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Critical Incident Stress Management in the Workplace

posted Sep 21, 2012, 10:00 AM by S. Wickelgren   [ updated Oct 30, 2012, 11:37 PM by Mark Wickelgren ]
Tragedies happen anywhere and everywhere. They strike unknowingly in the most unexpected places. The workplace is no exception, thus creating stress and even trauma to employees.

Critical incident stress management is a program created to help workers deal with normal physiological and psychological reactions that may result from sudden, overwhelming, or life threatening situations. Employees who have witnessed a critical incident may portray stress-related and productivity problems. The checklist of manifestations listed below can help you check if your employees need an intervention:
  • paranoia
  • feelings of uneasyness or anxiousness
  • restlessness
  • vigilance
  • concentration problems
  • fatigue
  • phobias of dreaded areas
  • changes in mood
  • sleep disturbances 
Critical incident stress management is a series of comprehensive techniques that primarily aim to reduce the unnecessary effects of a traumatic event to workers. The strategies include the following steps:
  • Demobilization. This comes immediately after the critical incident wherein it maximizes the rest, information, and time out method (RIT). This is usually done by a supervisor, manager or any authorized person of the company who is not involved with the critical incident. Gathering them all together and keeping them calm immediately after the event is the major goal during this stage. It should take place during the first minutes after the incident.
  • Defusing. Defusing is also known as immediate small group support that happens within 12 hours after the incident. A well-trained staff member will serve as a manager to help workers put a conclusion in the incident. This will allow workers to vent out their immediate responses and for you to provide immediate personal support. At this stage, you may also refer them to appropriate support agencies for further care.
  • Debriefing. This is preferably the last stage of the stress management program if clients respond well to the strategies. It is also known as a powerful event group support which takes place 3 to 7 days after the critical incident. During this time, workers are gathered, not for counseling, but for them to voluntarily share and discuss their thoughts about the critical event and put it into perspective. This will help them re-establish a recovery process.
  • Follow Up Support. This is needed for some workers, in order to look into other aspects of the event after the first debriefing session. This is also a good time to assess if recurrence of symptoms occurs.
A critical incident always causes stress to anyone involved. The event itself is the stressor! And when a stressor becomes extremely threatening, it produces a serious behavioral and cognitive interruption. Eventually, it might lead to a traumatic stress disorder. So, early intervention is essential to prevent the occurrence of a more serious problem.
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