Trauma At The Workplace

Traumatic incidents that happen while you’re working are rare but they can occur. Here Kate Nowlan, chief executive of CiC Employee Assistance, outlines how you can make the best of preparing for the worst.

Let’s be clear, without dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ too much, what we mean by a traumatic incident. It might be a serious accident on your site or a sudden death in the workplace. An employee might witness a serious accident on their journey to work or, worse still, could be involved in such an incident.

Or what about an employee who has been diagnosed with a terminal or long term illness; how will you support them and your other employees?

Then there are incidents, such as a serious fire or even a terrorist attack, that have a massive reach in terms of impact and the number of people involved and affected by them. And although theses type of incidents are rare, recent history tells us that they can and do happen.

So what can you do to prepare for such unknown eventualities?

We have a duty of care to employees to protect them, and also to ourselves to make sure we’re physically and mentally healthy to run our businesses. This includes equipping ourselves with the practical skills and knowledge that will help to protect us in the face of unexpected trauma and ensure that all those involved get timely and appropriate support for whatever issues they may be facing.

While preparation is at the heart of ensuring that you, your employees and your business is resilient if a crisis does happen, thinking through and preparing for a potential critical incident isn’t the most enjoyable task you’ll need to do as a business owner.

But it is part of your responsibility as an employer. You also owe it to yourself and your loved ones.
This is why it’s important for any manager or business owner to consider what they might do in a given situation. So it is a task that needs some time and serious consideration. Just in case.

Here are my top tips on how to prepare for traumatic incidents in the workplace:

1.Put a crisis management plan in place to help protect you if the worst does happen.
This will include a summary of potential incidents and situations that could impact on your business and the key actions you would take if they did. Could an accident happen on the site you’re working on now? Have you got a qualified first aider on this job? Just taking a few moments out to think about the ‘what ifs’ will increase your awareness and appreciation of how you can keep things on track.

2.Identify experts to help you if you don’t think you can do it all yourself.
There are specialists who can guide you through the possibilities and potentials of what might happen, but more importantly they can help train and prepare you. For example, a one-day course on dealing with unexpected trauma and crisis management could help to get things back on track following an incident and get things returning to business as usual, as quickly as possible.

3.Think about the impact of trauma on an individual.
By understanding, appreciating and recognising the effects of a crisis or trauma on other people (and to an extent, also yourself) you’ll be able to signpost employees to seek appropriate professional help, as well as to make any adjustments to their work or working conditions while they recover. An employee who has experienced trauma, for example, will likely be faced with recurrent nightmares, may be drinking or self-medicating heavily, as well as suffering from constant anxiety that manifests itself in changing behaviour, moods and temperament. Without being aware of the signs and symptoms, it’s not possible to help them or yourself and realise that an incident is having a long-lasting, negative effect.

4.Make an appointment to revisit and review your plans.
Just as every business conducts a regular fire training drill to ensure employees react appropriately in the event of a fire, you should regularly look at how you and your business is prepared to respond to a critical incident and the associated trauma. What’s changed since you last looked at your plans?

Kate Nowlan is chief executive, CiC Employee Assistance ( She is a psychotherapist and trainer with a particular interest in supporting those who have been exposed to cumulative traumatic experiences in the course of their work.

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