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Psychological safety

Apart from the obvious and devastating effect suicide has on family and friends of the deceased, the psychological effects on drivers and other rail staff who experience the incident first hand can be considerable – especially on the driver, who, despite seeing the tragedy unfold is often powerless to prevent it. This is a scenario which can leave them with traumatic reactions that are often distressing and difficult to deal with.

For the network operators, how they deal with the aftermath of major incidents is critical in protecting the psychological welfare of the drivers affected and the reputation of their brand. Also, by providing the appropriate care the return to work of employees can be significantly improved.

Most operators do have some level of trauma care in place, which is more often than not provided by a general occupational health provider.

However, following trauma, what people do not need is general ‘counselling’. Rather, the majority need short-term specific interventions that focus on the incident itself and how to recover quickly and safely, avoiding unnecessary long-term psychological reactions.

According to Anna Chapman, managing partner of The Centre for Crisis Psychology (CCP), a specialist provider of trauma care to the rail industry for more than 25 years, the need for operators to offer specialist support is essential, as part of a wider duty of care.

‘Trauma care does not work on the premise that one solution fits all. Every incident is different and how people react will change from person to person. Our clinical model uses cognitive behavioural techniques, is highly directive and has a strong educative component, which is adapted to the needs of the individual.

‘There is one chance to get this type of care right and it must be perfectly timed and clinically appropriate. CCP works in partnership with its customers to ensure that the support provided is not too much, not too soon, not too little and not too late.

‘Throughout the period of care, which is typically around four weeks, we also keep the driver manager and the local management team up-to-date with progress and work closely on the formulisation of an on-going care and return to work plan which all parties buy into.’

Optimum window for intervention

A key component of effective trauma care is the time scale in which it is delivered given that in the immediate aftermath of an incident a driver needs time for the initial shock to subside.

While there are important ways that the employee’s manager can support the individual, the optimum contact time for a specialist intervention is between 48 and 72 hours after the incident. The meeting ideally should take place at a location where the driver is comfortable, for example at the station, home or a local meeting room.

This is in direct contradiction of the general occupational health providers, who can take up to four weeks to see the driver, at a meeting often arranged at their behest.

A delayed response leaves the driver feeling isolated and increases the opportunity for negative reflection and secondary trauma. It can also impact greatly on the driver’s family life, causing unnecessary distress and anxiety and simply prolongs the recovery process. A poor response can lead to dissatisfaction, bitterness and anger which is often directed at the employer.

One network operator leading the way with a more effective trauma care response is Virgin Trains, which employs 520 drivers as part of its 3093 staff.

Colin Barratt, driver depot manager at Virgin Trains said: ‘We have worked with our current supplier CCP for over 11 years and specifically with drivers following fatalities for nearly two years. We now have a recognised process for dealing with the effects of post incident trauma which has enormous benefits for both the individual and the company as a whole. Previously drivers spent considerable time away from work without help and assistance.

‘Staff also appreciate the availability of specialist care which reinforces Virgin Trains’ reputation as an employer that values its staff and wants to provide access to the very best support. We also know from feedback we have received that employees are far more comfortable talking to a specialist third party, rather than a member of staff, or a general counsellor.

‘As part of our recruitment process and during the induction briefing for new drivers, we now emphasise the availability of specialist trauma care provision as a major benefit of their employment.’

Employer attitudes changing

While staff experiencing traumatic reactions to incidents is nothing new, the manner in which employers react has changed significantly, and not just in the rail industry, where attitudes to trauma care have tended to be more proactive than in many other sectors.

Anna Chapman said: ‘Historically trauma and psychological problems following major incidents were often swept under the carpet, with those affected told to simply pull themselves together and get on with it. Staff would have felt embarrassed raising it as an issue, which meant dealing with it on their own.

‘Now there is far more evidence of the traumatic effects of major incidents, as well as the benefits to the individual and the company of providing perfectly timed and clinically appropriate trauma care.

‘There used to be many preconceptions concerning who would be affected. People may make the mistake of thinking that men are ‘tough and will cope’, women are ‘more emotional’ and managers will cope ‘because they are managers’. Experience has shown that this is simply not the case.’

Another aspect within the overall provision of effective trauma care is the role of the person/s first at the scene, known as ‘defusers’. How they behave and the care they provide in the immediate aftermath is pivotal to the longer-term recovery process.

Virgin Trains has acknowledged the role of the ‘defuser’ by commissioning dedicated training through CCP.
Colin Barratt said: ‘We have already conducted a set of training courses which staff have responded to very positively and we are looking at rolling this out as part of a management training programme. The issue with any incident is that it is impossible to predict and can happen anywhere at any time, drawing in people going about their daily routines. We are committed to knowing that when called upon they will have had the necessary training and be fully prepared to respond in the best possible way.’

Anna Chapman concluded: ‘An appropriate trauma care strategy needs to be at the forefront of any health and safety policy within the rail industry. Not only will it protect the psychological welfare of those directly affected, it safeguards the brand’s reputation, adds value to the business and shows a direct return on investment.’

Visit www.ccpsupport.co.uk