More than ever, drivers are spread thin, working overtime, and dealing with country-wide restrictions while keeping supply chains moving during this difficult period. Transportation companies previously have viewed mental health as a personal issue not to be discussed with employees. But the consequences of failing to consider the mental health of your drivers can be devastating, with a direct impact on your risk exposure and liability insurance costs. Here’s how.

Unaddressed mental health issues can lead to distracted driving

According to Florida semi-truck accident lawyer Tina Willis, the major risk of mental health issues in commercial drivers is the unsafe behavior these issues may cause when they’re unaddressed. “For example, if someone has poor mental health, they might not sleep well, may have a substance abuse problem, or may have interpersonal problems that lead to increased distracted driving on the road,” states Willis, “in those cases, their sleepiness, distractedness, or intoxication might lead to a catastrophic accident that could lead to a very expensive lawsuit.”

The enormous danger of sleep deprived drivers

Along with substance abuse, sleep deprivation is a leading cause of semi-truck crashes. Studies have repeatedly shown that even one hour less of necessary sleep can have a notable impact on a driver’s ability to function. The consequences can be even more severe for drivers with unaddressed mental health issues. If a driver has a known mental health problem, Willis recommends the employer “encourages them to receive medical treatment and accommodates their needs, like changes in schedule to allow adequate sleep.”

One accident can mean a lifetime of expenses for a company

Willis recalls an ongoing case involving an accident between two semi-truck drivers in which one of them sustained serious spinal cord and brain injuries that require lifelong round-the-clock medical care. “Economic experts will have to evaluate his long-term care needs and expenses,” she explains, “but similar cases routinely settle for many millions, primarily because of the expense of lifetime medical care, together with lifetime income reimbursement, and payment for pain and suffering.” You can imagine what this lawsuit meant for the company’s risk exposure and future insurance renewal costs.

Are your background checks detailed enough?

It’s never been more important to vet your job candidates with thorough background checks that zero in on their driving and criminal records. As an example, Willis once handled a case involving a semi-truck crash that killed three people. It was soon discovered that the driver at fault had a DUI record his employer was never aware of, and the lawsuit quickly settled for $2 million. “The company would never have faced that expense (and three people would still be alive), if they had refused to hire someone to drive a semi-truck with a DUI on his record,” she explains.

Closing the gap with telehealth benefits

Offering actionable solutions to drivers is crucial for any transportation company developing a workplace culture that destigmatizes mental health. Leaders also must consider the added ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in a male-dominated industry where employees often are reluctant to seek help, are constantly on the road, and cannot conveniently make in-person doctor’s visits.

As the advancement of telehealth rapidly accelerates in response to COVID-19, many service providers have already rolled out remote mental health services such as counseling and are even prescribing certain behavioral medications. While telehealth benefits are not a catch-all solution, remote access to mental health support could serve as a lifeline for struggling drivers, but it also presents the question of adhering to DOT’s rigid medication restrictions. Employers should work closely with their drivers and the Medical Examiner’s Office to ensure that recommended treatments don’t jeopardize their CDL licenses.

Transportation companies should consider the true cost of failing to adequately address their drivers’ mental health. Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) can help you mitigate these risks through meaningful policymaking, employee initiatives, and training programs. Contact an MMA advisor to learn more.

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