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Responding to traumatic incidents in rail

Information on recovering from a potentially traumatic incident, where to go for support and to learn more.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a change in the brain which means we struggle to process traumatic events. It can affect memory, concentration, sleep, social interactions all of which could impact someone in the workplace. PTSD is a treatable condition.

Each year there are about 200 suicides on the national rail network. Rail workers who witness a suicide, or other traumatic event, can suffer from PTSD. Wider repercussions can include time off work, impaired performance, and litigation.

Employees who feel supported in the workplace following a traumatic event - particularly those who receive immediate practical support - experience reduced symptoms after three months and reduced absence over one year. Structured trauma management procedures offer a safe response to trauma; and post-trauma support protocols are an effective way to communicate information about the symptoms of PTSD to employees and signpost sources of support. Companies who employ staff who may be exposed to such events are encouraged to have positive support systems in place but are warned that intervention must not be too immediate. The industry 'Journey to Recovery' and 'Back on Track' booklets can also provide important advice and support for staff who have been involved in a traumatic event. Copies of these booklets can be ordered by emailing suicideprevention@raildeliverygroup.com.

Many rail companies are ‘ahead of the game’ in terms of supporting staff but can learn from other organisations like the Royal Marines, that have developed an evidence based Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) scheme. Other opportunities for actively managing post-trauma support include early intervention for those who develop adverse reactions and specific interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Rail organisations should work closely with Trade Unions to develop policies in this area.

It’s useful to be able to separate the facts from the myths when looking at mental health.

The video below looks at the causes and symptoms of PTSD which some viewers may find distressing.

Find out more about PTSD.

Guidance for the Management of PTSD

RSSB has produced a guide to help its members support their employees following a traumatic incident. RSSB’s guide provides recommendations on how companies can support staff after experiencing a workplace trauma. There is a supporting toolbox with templates that companies can seamlessly use and adapt themselves. It outlines how to identify the employees at risk immediately after an incident and the period following, such as those dealing with fatalities on the railway or workplace abuse. Helping to assess employees from the point of the incident onwards, the guide provides information on referring employees to clinical support services and identifies further resources, training and support available.

The guidance has been endorsed by ASLEF, RMT and TSSA, as well as other cross-industry groups

RSSB members can access the toolbox, background scientific evidence and recommendations via SPARK.

The guidance is informed by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on the management of PTSD; as well as RSSB’s project on Minimising the Impact of Railway Suicides on Railway Staff, which critically appraised trauma mitigation schemes within rail and non-rail organisations and provided recommendations for practice.

Samaritans support available to rail staff and passengers

Samaritans website

The below support can be considered as an addition to your organisations’ chain of care procedures.

For further info email: railcompanies@samaritans.org

For urgent post incident support call: 07548 720511.

  • Post incident support (for staff or passengers): Provided by 2 or more Samaritans volunteers attending a station at a time best suited for speaking to any staff affected, or any returning commuters (more applicable for incidents during weekday peaks). Can also be provided in depots/offices etc if needed. Not available for lineside locations.
    For urgent requests call 07548 720511 any time.
    Volunteers can attend to provide formal support to staff, or to raise awareness of Samaritans services with the public and be available for more informal chats with staff. Post incident support should not be requested as a default response to every traumatic incident. Consideration of the practicalities of how Samaritans volunteers will engage with affected staff or passengers should be carefully considered before requesting a volunteer presence. 
  • ‘Affected by a railway incident’ leaflet (for staff or passengers): Can be handed out to staff or passengers in the days that follow a traumatic incident. Includes info on Samaritans support. 
  • Emotional support available away from rail industry (for anyone): Samaritans support can be provided free, anytime from any phone by calling 116 123. You can also email, write a letter or visit a local branch. For more info: www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us.     
  • Third party referral to Samaritans (for staff or passengers): If you call Samaritans national helpline on 116 123, you can arrange for a listening volunteer to call back at a later time or date. You’ll need the permission of the person you’re making a referral for, and you’ll need to provide a name, telephone number and a desired call back time for that person. Please make sure the person is aware that the call from Samaritans may not be made at exactly the time requested, but will be made as close to that time as possible.   
  • Trauma support booklets (for rail staff only): The Rail Industry Suicide Stakeholder Group (RISSG) offers two trauma support booklets; (1) ‘Journey to Recovery’ for train driver roles including driver managers and union reps; (2) ‘Back on Track’ for all other staff. Both booklets provide an awareness of what to expect and what to do if you’re involved in a person hit by a train incident in the future, and also guidance on the effects of trauma and the support available. Appropriate for issuing to staff pre or post incident. You can order booklets by contacting railcompanies@samaritans.org 
  • Trauma Support Training (for rail staff only): Award-winning one-day course for rail staff working in higher risk roles, or managing or supporting people in higher risk roles. The course equips delegates with the knowledge and skills to identify the symptoms of trauma and how to best support a colleague’s recovery. For further information or to sign up to a course please contact railcompanies@samaritans.org.
  • ‘Learning Tool’ trauma support videos (for rail staff only): These videos help to prepare or support staff who may have been affected by a traumatic incident on the railway. Featuring rail staff talking about their experiences of trauma (driver specific video available). Visit: www.nspsglearningtool.co.uk to watch the videos. You’ll need to register with a rail industry email address for instant access.
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