Managing a Critical Incident in your Workplace

Physical Health

We spend so many of our waking hours at work, so it's important that we have a safe and healthy workplace. Despite all that the government and employers do to try and prevent them, critical incidents occur in Australian workplaces every week. No amount of preventative action can stop some major incidents. However, the way an incident is managed can improve the outcomes of the employees, customers and bystanders involved.

What is a Critical Incident?

A critical incident can range from an unfortunate accident to a serious criminal act including:

  • Armed Robbery
  • Assault
  • Threat to Life
  • An Accident
  • A Death
  • Witnessing any of the above, even if not directly involved

Impact of a Critical Incident on Employees

Whatever the cause of the incident, the result can be psychologically distressed witnesses. Trauma will cause different reactions in people. Some people are pre-disposed to develop abnormal reactions due to a pre-existing mental or physical condition. The initial response may be shock and disbelief, and later responses can include:

  • Not wanting to return to the location of the incident
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Awareness of potential danger
  • Distressing memories
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty with relaxing

Reducing the Impact of a Critical Incident

A Critical Incident Response (CIR) intervention can provide psychological support to people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the event. The intervention is designed to normalise responses and where possible prevent abnormal reactions such as Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PeopleSense psychologists believe in supporting individuals to return to normal functioning as soon as practical after an incident.  

What Organisation's Can Do

The organisation should identify the risk of a critical incident in their workplace and have a plan for how to react. The most foolproof plan is to make sure you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will reliably respond to critical situations and only employ psychologists. An experienced EAP provider will be able to meet with all those involved quickly and reassure the organisation of what is required should an emergency situation occur. Using psychologists means that a full assessment of the impact of the events on employees can be made and follow up provided if required. 


Do not ignore the impact of a critical incident, or try and 'jolly' employees along. Instead, reassure employees that the organisation and third party experts will support them and answer their questions. 

Offer Routine

Some people prefer to go back to their usual lives quickly while others will take longer. Make some allowances for the differences. A thorough assessment from a qualified and experienced psychologist will be able to provide the organisation guidance in this area. Long-term avoidance of returning to normality (work, the location where the incident occurred etc.) is generally discouraged, but every situation is unique.

Follow up

Even when things seem to be back to normal in the workplace, offer ongoing support should anyone need it. Employers may not realise that an employee is still struggling with an aspect long after an incident occurred.  

If your organisation would like more information about dealing with critical incidents in the workplace, call PeopleSense on 1300 307 912
Category: Physical Health