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Responding to Critical Incidents in the Workplace

What is a Critical Incident? 

A critical incident is one event or a series of events that occurs suddenly, is overwhelming, or threatening. Critical incidents in a workplace can range from an active shooter to a natural disaster like a tornado.

Critical incident stress is common after a critical incident in the workplace. Typical immediate reactions to incidents like this include; shock, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and even denial. 

Symptoms of Critical Incident Stress

The effects on employees after an event will depend on each individual's resilience. Employees will express stress in different ways. Some typical signs and symptoms to look out for in the long-term include:  

  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Poor concentration 
  • Prolonged or continued anxiety
  • Loss of interest in day-to-day activities that were once engaging 
  • Change in appetite  
  • Substance misuse 

Common emotional reactions includes grief and loss.  Loss can be felt on a company and individual level and can range from the loss of a physical space to the death of colleagues. It is important to recognize that everyone’s grief journey differs in grief symptoms, intensity, and time course.    

Employer's Role in Long-term Critical Incident Stress Management

Employers should start by creating a safe environment for all staff by focusing on mental well-being rather than employee and company productivity.  

Employers can:

  • Train and educate staff on an emergency response plan 
  • Listen to staff to ensure their well-being needs are being met. 
  • Provide employees extra opportunities to connect with each other
  • Train managers on how to identify critical incident stress 
  • Educate staff on what resources are available 

If your organization needs long-term employee support, Pathways at Work can lay the foundation for healthy coping strategies with a custom-built workplace mental health program.

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Medically Reviewed by Dustin Keller, Ph.D.

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