Getting to grips with stress
05 November 2018
Author: Sean Keywood
A new white paper discusses a subject that often goes undiscussed, but can lead to a severely increased crash risk among drivers at work. Sean Keywood reports.
Employee stress levels have been named as a key factor affecting safety among company car drivers.
The importance of the issue is outlined in a new white paper from Venson Automotive Services entitled 'It's Good to Talk: Caring About Mental Health'.
The paper - available to download from Venson's website - cites evidence that employees suffering from stress are 50% more likely to drive dangerously, and therefore be involved in crashes.
It says fleets therefore could consider their drivers' mental health as part of ensuring they are fit and healthy to drive safely under health and safety guidelines.
The paper explains that unrealistic work schedules putting time pressure on drivers is a major cause of stress, with other causes including an overly demanding job, poor work organisation, job uncertainty, traffic congestion, the behaviour of other road users, a poor work-life balance and domestic or personal issues.
It says that high levels of stress cause the brain to do too much, and this can manifest itself among drivers in crashes.
The paper also quotes road safety charity Brake as saying drivers suffering from work-related stress are more likely to speed and take other risks while driving.
The paper adds, "High job stress is one of the best predictors of road crashes, suggests research for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
"Furthermore, crash-involved drivers experienced more stressful work environments than crash-free drivers, according to the research collated by the HSE. Additionally, it highlighted that financial stress increased the likelihood of involvement in more serious crashes.
"Stress, feeling rushed and a lower life satisfaction all contributed to increased rates of crashes."
The paper additionally quotes Andy Neale, managing director of training company Performance on Demand, who said, "Drivers crash when they make a bad decision, which can often be affected by their state of mind.
"Stress covers a wide range of issues and comes in many guises; however, whether the causes are internal pressures, external pressures, perceived or otherwise, the physiological effects are the same, with the human flight or fight mechanism creating an imbalance in the chemicals being produced internally.
"Cortisol, for example, is produced when experiencing a high heart rate and a person suffers from an incoherent heart signal, which results in frustration. Additionally, when in the 'frustrated state' people suffer from 'cortical inhibition' meaning they cannot access the smart brain to be able to make a good decision, hence stupid ones are made."
According to Neale, drivers need to understand their bodies and how their state at a particular time affects their ability to drive.
"A simple example is that when someone is just 2% dehydrated it can affect the ability to concentrate by up to 20%," he said.
"Additionally, simple breathing techniques coupled with positive thoughts help to reverse the production of unwanted cortisol, help production of the hormone DHEA and, importantly, give access to the smart brain."
The white paper additionally quotes advice from Brake, which states, "What is clear is driving while distracted is endemic, sometimes due to stress and other emotions caused by life pressures.
"When we drive we are subconsciously using many skills that are essential to control the vehicle, being aware of others and knowing how to get to our destination.
"When we are distracted suddenly, we are not in control of the vehicle and it only takes seconds for a collision to happen."
From an employer's point of view, the paper concludes that the important thing is employees feel they are able to raise mental health issues.
It states, "If a vehicle has broken down, a fleet decision-maker knows what action to take.
"Similarly, if an at-work driver has external signs of ill health, maybe a broken arm or leg, the business or line manager knows what action to take in terms of perhaps making changes to their typical work load.
"However, if an employee is under stress - whether as a consequence of work or a personal issue - it, too often, is not talked about.
"Employers may say that an employee has not raised the issue, but has the company put in place measures that make the member of staff feel that they can raise a topic that is too often seen as a sign of weakness?
"It is clear that there needs to be more discussion about stress and mental health at work with employers developing an all-encompassing approach to ensure that the best results for employees can be achieved and they feel comfortable in talking about issues."