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The Importance of Critical Incident Stress Management in Construction

In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 4,764 workplace fatalities across the U.S., 22 percent of which were in the construction industry. While there are many steps employers can take to reduce risk and keep workers safe, construction contractors should also be prepared to respond if a critical incident does occur.

What Is a Critical Incident?

LHSFNA Management
Co-Chairman
Noel C. Borck

A workplace critical incident is a sudden and unexpected situation or event that has the potential to be traumatic for everyone on a job site, especially the workers involved. Critical incidents in construction typically involve at least one workplace fatality or serious injury. Examples of critical incidents include falls, work zone intrusions, trench collapses and employee suicide and drug overdoses.

Beyond the immediate impacts to the workers injured or killed in such an event, critical incidents generally also cause strong emotions in workers who witness the event. In the aftermath of a traumatic event – where most of the attention naturally goes to the victim or victims – it can be easy to overlook the emotional and mental health needs of other workers impacted by the incident.

“Addressing workers’ emotional and mental health during and after a critical incident can go a long way,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “In the short term, taking steps to address critical incident stress can help workers feel comfortable returning to work. In the long term, it can help reduce the deeper emotional and mental health impacts that witnessing such an event can often have on workers.”

Examples of ways people may react to experiencing or witnessing a critical incident:

Physical

  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Unusual thirst
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

Emotional

  • Grief
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Intense anger
  • Apprehension and depression
  • Irritability
  • Chronic anxiety

Cognitive

  • Uncertainty
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Poor attention span
  • Poor concentration, memory
  • Poor problem solving or decision making ability

Behavioral

  • Inability to rest
  • Withdrawal
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Change in communications
  • Loss/increase in appetite

Signs of Critical Incident Stress

The signs and symptoms of critical incident stress following an incident can be physical, emotional, cognitive or behavioral. People respond to stress in different ways, and the type or intensity of a person’s responses may vary. The details behind the incident – if it was natural or man-made, the degree of violence and horror experienced by witnesses or the possibility for a similar event to occur again – can all impact workers and the extent of their reactions.

Critical Incident Stress Management

Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is a system of interventions designed to provide education, prevention and mitigation for workers in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Depending on the circumstances and timing of the event, impacted workers may benefit from several types of interventions, including a de-escalation meeting, meeting with management or a group briefing. In all of these cases, the goal is to open lines of communication so workers have the facts about what happened, convey compassion for workers and provide resources to help workers cope.

Impacted workers can also benefit from a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) led by a professional crisis intervention specialist. Group CISD meetings are intended for workers who witnessed an incident or were on site during an incident. A CISD helps workers recognize and cope with the emotions traumatic events can produce.

Reporting Critical Incidents and Requesting CISDs

The experiences of LIUNA members are often different from those of other construction laborers. Understanding critical incident trends among LIUNA members and how they differ from industry trends and data presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is an important part of protecting the safety and health of LIUNA members.

To better understand and respond to the hazards faced by LIUNA members on the job, the LHSFNA has developed a new Critical Incident Reporting Form located at www.lhsfna.org/cisd. The Fund encourages LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, health and welfare funds, signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates to share this form and use it to report critical incidents involving LIUNA members when they occur. This form can also be used to request assistance from the Fund in coordinating CISD services following such an incident.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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