Healthy habits heralded

A healthy bus drivers’ project could consign an unhealthy and overweight workforce to history

Healthy habits heralded
Healthy habits heralded

By David Goeldner | July 11, 2013

The perception of an unhealthy and overweight bus industry workforce could be consigned to history if a nation-wide project presented at this year’s BusVic Maintenance conference proves successful.

Led by the Australian Public Transport Industrial Association (APTIA) and the Interact Group, the findings from a survey commissioned by the ‘Fitness and Well-being in the Bus Industry Project’ were presented to conference delegates, some of whom were operators involved in the project.

A ‘who’s who’ of leading Australian operators and associates have supported the survey, including Entrance Red Bus, Transit Australia Group, Australia Transit Group, Greyhound Australia, Bus Lines, BusNSW, Bus Industry Confederation and the Transport Workers Union.

APTIA industrial relations manager Ian MacDonald says the idea behind the research is to come up with a series of policies and recommendations to the industry which are not prescriptive, which are not seeking to push bus drivers into anything they don’t want to do, but to pull them into the environment of health and well-being.

"Hopefully this will assist us to address health and well-being in our industry," MacDonald says.

"The statistics show that the average age of a bus driver is in excess of 53 years, and as a consequence of that, people who are older have far greater issues in relation to their health and well-being than a person does when they are 20 years of age.

"The bus industry is often a sea change – people come into our industry because they are coming from some other career and they choose our industry because it provides them with an opportunity as an older person for continued employment.

"The reality of life is our workforce is working longer, and in our industry we are providing a huge basis for that."

MacDonald says from within an industrial relations framework APTIA is working with a trade union to find a way to ensure the health and well-being of drivers is protected as they get older.

"At the moment we have in our enterprise agreements conditions that allow the operator to require a driver to have a fitness for work medical – what we are trying to do is to take a proactive approach where we won’t have to do that," he says.

"Drivers will understand that health and well-being in our industry is important."

Occupational therapy specialists the Interact Group has engaged with APTIA to advise the way ahead for the bus industry’s health and well-being.

Drivers at the five participating bus companies were asked to complete a survey anonymously, from which the Interact Group extracted data on demographics and lifestyle.

Interact Group managing director Nikki Brouwers says the survey was based around questions relating to age, height and weight, and the healthy choices the respondent makes relating to food and alcohol.

The survey also asked drivers to reflect on personal relationships in the workplace.

Brouwers says the reasons why and when people go back to work after injury or illness is often due to the driver’s relationship with the supervisor, and not necessarily the physical condition.

The survey also validated the perception that the bus industry employs an older work force, but according to Brouwers could be managed positively to the industry’s advantage.

"You employ a lot of lovely old blokes," says Brouwers.

Based on international research, Brouwers says a workforce dominated by ‘old blokes’ is characterised by loyalty and reliability.

Employees over 40 stay with a company 2.4 times longer, and have lower absenteeism, she says.

Brouwers says there is an ironic perception of workers getting ‘older, fatter and sicker’, but in reality older workers take much less sick leave.

Overall, Brouwers says the cost benefit analysis relating to the employment of older drivers is in favour of the operator, with much less salary costs through absenteeism and length of service compared with employing a younger workforce more likely to take ‘duvet days’ and change jobs more frequently.

"But there is a flip side, in that workers over 45 years old have a higher incidence of workplace injury," says Brouwers.

And the older ‘weekend warriors’ still playing sport have a slower ‘bounce back’ from injury than younger workers.

One stunning surprise from the survey of 150 drivers was that while some respondents were overweight, the drivers’ mean average weight for the average age of over 50 years was actually less than the Australian average.

"Some of them are carrying a few extra pounds, but they are happy having positive relationships with their partners at home, and at the workplace," Brouwers says.

Brouwers says she will do some further analysis of the survey results before a report is prepared with APTIA for the industry’s consideration.

She says that the findings should be looked at in the context of the culture within an operation.

"They need to be matched to your operation and your culture – this is a cultural program, and not a ‘flash in the pan’ idea," Brouwers says.

"This is about a long term commitment."

McDonald says APTIA’s report will address what is in fact an industry where health and well-being is critical.

"We will get a profile the industry has never had before," says MacDonald.

"The industry is taking a pro-active look to ensure the health and well-being of an aged industry is protected, so we can get continuity of service – and that’s the primary reason for the project."

· Photo: APTIA Industrial Relations Manager Ian MacDonald, left, with Interact Managing Director Nikki Brouwers

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