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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry

Times have Changed: why employers need to adapt their thinking when recognising psychological injuries

Whilst hundreds of thousands of Australians are currently experiencing uncertainty and increased stress related to their employment status, financial security and health, there is no doubt that psychological injury rates will skyrocket in the coming months, and possibly even years to come. And regardless of employment status, industry or role, psychological injuries will not discriminate.

With 20% of Australians currently battling a mental illness or disease, what will this number look like in six, 12 or 18 months from now?

While employers may already take traditional steps to maintain positive mental health among their employees, with face-to-face contact now limited, recognising the symptoms of psychological injury, and consequently early intervention, is almost impossible unless the worker themselves speaks up.

Employers now more than ever need to take a proactive approach in recognising where potential psychological injuries may occur, and determine where the demands of work may exceed an individual’s ability to cope. Learn about the ‘mental health risks to isolated teams or people’ via our virtual training course.

Some examples of psychological hazards may include:

  • Working from home arrangements – while individual home and family lives differ, risks can arise when faced with combining working from home and caring for young children, home-schooling, relationship strain, loneliness and isolation when living alone, or domestic violence.
  • Poor organisational change management – with restructures inevitable for many businesses, lack of communication, information and support to workers may contribute to stress and uncertainty
  • Experience of violence or aggression – particularly for people working within healthcare, supermarkets, pharmacies and medical practices, customers accessing these services may be hostile and act irrationally or aggressively causing concerns for the mental health of workers.
  • Reduced or poor work environment – particularly when working from home or from temporary places, workers may be exposed to small or confined spaces, hot or cold, noisy or dark workplaces, which can contribute to anxiety and reduced comfort levels, as well as the potential for physical strain or injury.
  • Reduced or minimal support – particularly for people working from home where they may not have the resources or access to their usual support networks, workers may experience an increase in anxiety and stress, as well as a potential decrease in efficiencies.

With countless work-related situations and circumstances now presenting the ability to trigger psychological injuries, it’s obvious that employers need to look beyond relationship-building activities and Employee Assistance Programs to prevent them.

Here are seven reconsidered tips to assist in managing and recognising stress:

  1. Employers and/or Managers should have a basic understanding of individual worker’s home and family situation, whilst respecting privacy, and consider these factors when managing workloads and offering support.
  2. Regularly communicate with workers, particularly as changes are made to job roles, the working environment, industry or individual roles, and ask them directly if there is anything specifically contributing to their stress or causing concern. Learn how to ‘maintain positive mental health culture in isolated teams’ via our virtual Zoom training course.
  3. Inform workers of their entitlements, responsibilities and changes to their role as soon as known. Give workers the opportunity to provide feedback and discuss concerns.
  4. Provide workers with a point of contact to discuss any stressors, particularly with regards to psychological health, and take the immediate steps necessary to manage accordingly.
  5. Be conscious of increased work demands, for example where a restructure has resulted in more work for certain employees, and proactively support them.
  6. Stay informed with information and resources from official channels, and regularly communicate these to staff, sharing relevant information which is specific to job roles and industry.
  7. Maintain traditional mental health support services and resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs, and regularly remind workers of their right to access these services. Work Options are offering a 10% on EAP Services – contact us for a quote.

For further information in how to support mental health in a work setting:


The importance of critical incident debriefing in preventing psychological injuries

SafeWork NSW has recently circulated information highlighting the risk of crush injuries, as a result of two fatal incidents where truck drivers have died while working on or near their trucks. And it got us thinking… what about the psychological injuries caused to others who are unfortunate enough to witness incidents like these?


History tells us that high risk industries are almost guaranteed to succumb to a worker fatality at some point.


As of the 6th of June there had been 64 Australian workers killed at work in 2019. In 2018, that number totalled 157.


What history also tells us, is that for those who are exposed to or involved in a workplace incident, the first two hours are critical in assisting workers deal with their physical and emotional reactions.

And the reason being is because exposure to critical incidents can lead to significant distress; recurrent thoughts, anxiousness, mood changes, restlessness and shock. And gone untreated, distress can lead to long-term physiological issues such as Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By providing really early intervention to a fatality or major incident on site, psychologists can counsel workers to assess their current state of mind, diagnose shock and determine if they are at risk of developing long-term psychological injuries.

Here are five critical incident management tools to assist in supporting workers:

1. If you’re in a high risk industry, prepare workers for a possible critical incident:
• Develop procedures for responding to and identifying critical incidents and ensure staff are educated and aware of procedures
• Contract suitably qualified safety consultants with experience in critical incidents and critical incident management
• Asses the workplace for safety hazards and ensure all necessary PPE is available

2. Demobilisation (rest, information and time out) is the best way to calm workers following a critical incident, ensuring their immediate needs are met as soon as possible:
• Convene with all workers, summarising the incident and clarify any uncertainties (ensure all workers have the opportunity to ask questions)
• Provide Psychological First Aid (supportive and practical assistance via assessing needs and concerns, ensuring basic needs are met and connecting people with information)
• Provide a course of action moving forward, and alter workplace responsibilities and roles where necessary

3. Defusing (immediate small group support) should be conducted by a qualified employee or external contractor and is an opportunity for workers to review the event, talk about what happened, receive advice and support. Defusing should take place within 12 hours of the critical incident occurring.

4. Debriefing as a group should take place approximately one week after the critical incident. It is an opportunity for workers to put things into perspective once they’ve had a chance to process what has happened. Often a knee-jerk reaction to a critical incident will be that ‘I don’t need to talk about it’, but often within a few days the worker may find that they are now experiencing other psychological or physical issues as a result. Debriefing allows a qualified counsellor or safety expert to assess the risk of long-term psychological injuries, determine if acute stress is present for individual workers, and can provide management techniques and tools to handle emotional reactions.

5. Follow-up support is key in psychological injuries; shock around trauma is known to manifest over time and can worsen if not addressed or spoken about. If workers find that their shock builds momentum, they are losing sleep, having recurring thoughts of the incident and are struggling to move on with every day duties, this may be a sign of a psychological injury such as acute PTSD. Workers who expressed significant concerns at earlier stages of the critical incident management process should have continual follow up support with a trained professional.

When it comes to preventing the onset of shock, and potentially acute stress or PTSD, after a critical incident, it’s recommended that all workers be involved in the critical incident debriefing process. Although many workers will be able to return to normal duties within a short time frame, if not immediately, it’s important to note that serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia. But more importantly, it’s treatable and, with the right help, avoidable.

For more information or help with regards to critical incidents and psychological injuries, see our Work Health Safety Services or call 02 9957 1300.