Today, September 9, is R U OK? Day. With so much uncertainty, disruption, many workers hidden behind cameras and some not able to work at all, never has it been more important.

But what strikes me, particularly with what we’ve been dealing with over the past 18 months, is shouldn’t every day be R U OK? Day. In some workplaces, checking on the people you spend most of your day with is ‘business as usual’.

As much mental as physical

I had the pleasure of interviewing five professional drivers from BINGO Industries recently about driver distraction.

Most people tend to think of driver distraction as a physical act, such as taking your hand off the wheel and reaching for your mobile phone. What is often overlooked is the far higher risk of taking your ‘mind off the road’, especially when driving emotionally.

At BINGO, both the physical and mental elements of driver distraction are recognised. Drivers put several strategies in place to reduce that risk, supported by a willingness (and expectation) to look out for each other.

One driver, Robert, shared a great example of that mindset in action.

Early one morning, a younger driver flew into the depot to start his shift. Robert noticed that he drove in aggressively and then slammed the car door shut. Obviously, something was up.

Robert took a proactive approach, wandered over and asked if he was ok? After a short discussion, it was clear the younger driver was too upset to be behind the wheel. Robert suggested a mental health day off might be a good idea, and reassured the young worker when he said he thought that was unfair to his work mates and the company.

Robert got his colleague to sit down and ‘chill’, and after an hour he felt he was in the right headspace to drive home. Robert followed up with him the next day.

Permission to act

Robert’s approach gave the worker time to calm down, and reinforced that his workplace has his back. It also stopped an emotional driver getting behind the wheel of a truck. And this really matters, because emotional drivers are 10 times more likely to crash (by comparison, the increased crash risk factor of being on a mobile phone is 2.2 and texting is 6.1).

I take my hat off to Robert. His response was that it’s part of my job to look after you and act to make sure you are in the right headspace to be behind the wheel of a truck and able to safely interact with other road users. A driver’s headspace really matters.

Many organisations have policies and a culture of speaking up, calling out unsafe behaviour and supporting workers. A dangerous work environment is not just about unsafe equipment but also the headspace of a worker.

How often do workers or managers in your organisation speak up and intervene in the field? Robert’s simple action may have prevented a major road incident. He was prepared to have a courageous conversation to protect his work mate.

And what gave him ‘permission’ was that’s the norm in his company. I spoke with five drivers at BINGO and the theme and underlying safety philosophy was exactly the same.

Safety, in all its forms, is business as usual.


NRSPP has released a Tool Box Talk on Mental Health to help your organisation build a supportive culture where safety is the norm. View it here.

If you have a story you would like to share around safety and driver mental health, get in contact via 13 11 14, Lifeline Australia.

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