The developing COVID-19 outbreak has put the UK economy under severe stress, along with many key workers across a variety of sectors. Having to provide essential services, meet, or improve upon, current standards all while maintaining more stringent health and safety standards is taking a toll on the mental health of many workers.

Across sectors that employ drivers, poor mental health can have potentially disastrous consequences. Stress, poor sleep habits and distraction are symptoms of poor mental health and can have a negative effect on driver performance and can result in serious accidents.

RoSPA occupational health and safety policy adviser Dr Karen McDonnell told FACTS about some of the factors affecting workers’ mental health and techniques to alleviate them.

Well rested

For many furloughed drivers, a lack of work has resulted in a new routine with new priorities – family, domestic or health. Readjusting to a work schedule could prove difficult.

“We will have drivers who have been used to a domestic environment and have been able to rest because everybody else has been out of work,” Karen noted. “But they might be going back into an environment where they cannot get sufficient rest.”

According to a RoSPA report, fatigue has a negative effect on motivation, vigilance, reaction times, sustained attention, visual tracking, logical reasoning and calculation – all factors in safe driving. Karen pointed out that managers should talk with their drivers to ensure they are coping with the transition out of lockdown.

“How do you then have a conversation with your manager about being tired that day? How do you create the opportunity to have that conversation and say I did not get enough sleep last night? People need to be able to explain how their physically feeling on that particular day.”

Bad habits

Consumer data has indicated that alcohol sales have risen during the lockdown. Getting into the habit of drinking more at home could easily have a negative impact on drivers.

“People might forget the importance of being clear the next morning,” Karen noted. “We need to be aware that you can move into an environment where you do not have your previous structure – things can become blurred and we certainly cannot have that with alcohol or, indeed, prescription or recreational drug use either.

“I would take stock at the moment,” Karen said. “Identify where you are in terms of driver health risk like you would any other risk. The transition back to work and reinstating people will have its challenges. Think about your organisational system and about the people who drive for you and what kind of support they need.”

“I think that we need to have a better understanding of that connection,” Karen added. “We talk about work life balance, but we have to recognise everybody has a tipping point. I think that reinstating drivers and driver health are critical elements. It is not just about being competent in terms of skills, but driver health. Being able to have a conversation about it is going to be a big issue moving forward, given the need to transition people back into their previous work structure.”

For more information, an extensive range of free information is available from Connecting through Driving for Work and RoSPA’s Driver Health guidance