Mental health issues impacting trucking industry

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – Mental health, bullying, harassment, diversity. These are issues the trucking industry have historically tossed to the wayside, but can do so no longer.

An employees’ well-being encompasses more than their physical health, and how employers can ensure they are taking the necessary steps to address mental health was the topic of discussion during SafetyDriven’s Speaker Series today in Prince George, B.C.

Cathy Cook, president of Safe Harbour Consulting, said psychological disorders and mental health issues are more prevalent in the trucking industry than in the general public.

She said though most transportation companies approach physical health in a variety of ways, there remains a stigma toward mental health.

“Mental health problems affect everyone, it does not discriminate,” said Cook, adding that in Canada on any given day there are 500,000 people who are unable to work due to a mental health issue.

Citing a recent survey, Cook said 75% of those in trucking feel their work is too stressful, and 71% say the same thing about their lives in general.

“We need to treat mental health the same way we treat physical health to make a safe workplace,” said Cook.

Cathy Cook SafetyDriven
Cathy Cook.

Trucking poses several risk factors when it comes to mental and physical health issues.

Long driving shifts, disrupted sleep patterns, social isolation, and delivery urgency all create health issues, such as sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, and psychological problems.

On the mental side of things, depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression) can result from the strains of the job, and lead to other issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Though Cook said we all experience highs and lows from time to time, it is when we can no longer deal with those changing moods that a problem ensues.

The Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation outline the rules employers must follow when dealing with mental health.

Since 2012, workplaces must be free of harassment, and mental health claims became more accepted. Employers are required to provide a healthy and safe workplace, and employees are required to disclose any forms of impairment due to substances or fatigue to their supervisor.

A compensable mental health claim must include a diagnosis of a mental disorder and can be caused by work or a significant stressor or trauma.

Cook said more mental health claims are denied in B.C. than are accepted, and that work load, discipline, and occurrences like demotions or being laid off cannot be used as a trigger for mental health issues during a claim.

“There is no single pre-emptive cookie cutter way to identify mental health in the workplace,” said Cook, urging those in attendance that if they see a person they believe could have a mental health issue not to avoid bringing the matter up with them.

“People may not be willing to talk to you,” she said, “they may not be willing to get help…this time. But they may be willing to the next time.”

Signs someone could be dealing with a mental health issue include changes in behavior like absenteeism, being withdrawn, or being overly talkative when they are normally not.


One behavior that could spur mental health disorders is bullying or harassment.

Dave Earle, president and CEO of the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), said during his presentation that when it comes to the acceptance of others, diversity goes beyond ethnicity, gender, religion, and culture.

“We’re talking about acceptance of others based on their skill,” said Earle.

In B.C., the official description of bullying is “Any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person toward a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.”

And the laws continue to change when it comes to bullying and mental health.

In the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, “injury” now includes “psychological injury,” and bullying and harassment are specifically mentioned in the act.

“You have to treat others the way they want to be treated,” said Earle, discarding the old saying “treat others the way you would want to be treated” as an outdated mantra.

Not all adverse comments, however, are considered bullying or harassment.

Any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment is not considered bullying. Performance management, progressive discipline, and even “being a jerk” does not constitute bullying or harassment.

“I don’t have to be friendly or be one of the gang,” said Earle.

To address bullying and harassment in the workplace, carriers should implement a personal conduct policy that includes the process of reporting harassment, training, and the policy’s implementation.

Dave Earle BCTA
Dave Earle.

Earle said there is a fine line between constructive criticism and bullying, and that it’s not about what you are saying, but how you say it.

“Why are you saying what you are saying,” he said, “because if it’s to intimidate or humiliate, you’re in trouble.

“Be curious and be open, and value all the people in your workplace.”

Next crop of workers

Increasing diversity, whether it be ethnically, hiring more women, young workers, or those with varying skillsets, is one way to ease the impact of the driver shortage.

Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, said with over 318,000 truck drivers in Canada, an unemployment rate at 3.8%, a high vacancy rate, and continued employment growth, the industry needs to diversify its workforce to find the next generation of employees.

Referring to information from Abacus Data, Splinter said of all the millennials in Canada, one in 10 would consider a job in trucking, representing a potential candidate pool of 1.1 million.

To attract younger workers, Splinter said carriers must provide more than an attractive salary, and include flexible benefits packages and work arrangement, as well as continuous verbal feedback.

Video series

Jaqueline Morrison of WorkSafeBC highlighted a new video series her organization recently released, each focusing on a specific safety issue in the workplace and the ramifications of not following safe practices.

“This was a set of videos that were created for industry, and made by industry,” said Morrison, adding that most drivers simply want to do a good job and often over-exert themselves to get the job done.

Each of the videos are motivational in nature, meaning they do not teach drivers about safety issues they are already familiar with, but rather depict what can happen if they are not taken seriously.

Safety concerns the videos address include properly exiting a truck, over-exerting oneself, and using proper equipment to secure a load.

This was the fourth annual Speaker Series on Health and Safety for SafetyDriven and was followed by Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee Training during the second day of the conference.

Avatar photo

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.