post traumatic stress disorder and emergency workers

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The hidden trauma – why the helpers need help too  

Following the tragic and entirely preventable fire at the Grenfell Tower flats in London the heroic efforts of the emergency services personnel involved have rightfully been widely praised. However, there is a risk that those involved in the rescue and recovery procedures will find themselves suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of having to witness and deal with the tragedy of this terrible event. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very severe anxiety disorder that can occur after an event which has frightened, injured or distressed a person so much that they are psychologically affected in such a way as to be quite debilitated and unable to function normally in some cases. The condition can appear immediately after an event or it can take weeks, months or even years before symptoms appear.  

Not always ‘Part of the Job’ 

When something so awful happens, whether it be a national disaster or a road traffic accident, we know we can rely on the police, ambulance and fire services to quickly and professionally deal with all those involved. What we don’t take into account is how they are left to deal with the after-effects of what they have seen. The emergency service organisations and other employers have procedures in place where personnel can dissect and come to terms with traumatic incidents. However, these are often not enough to enable people to come to terms with what has happened in a way that enables them to get on with their lives. Emergency services staff are well-trained to deal with traumatic incidents and therefore are expected to cope because it is ‘part of their job’.  Sometimes though, situations are so traumatic and the psychological impact so devastating on a person’s life that they should merit a compensation payment. 

Hillsborough Disaster Police claim for compensation 

After 96 football fans were crushed to death during a FA Cup game in 1989 most of the thousands of words written about the event rightly focussed on the fans who lost their lives. However the police officers who rushed onto the pitch to help rescue fans were given scant consideration when it came to how much they suffered from witnessing what happened and from risking their own lives in the crush. In some quarters there was heavy criticism when some police officers were awarded compensation for the Post Traumatic Stress they suffered after the event. One officer was awarded a six figure sum after he developed PTSD 9 years later and had to medically retire from the job. Criticism centred surrounded the issue of the amount of compensation he received being very much in excess of that received by victims and their families. Leaving aside the complex issues surrounding this case, where there is real, prolonged and life-changing suffering there should be no distinction between the parties involved in any disaster situation. Compensation should be available to all who are unfortunate enough to sustain life-changing Post Traumatic Stress. 

PTSD occurs in other industries too 

When we think of PTSD we automatically think of combat veterans, car crash victims, police officers and other emergency service workers who get caught up in disasters. However, any workplace in any part of the country can have employees who suffer stress because of something that happens in the course of their work. This could be anything from industrial accidents to workplace bullying.  In a recent compensation case a refuge collector was knocked over by a bin and cracked his head on the concrete floor. The first thing he remembered after the accident was the refuge waggon reversing towards him as he lay on the floor. He thought the waggon was going to crush him and he was terrified. The head injury caused by the concrete wasn’t too serious but the lasting impact of the ‘fear’ was so severe that he successfully claimed £30,000 for post-traumatic stress disorder compensation.   

Should workers be compensated for PTSD? 

As far back as 2007-09, the HSE produced figures showing incidents of work-related mental health issues where PTSD was a factor. The figures, compiled from information provided by psychiatrists and occupational physicians, showed that the largest percentage of PTSD cases were caused by traumatic events experienced in the working environment with an average annual number of 125 cases. These cases were comprised of - unspecified traumatic events, violence at work including verbal abuse and sexual assault, accidents and physical injury, and traumatic experience of other people’s injury or fatal accident. It is very clear that the case for compensation in the event of PTSD arising from a workplace incident is very strong across all sectors and not just in the emergency or armed services – and since the emotional trauma can have a dramatically negative effect on every aspect of a person’s life, it should be taken just as seriously as any physical injury. 

For more information please visit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Related Post Traumatic Stress Case Studies 

 A Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Compensation Case Study 

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