An ongoing problem within the trucking industry is truck drivers don’t seek medical help when living with untreated medical issues. A recent study illustrates the problem of under-reported health problems in the workforce.
A Linfox-funded study by Monash University has revealed that Australian truck drivers suffering mental illness are less likely than any other workers to seek appropriate medical help, and that when they do, treatment is delayed.
The results also show that truck drivers have significantly more GP consultations and are more likely to undergo surgery than any other workers following work-related injury or disease.
The results form part of the third report in Monash University’s Driving Health Study which is a collaborative initiative supported by Linfox, Transport Workers Union and the NSW Centre for Workplace Health and Safety.
The study aims to provide insights that help keep drivers safe at work and ensure they are accessing the treatment they need when injuries occur. The study analysed 88,285 accepted Victorian workers’ compensation claims between July 2004 and June 2013.
The report identifies four different profiles of health service use among truck drivers. About half (55 per cent) of drivers use only a few services, some (10 per cent) use a lot, a quarter (25 per cent) use mainly physical therapy and another group (10 per cent) seek treatment for mental health.
The 10 per cent of drivers accessing mental health services were more likely to be over 24, be from the lowest socio-economic band and be employed by smaller employers. These drivers showed a different pattern of health care use compared to other drivers. 92 percent of mental health services were provided more than 14 weeks after acceptance of a workers compensation claim, potentially reflecting a missed opportunity for early intervention. This is in contrast with other health care services such as GP visits and physiotherapy, where peak service use occurred within the first three months after injury.
High health service users tended to be between the age of 45 and 64, live in major cities and have musculoskeletal conditions.
Drivers using only a few services were more likely to be younger, have an injury that did not result in time off work and have conditions other than a musculoskeletal injury.
Dr Ross Iles from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University said a concerning pattern was noted amongst truck drivers suffering mental health injuries, with 92 per cent waiting more than three months to access appropriate treatment.
“This report shows that truck drivers receive the majority of health care more than three months after an injury, but this delay was particularly apparent in mental health cases,” said Ross. “Prior studies show that drivers are at increased risk of suicide. Combined with our findings, this suggests a need to provide earlier access to mental health care in this group of workers.”
Mark Mazurek, CEO Linfox Australia and New Zealand said the industry needed to do more to address the stigma surrounding mental health.
“As an industry, we need to do better in dealing with mental health and removing the stigma that can prevent people from seeking help when they need it,” said Mark. “It’s clear that Australian truck drivers are particularly vulnerable to injury and we need to work together as an industry to develop proactive strategies to minimise these risks. This includes understanding the risk factors and ensuring greater access to health support services.
“At Linfox, our Healthy Fox program is focused on enhancing the health and wellbeing of our workforce through education, and through our partnership with Beyond Blue, we’re actively working to ensure mental health is discussed out in the open.”
These initial findings have encouraged the study team to expand the study to increase the amount of data to gain further insights into driver health.
“This data provides important new insights into patterns of care, but it is only part of the picture,” sais Ross. “In 2019 we will recruit thousands of truck drivers into a new study that will provide much more detailed information about health and health risk factors in drivers.”
With Linfox’s support, the researchers will kick off this study with the launch of Australia’s largest survey of truck driver health. The survey will explore serious conditions thought to be common in drivers, including depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnoea.