Post-traumatic stress disorder represents a real risk for rail staff

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Rail staff suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be putting themselves at risk if their condition is not properly recognised and treated.

A new film from rail safety body RSSB aims to help companies look after their people better, and follows the experiences of Michael Setchell, a train driver and Mick Carney, a member of station staff.  Both experienced traumatic events at work and went on to develop PTSD.

While not everyone will develop PTSD, front-line staff are susceptible to it after distressing experiences such as witnessing accidents, injuries and near misses, or being the victim of verbal or physical abuse.

And while the industry has been aware of the potential for PTSD, rail bosses have committed to improving the way they care for their staff’s mental wellbeing, as well as making it easier for staff to recognise symptoms themselves and for them to feel at ease in coming forward to get treatment.

297 members of the public died on the railway in 2017-8, 249 of these were suicides or suspected suicides, the remainder involved trespassers, level crossing users and people on trains and stations.

A new RSSB study surveyed 700 frontline staff and found nearly 95% experiencing workplace abuse in the last year alone, with over 25% experiencing physical assaults. 30% said they receive verbal abuse everyday.

The impact of witnessing and experiencing events like this can take its toll and can lead to a range of mental health issues including PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Staff may need time off work to recover both physically and mentally, as well as evidence-based treatment.

If staff are not supported adequately following a potentially traumatic incident, there may be an increased risk not just to the individual but also to others where they are undertaking safety-critical tasks requiring focussed attention and agile recall.

Forward-thinking rail companies are now seeing the benefit in treating mental wellbeing like any other occupational hazard, and so put in place specific, targeted support and intervention to protect their people in the same way that they deal with other health and safety issues.


RSSB’s Mental Wellbeing Specialist, Michelle O’Sullivan explains: ‘Everyone will respond to a traumatic experience differently. For some, returning to work shortly after the incident may feel best, for others more time and targeted support may be needed. With access to the right treatment and support, the majority will recover and be able to return to work.  PTSD is a medical condition which changes the individual’s brain chemistry, leaving people struggling to process traumatic events. It can affect memory, concentration, sleep, social interactions, all of which could impact someone in the workplace. But PTSD is a treatable condition, and there are steps companies can take to ensure cases can be detected and remedied sensitively.

This film looks at the causes and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which some viewers may find distressing. Support sites are accessible at anytime during the film by clicking the RSSB logo in the corner - or go straight to: Post-traumatic stress disorder

Further information:


More information about PTSD - Post-traumatic stress disorder

RSSB would like to record its thanks to both Michael Setchell and Mick Carney for participating in the film and sharing their experiences for the benefit of the wider industry.


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