.
Executives also have a distinct duty under section 26D of the HVNL to exercise due diligence to ensure their business complies with this primary duty.
The legal consequences of failing to comply with these duties range from education and improvement notices to prosecution.
Which mental health concerns and conditions are affecting the industry?
According to the NHVR, the main mental health concerns and conditions prevalent in the industry are anxiety and depression. A mental health concern will become a mental health condition when it is more severe and of a longer duration.
Why is it important to build a mentally healthy workplace?
The advice lists the following benefits of building a mentally healthy workplace:
- the safety and wellbeing of drivers and other workers, their
families and other road users through the prevention of:
- suicide and behaviours that are detrimental to their mental health.
- a reduction in incidents and accidents
- a reduction in employee absenteeism and turnover
- a reduction in WorkCover claims
- a more productive and profitable work environment
- a working environment that prioritises employee mental health, thereby positioning businesses as an employer of choice
- removing stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental health issues
- an improved workplace culture
- an increase in workforce morale, engagement and loyalty
- retaining and expanding of workforce
- compliance with relevant workplace legislation.
Psychological hazards in the workplace
As mentioned above, parties in the CoR must, as far as reasonably practicable, reduce or eliminate psychological hazards. According to the NHVR, some of the psychological hazards that may exist in the heavy vehicle industry include:
- unreasonable job demands, work hours and time pressures
- job insecurity
- poor management, especially surrounding organisational change
- lack of social and workplace support
- lack of physical activity
- making poor lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, insufficient sleep or drug taking
- experiencing isolation and loneliness, both on and off the road
- spending frequent and extended periods away from family
- unsafe work environment
- being exposed to threats, aggressive behaviours and violence
- being subjected to risky driving behaviours from other road users, witnessing crashes, or being first responders to crashes
- having unresolved work or personal issues
- the stigma surrounding mental health.
All of the above psychological hazards run the risk of leading to mental health concerns and conditions in the workplace.
How to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
The advice provides a number of suggested practical steps for CoR parties, drivers and other workers for tackling and improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. By way of example, some of the suggested steps for parties in the CoR are to:
- implement policies and procedures to assess and manage psychological hazards
- encourage systems where employees feel safe to raise psychological risks at work and know they will be taken seriously
- provide drivers and other workers with job certainty/permanency
- provide opportunities for drivers and other workers to access a mental health professional - such as through an Employee Assistance Program
- provide drivers and other workers with mental health leave
- ensure that drivers and workers are not subjected to ongoing unreasonable/excessive work demands and pressures
- implement a return-to-work procedure for any driver or other worker affected by a mental health issue
- show a genuine willingness to make reasonable adjustments to job roles to support and aid in the recovery of any driver or other worker affected by a mental health concern or condition
- make welfare calls to drivers while they are on the road
- if using fatigue detection technology, have follow-up meetings with drivers when unusual trends are detected in their on-road behaviour to identify and address any contributing issues
- educate drivers and other workers about mental health, positive self-seeking behaviours and coping skills
- break down stigmas or stereotypes surrounding mental health
- create regular opportunities for drivers and other workers to socialise and communicate - for example, through a social hub or events
- encourage drivers and other workers to take rest and/or exercise breaks as needed
- recognise and appropriately manage special dates or seasons during the year that may put increased pressure on drivers and other workers.
To see more of the practicable steps suggested by the NHVR for drivers and other workers, you can access the full advice here.
This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.