By Kevin Hall
As a first responder turning out to a job, whether it be a mine site, construction, or general worksite, people are often faced with an initial adrenaline rush, increased heart rate, blood flow, and heightened senses. If not responding to incidents regularly this can quickly turn to confusion, panic, and sensory overload especially when the patient is a friend, family, or work colleague.
Coping with this situation is challenging enough however what is commonly overlooked is the long-lasting effects post-incident. Unfortunately, in a workplace environment where workers are trained to respond to incidents, the latent effects of an event are either overlooked or go unnoticed.
In general, the technical skills training component received to respond to an emergency is mostly adequate, the rescue gear varies from being inadequate to over the top depending on the onsite resources. Awareness training however provided to deal with post-incident stresses, including debriefing and mental health factors are nearly non-existent. On the occasions this does occur, it is often done poorly and follow up even poorer.
Whilst working for a mining company, I was the relief 1IC ESO attending a fatality, the deceased was well known to me. I was fortunate enough to have very good training with regular follow up refreshers and more than adequate gear that prepared all the ESOs on-site to respond to any job presented for the environment we worked in. However, all the technical training and equipment at my call could not prepare me for what was about to happen.
Two days after the incident, whilst shopping, l went to use my credit card and had completely forgotten the PIN, the very same PIN I had for most of my life (I actually do that now, but that’s more related to me getting old rather than stress), I went home empty-handed, sat out the back of my house and cried for an hour, I couldn’t tell you the last time I had cried before that, but it had been a long time. Being the typical Aussie bloke back then I guess I saw this as a weakness and was something I was completely unprepared for.
As time continued on I attended the funeral (I think was a bad idea for me), I quite often thought whether there was something different that could have been done that may have changed the outcome (which there wasn’t). I frequently thought about the very young family and a lovely wife that had been left behind all the while becoming angry and disgruntled with my employer and some of the people around me (for no good reason).
I don’t have all the answers, however, I do think there is a lot more work that can be done in this space including setting up foundations to support responders in workplace environments focusing around issues that may arise post-incident.
I believe having the opportunity to access follow up visits to a professional (especially after the funeral), training in how to identify signs of stress and mental health triggers, realising that ignoring the fact that forgetting my PIN, crying out of the blue, and thinking about different outcomes was not me being a tough guy. This was a sign of needing assistance and would have helped me reach a more desirable outcome a lot quicker.