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Hidden mental health challenges come at a cost for trucking employers: Panel – Truck News

Truck drivers face plenty of stressors, and not all of them are linked directly to the job – even if they lead to challenges at work.

Many mental health challenges are invisible, said Vanessa Blount, an Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) program management consultant, during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Fleet Safety Council. And that can lead managers to misinterpret the true reasons for performance issues like tardiness, irritability, and absenteeism.

The costs of leading such issues unaddressed can be steep. According to Blount, the average WSIB claim for mental disorders and illnesses can cost $35,000 to $47,000, and lead to between 161 and 172 lost workdays.

workplace mental health
(Illustration: istock)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada discovered that around 30% of short and long-term disability claims are related to mental health problems and illnesses. 

Still a long way to go

While more conversations surrounding the topic have begun in recent years, the trucking industry still has a long way to go, said Craig Faucette, chief program officer at Trucking HR Canada.

When the Accessible Canada Act came into effect in 2019, obligating companies to develop accessibility plans, employers were taken aback since accommodations had to address mental health impairments just as much as physical ones, he said.

One of Trucking HR Canada’s surveys also showed awareness surrounding mental health issues has increased, but the stigma is still there, as workers are concerned about employment repercussions.

“Is that a real concern or a perceived concern? It’s hard to say. But it’s still a barrier or detriment that employees need to overcome,” Faucette said. “And then, employers need to work with their workforces to have that open conversation.”

Managing employee mental health

Employers need to demystify mental health and create a “care” culture to address the challenges, said Kathy Martin, coordinator at the research, stakeholder and public relations department at the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA).

Demystifying the issue will help eliminate stigma and create a supportive dialogue, she said, noting there are plenty of stereotypes about “what it means to be a man” in the male-dominated trucking industry.

“Managing performance can be very difficult. Managing mental health is no different. It is just another issue, another part of the human experience that we bring,” she added.

“If somebody breaks their leg, you’re going to go and probably have a conversation and say, ‘Hey, what do you need from me?’”

It shouldn’t be any different with mental health, Martin said, adding that employers should look at the root of the problem.

Pre-existing conditions

Employees can bring pre-existing conditions with them. These can include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While hires might not bring up such diagnoses, it is the employer’s duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code to inquire about the needs for accommodations.

Issues brought from home can be another stressor. Trucking HR Canada, for example, has noticed an exponential rise in adolescent mental health issues, Faucette said. Amid the shortage of services to address that, parents bring those stressors into the workplace as well.

Having conversations surrounding the job requirements can help too, Martin said. Especially when it comes to drivers, as they often live under the pressure of high expectations and little control over what they do and how they do it.

Such conversations should also be held with workers in the fleet shop or office, Faucette added.

One Trucking HR Canada survey found that these employees can feel left out of conversations because of the industry’s hyper focus on driver mental health alone.

Harassment and bullying

Blount added that exposure to harassment and bullying also contributes to mental stress injuries.

That can be a particular concern in trucking. The amount of racial-based harassment in the transportation industry is higher compared to other industries in Canada, Faucette said.

As the industry diversifies, bringing in people of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds, specific approaches may be needed to address the issue.

While core values, policies and principles remain the same across the company, the context matters, Faucette said.

“[Whether it is] a demographic shift or not, it’s mostly having the ability to look at what your workplace looks like, and ensure that you’re accommodating.”

A buy-in from the top of the organization is needed, he added. Trucking HR Canada has also noted that the best mental health programs are fueled by employees and their feedback and suggestions.

To strengthen mental health programs further, companies can implement mental health first aid training for department heads and managers. This will prepare them to recognize declines in an employee’s mental well-being. With proper training, they will be able to provide support and evaluate if professional help is required.

Early actions make a difference.

After all, mental unwellness can become an illness if not addressed on time, Martin said.

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