ATA wants depression test for drivers, TWU labels it a 'disgrace'


Truck lobby wants new tests for truck drivers obtaining licences, but TWU rubbishes the recommendations

ATA wants depression test for drivers, TWU labels it a 'disgrace'
ATA wants depression test for drivers, TWU labels it a 'disgrace'
By Brad Gardner | August 25, 2009

Truck drivers will need to be screened for medical conditions such as depression before obtaining a licence under a proposed shake-up to Assessing Fitness to Drive (AFTD) laws.

In its submission to a review of medical standards, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has called for a greater focus on a driver’s fitness for duty.

But the recommendations—based on a survey of 24 TrusckSafe endorsed medical practitioners—threaten to sour an already tenuous relationship between the ATA and the trucking union.

In its submission, the ATA recommends drivers submit to the K10 questionnaire which asks a person to describe their mood, feelings and how they view themselves.

ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says statistics showing an increased rate of 5.66 percent of an accident or near miss for someone with very severe depression shows the importance of screening truck drivers.

"The K10 questionnaire asks ten questions about the patient’s feelings over the last four months. It can be incorporated into the questionnaire that drivers are already asked to fill out; no extra tests or costs are required," he says.

If accepted, the recommendation will bring the trucking industry’s medical standards in line with the rail sector and driver licences will only be revoked if it is warranted on clinical grounds.

According to the ATA’s survey, medical practitioners highlighted depression as a major problem in the trucking sector.

But while saying the questionnaire will be helpful in identifying depression, the ATA agrees with the feedback from one practitioner the tool has limits because it assumes the respondent wants help and is being truthful.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) claims the questionnaire will discourage drivers from revealing their problems due to a fear of losing their livelihood.

TWU Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon says many drivers have large mortgages and truck maintenance costs so will not run the risk of losing their licence by answering the questionnaire correctly.

"Mr Martyn’s comments are a disgrace and will go a long way towards pushing public attitudes towards depression and anxiety back into the dark ages," Sheldon claims.

The union argues the ATA’s submission attempts to address the symptoms of depression rather than the problems which cause it.

"The ATA has once again ignored the reasons why drivers might become depressed – including client pressures, unpaid waiting times, long hours and unsafe payments – and instead put the problem squarely back on to the driver," Sheldon says.

Labelling the ATA’s recommendation as an attempt to take drivers off the road, the union instead wants roadside labs on popular trucking routes to meet drivers’ needs.

But the peak lobby group has put the onus on trucking operators to also play a role, with Martyn urging them to develop health and support programs for their staff to tackle mental health issues.

"For our part, the ATA is putting plans together with the national depression initiative, BeyondBlue, to raise the industry’s awareness of anxiety and depression and to educate people about the importance of getting help early," Martyn says.

INCREASED FOCUS ON HEART AND BLOOD PROBLEMS
The peak lobby group’s recommendations also call for changes in managing a driver’s blood pressure.

Unlike the trucking sector, rail workers with high or low blood pressure must be referred for treatment and have their condition reviewed every three months.

"AFTD does not impose a similar requirement for commercial drivers whose blood pressure is found to be in the same range [between 150/95 and 200/110]," the ATA’s submission reads.

However, the ATA does not support stripping a driver of their livelihood, saying they should still be allowed to hold their licence unconditionally even if they enter a treatment program.

The group also wants clearer guidelines for practitioners when identifying and assessing the risks of hypoglycaemic unawareness – when a person does not know they are suffering the early symptoms of a diabetic attack.

One practitioner surveyed says drivers using insulin should be limited to short distance work, while another called for the introduction of fasting glucose tests for all medical checks.

The ATA’s submission recommends practitioners also ensure diabetic drivers understand the importance of a balanced diet and managing fatigue.

Furthermore, drivers should have their physical measurements assessed for sleep apnoea, the ATA argues, with drivers referred for further investigation if necessary.

While the ATA recommends the driver hold their licence while further studies are carried out, the association wants it taken from the driver if "conditions become warranted clinically".

The AFTD laws are nationally agreed medical standards some drivers must meet before obtaining a commercial or private licence.

The National Transport Commission last month announced it was reviewing the standards for drivers and rail workers to ensure they met the needs of the industry.

Sheldon's latest comments about the ATA follow his previous threat to walk away from the group amid claims it is "divisive" and ignorant of its members.












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