Rees steps in on truck driver depression


NSW Premier Nathan Rees pledges action on truck driver depression, announcing new $500,000 counselling service

By Brad Gardner | August 28, 2009

NSW Premier Nathan Rees has pledged to take action on truck driver depression, announcing a new a 24-hour helpline service.

The State Government will invest $500,000 in partnership with St Vincent’s Hospital Drug and Alcohol Unit to address on-road issues in the trucking sector.

Rees has vowed the Government will also work with the trucking union to ensure the service makes a difference to those who need help.

"Supporting these hard working drivers means a healthier transport industry and safer roads," he says.

"The Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) will offer transport workers assistance to help reduce the harms of smoking, alcohol and other drug use associated with stress and depression."

Rees made the announcement in an address to this year’s NSW TWU conference, saying the helpline will be staffed by qualified health professionals with the ability to counsel drivers and refer them to professional help if needed.

"These drivers are not just the backbone of our economy, they’re our relatives and friends we must always remember that their welfare is paramount," he says.

Rees told the conference he was prompted to take action after the release of a study into the mental and physical health of drivers in the country.

The study found drivers with depression were twice as likely to have an accident, while those with severe depression were six times as likely to be involved in an accident.

Deputy Director of the St Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service Bronwyn Crosby says a telephone counselling service will help address the symptoms of stress and depression.

TWU Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon welcomed the commitment and also used it to launch another attack on the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) recommendation that drivers be screened for depression before obtaining their licence.

"Mr Rees has acknowledged that there is a problem with depression and anxiety in our industry and is doing something about it," Sheldon says.

"Rather than just calling for screening without follow up, this will provide real help for truck drivers while they are on the road."

According to Sheldon, depression and anxiety can be resolved if the federal government introduces a fixed minimum pay rate.

"If drivers are paid for their waiting times and had full cost recovery, that would go a long way to reducing the stress," he says.

The ATA earlier this week called for depression screening as part of its recommendations on what changes should be made to transport medical standards.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is currently undertaking a review into Assessing Fitness to Driver (AFTD) laws.

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