More health support needed for Australia’s truck drivers

A new study released by Monash University shows that following work-related injury or disease, Australian truck drivers have significantly more GP consultations and are more likely to undergo surgery than other workers. However, they are less likely to access mental health services and when they do, treatment is delayed.

The report is the third in the Driving Health Study, and analysed 88,285 accepted Victorian workers’ compensation claims between July 2004 and June 2013. The findings are limited to injuries and illnesses incurred directly through working conditions and events at work. To complete the picture of truck driver health, in 2019, the researchers are launching Australia’s largest survey of truck driver health.

“This report shows that truck drivers are using more health care than other workers when they are injured at work, but also that most of that health care is provided more than three months after the injury,” said Dr Ross Iles from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

“Delay in treatment was particularly apparent for drivers using mental health care. 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”, he continued.

The report identifies four different profiles of health service use among truck drivers. About half (55%) of drivers use only a few services, some (10%) use a lot, a quarter (25%) use mainly physical therapy and another group (10%) seek treatment for mental health.

High health service users tended to be between the age of 45 and 64, live in major cities and have musculoskeletal conditions. Those seeking help for mental health were more likely to be over 24, be from the lowest socio-economic band and be employed by smaller employers. Those 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.

The 10% of drivers accessing mental health services showed a different pattern of health care use compared to other drivers. Ninety-two 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.

Study lead Dr Ross Iles says, “Truck driving is the number one employer of men in Australia, with 200,000 truck drivers Australia wide. We know from our earlier reports that drivers face an increased risk of injury and even death at work. This data provides important new insights into patterns of care, but it is only part of the picture. 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”, he said

“There is a clear need for better health support for truck drivers, and more needs to be done to understand why there may be delays in accessing health services and to develop effective programs to help drivers be healthy and stay healthy at work.”

The ambitious 2019 study will explore truck driver health, including serious conditions thought to be common in drivers including diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnoea. The team will use findings from this next phase to better plan strategies to support truck driver health.

Truck drivers interested in being part of this landmark study should register their interest at starting immediately.