Workplace trauma in transport, logistics and warehousing

Learn about the impact of traumatic events on workers and improve your systems and procedures.



How this helps your business

Workplace trauma can affect people in different ways, at different times. It can develop from repeated exposure to distressing events, or a single situation. Even with critical incidents, such as a workplace death, employee responses will vary.

In identifying risk factors in the workplace it's important for organisations to consider not only environmental stressors, but also how situations could be perceived by employees, and the impact that recurrent distressing situations could have over time.

Understanding how the work environment can influence trauma responses will help to inform your prevention and management strategies, and minimise the negative impact trauma can have on your workplace.

Key stats and facts

1 in 10  

Approximately 1 in 10 persons exposed to a potentially traumatic event will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their lifetime.

Black Dog Institute, 2018, Trauma and Mental Health

Effectively protecting the psychological health of your staff can lead to less costs from work absences, conflict, errors, injuries, and grievances.

Guarding Minds at Work, 2018, Know the psychosocial factors

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Different people find different events traumatic and this means that all employees are at risk of experiencing workplace trauma. For some, a once-off event such as a fatal accident could trigger a traumatic response, for others the impact could involve multiple exposures that build over time such as witnessing an accident or passing an accident scene - resulting in cumulative trauma.

Some examples of potentially traumatic events for your employees could include:

  • involvement in, or witnessing serious transport accidents
  • involvement in, or witnessing serious accidents to colleagues, such as drownings in maritime settings, or forklift incidents in warehouses (the rate of worker deaths per year is higher in your industry than any other)
  • heavy equipment accidents such as injuries or even deaths
  • physical and/or verbal assault by a customer or passenger eg. taxi or bus driver abuse
  • road rage
  • exposure to gruesome or graphic injuries
  • natural or human disasters
  • exposure to security threats, such as a bomb threat
  • exposure to suicide attempts
  • first on the scene of critical incidents

The impact of trauma is not limited to the employees that are present at the time. Exposure to stories about distressing incidents can result in indirect trauma for people surrounding and supporting the person who experienced the direct trauma. This is defined as vicarious trauma, so it is important to be mindful of how all employees are supported in the aftermath of distressing situations.

Public transport workers face a higher risk of workplace violence because of their contact with customers and passengers. According to SafeWork Australia's Road Transport Industry Profile, 2017 the industry, and in particular road transport, remains a high risk industry with claims and fatality rates significantly higher than all other industry averages. It is therefore important to understand trauma and the impacts it can have on your employees and workplace. For more information and tools on workplace violence, check the SafeWork Australia resource below.

Watch the two minute video for more details on trauma.

You're not expected to be the counsellor or sole support for your employees. However you can help by putting policies and procedures in place for prevention, and early intervention.

Step 2

Consult your staff

Engage your staff to understand the key issues that impact them, and get their input on ideas to support each other. It's important to develop a broad approach with prevention and support because trauma is not limited to a specific role or situation.

A safe workplace is more easily achieved when employers and employees talk to each other about potential problems and work together to find solutions.

There are many ways you can talk with your employees about occupational health and safety:

  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees
  • including OHS as an agenda item at regular meetings. Such as 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings and through any other channel your organisation communicates
  • one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
  • when you casually walk around your workplace with your staff

Step 3

Assess the risk

Now that you've got some insights from your employees about potentially traumatic events in your workplace and their impacts, review your risk assessment and add trauma as a risk to psychological health. Remember to consider different groups of staff and the potential impacts of repeated exposure to trauma over time

Check the resource for an example of a step-by-step worksheet to identify, assess and control work-related stress risks. While the context is health settings, it's still really relevant to a range of work places, especially roles that deal with customers, clients and/or passengers in your industry.

Step 4

Manage the risks

To keep your employees and their customers safe you need an organisational approach to prevent and manage exposure to trauma.

You may be familiar with the 'Hierarchy of Control' for managing physical risks in your workplace, the most effective action is to eliminate the risk altogether. If this is not practical then the next most effective control is to reduce the risk. The least effective controls rely on people changing. For example, attendance at training sessions to cope better with the hazard or the use of personal protective equipment. For mental health risks including exposure to trauma, the same hierarchy of control principles apply.

Choose and implement 2 to 3 strategies that address the highest risks you have identified in your workplace. Here are some suggestions:

  • Allocate workloads that are appropriate and diverse, as agreed by both the employer and employee
  • Be transparent about possible exposure to trauma during recruitment and induction
  • Include assessments of how people react to highly emotional situations in your selection process
  • Support senior leaders to acknowledge the impact of trauma and encourage employees to seek support
  • Review your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and check if additional support such as post-trauma psychological first aid is available
  • Consider providing a well-designed and managed peer support program. Take a look at the case study from St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne
  • Provide appropriate supervision for employees
  • Provide adequate training in dealing with trauma
  • Support supervisors to understand workplace trauma and their role in preventing and managing exposure to trauma in their teams
  • Investigate workplace factors that lead up to incidents to prevent similar events from occurring again, and to help employees feel safer knowing preventative action has been taken
  • Facilitating an early return to work is best practice. Sometimes that could mean changes to workload, such as rostering shorter shifts and other adjustments.

Check the Workplace Trauma resource from Workplace Strategies for Mental Health for even more ideas on preventative measures in your workplace.

Make sure employees at all levels of your workplace are aware of the strategies and initiatives that you put in place.

The 'Occupational violence and aggression incident investigation tool' is designed for health care settings and provides ideas of factors to consider in customer-facing roles, as well as a template to document plans for your prevention strategies. Consider whether you can create a similar tool for your own workplace needs.

Step 5

Review and keep improving

Once you've made a new change, you should review and assess whether it's working as well as hoped, and make notes on where you could improve.

This process will help you to make better decisions and demonstrates your ongoing commitment to improving the business.

The list below has some handy tips on how to do this.

Tip: It's important to ask your employees for their opinion when implementing a new strategy. It also gets your workplace involved and on board, passes on a sense of personal responsibility and collaboration, and allows for continued improvement.

  • Ask employees the right questions: are we doing things right? Or are there better ways it can be done?
  • Have regular conversations with all employees and keep them engaged. If something didn't work, communicate the outcome and get them involved in ways to improve
  • Review regularly - set a date and stick to it
  • Look to see if your goal has been achieved. If not, why? Was it a lack of understanding?
  • Make a specific person responsible for monitoring and evaluating so they can keep track of how things are changing over time

More resources

John's experience at work

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