Driver fatigue and its root causes: A safety talk about mental health

Starting a conversation about driver mental health is a simple way to begin building mental wellness into your workplace health and safety culture.

Sleep loss, continuous hours of wakefulness, the disruption of our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, sleep disorders, medications, stress, and workload can all contribute to driver fatigue.

To better understand the root causes of driver fatigue on the job, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD), in partnership with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), organized a group of industry representatives to identify high-risk events in transportation workplaces and their root causes.

The group was made up of drivers, supervisors, and employers in the industry. They met for two days in November 2019 to determine the root causes of driver fatigue in Ontario’s trucking sector. Together, they identified 66 root causes of driver fatigue and then voted to prioritize a top 10 list according to the likelihood that these factors would contribute to driver fatigue.

Infographic: Top 10 Root Causes of Driver Fatigue among Professional Truck Drivers in Ontario

Mental well-being is connected to driver fatigue

Perhaps not surprisingly, the root cause analysis completed by workers and employers from the industry found that stress and mental health were among the top-ranked causes of driver fatigue, placing as number three in the top 10 root causes of driver fatigue. Traffic conditions was ranked number one, followed by physical health conditions and unhealthy lifestyle at number two—and it’s not a leap to see how these factors are also deeply connected to stress and mental well-being.

The root cause analysis report calls for immediate steps to be taken by the industry to support and improve the mental health and wellness of professional truck drivers. (Additional solutions and controls for the root causes of driver fatigue are detailed in the accompanying technical paper, Root cause analysis of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers in Ontario.)

Start a mental health conversation and keep it going

IHSA is committed to working with and supporting the transportation industry to provide the needed training and resources for mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Starting a conversation about driver mental health is a simple way to begin building mental wellness into your workplace health and safety culture. But simple does not always mean easy. That’s why IHSA has released two new safety talks to support recognizing and managing mental health in the transportation industry. One is targeted to assisting dispatchers and supervisors with drivers’ mental health and one is targeted to the employees themselves:

Safety Talk: Mental Health and Wellness—Professional Truck Drivers

Safety Talk: Mental Health and Wellness—Dispatcher/Supervisor

As with all of IHSA’s safety talks, they begin by explaining the dangers and then identifying specific controls that can be put in place to reduce the risk. In the case of driver fatigue, a few of the suggested controls for drivers include:

  • Take regular breaks while on the road to do some stretching exercises or go for a walk.
  • If permitted, bring an emotional support animal with you while working or travel with a companion.
  • Travel with some personal comforts from home (iPad, books, pictures of family, etc.).
  • Be open to having a conversation with your supervisor or dispatcher if you need some help or guidance. Make use of any Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that are available to you.

Many more solutions and controls are listed within the mental health and wellness for professional drivers safety talk, along with examples of how employers and supervisors can start and maintain helpful conversations about mental well-being with their drivers.

For more information

IHSA has developed a number of additional online educational resources to address driver fatigue and assist workplaces with strengthening their road safety plans, including tip sheets for employers and workers.

IHSA urges stakeholders in the trucking industry to visit to learn more about industry-identified root causes of driver fatigue and recommended solutions. Working together, we can create safer working environments for all professional truck drivers and those who share the road with them.