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What are Critical Incidents?



The World Health Organisation (WHO), describes a critical incident as an event out of the range of normal experience – one which is sudden and unexpected, involves the perception of a threat to life and can include elements of physical and emotional loss. Often such events are sufficiently disturbing to overwhelm, or threaten to overwhelm, a person’s coping capacity. Most people would be severely shaken by a critical incident but are likely to recover from its impact with appropriate support.

Examples of these incidents include line of duty deaths or serious injury to operations personnel. By their nature, frontline staff such as those who work in the healthcare sector, emergency, military, security, rescue, enforcement and others who operate in similar industries within the private sector, are engaged in higher risk activities and are actively exposed to these stressors in their line of work.


Addressing critical incidents

It is widely accepted that there is a critical period in the aftermath of a critical incident or traumatic exposure during which there is a risk of developing clinical levels of traumatic stress. Research also indicates that a range of factors can modulate its effects and recovery - for example, primary measures such as prior stress management training, and secondary measures, such as the availability of peer support have been shown to have a positive effect. On the other hand, other factors may escalate the level of distress experienced, for example, continued exposure to the distress of the victims and on-going or pending investigations. Tertiary measures refer to confidential advice, support or counselling and access to specialised clinical services for those who need them.

Because of the nature of the job, attempting to minimise repeated exposures in these settings presents a major challenge for management. Therefore, employers and managers of occupational groups that are at high risk of exposure to critical incidents are required to have a robust set of primary, secondary and tertiary interventions to help minimise, as far as reasonably possible, the risk of psychological injury in the aftermath of a critical incident. 

Work PositiveCI delivers structured guidance enabling organisations to develop an action plan to mitigate against workplace critical incidents.