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About this resource

This resource is for managers working in Victorian health services who are responsible for the health and safety of staff – directors, managers, team leaders and supervisors. The resource: Cover of Occupational violence and aggession post-incident support: A guide for health service managers

  • identifies your responsibilities following incidents of occupational violence and aggression (OVA)
  • provides help and guidance on responding to staff in a respectful, thoughtful and timely manner
  • includes practical approaches to support staff wellbeing.

Downloadable guide

The information in this online resource is also available in a downloadable guide that contains additional support and guidance. Occupational violence and aggression post-incident support: a guide for health service managers.

eLearning module

The eLearning Module provides tips and guidance on supporting staff after an incident of OVA. It takes about 45 minutes to complete and includes audio-visual material and assessment questions.

Immediate response

When you are notified about an incident you should ensure that:

  • everyone involved in the incident is safe
  • medical attention is provided when necessary
  • immediate emotional and practical support is provided to affected staff, patients or visitors
  • accurate details about what has happened are obtained from a reliable source to help with coordinating a response
  • an incident report is completed by the staff member involved. It may be necessary to help the staff member to complete the report, or complete it on their behalf, if physical or psychological issues are present.

Further response

You should also ensure that:

  • ongoing practical and emotional support is provided to affected staff using the principles of Psychological First Aid
  • staff are assisted to engage with support services, counsellors, or other health and mental health professionals, if required
  • an investigation of the incident is undertaken, existing controls and risk management processes are reviewed to reduce the risk of further incidents, and new controls are implemented
  • the incident is reported in line with local protocols (for example, to your senior manager and local health and safety representative) and reported to WorkSafe Victoria, if required
  • leave or other alterations to work are put in place, if required
  • information about return to work and/or WorkCover claims is provided, where relevant
  • staff are supported to report the matter to police, and if necessary with any subsequent legal processes (for example, giving evidence in court)
  • records of incidents are maintained, trends are analysed, and appropriate interventions and feedback to staff are provided
  • affected staff members are provided with a copy of Occupational violence and aggression post-incident support: a guide for health service staff.

Common reactions to OVA

Immediately after experiencing an incident of OVA, a person may experience a range of psychological reactions that can be quite intense and distressing.

Typically these are relatively short-term reactions to a very stressful situation. People usually recover after exposure to OVA, and often with practical and emotional support from others.

For some staff, however, OVA can have a more significant impact on their psychological wellbeing.

Find out more about common reactions to OVA.

Psychological First Aid

Psychological First Aid (PFA) can help managers provide early support to staff affected by OVA.

Most experts in post-traumatic mental health recommend PFA to provide early practical and emotional support to people who have experienced a very stressful or traumatic event.

This approach seeks to reduce initial distress, address basic needs (for example, comfort, information, practical and emotional needs), promote adaptive coping (for example, assist with problem-solving), and encourage engagement with existing social supports and professional services.

Find out more about Psychological First Aid.

Post-incident monitoring

In the initial weeks after an incident of OVA, you should follow up with affected staff members to check in on how they are coping, and where necessary provide ongoing practical and emotional support. You can do this by listening, helping them to make adjustments to their work duties, and helping them to engage with local or community-based supports, including mental health professionals if required. Remember, affected staff can include those directly involved in incidents, those who witness incidents, and those who see their colleagues in distress.

People vary in how long they need support after experiencing OVA. Checking in with an affected staff member for up to three months after the incident is appropriate. Most people recover within this time frame, so if things have not resolved, encourage them to seek additional supports.

How often you need to check in with staff depends on how they are coping. In general, frequency will reduce over time. In the first few weeks following the incident, you should try to check in with staff at least twice a week. Depending on how they are going, you could reduce this to weekly or fortnightly in the second and third month after the incident. If you aren't sure, ask staff how frequently they would like you to check in. It may help to set reminders in your diary.

Checking in doesn't have to be lengthy. A short chat can be enough to let them know you are available to help, and that you understand their experience may still be affecting them.

Tips to help you speak with staff

Consider the person's perspective and listen carefully. Summarise what they've said in your own words to show you've been listening.
Don't pressure the person to tell you what happened to them; instead, focus on how you can support them.
Speak with staff in a confidential environment.
If the person is distressed, don't feel like you have to make it go away. You could say something like, 'It's really tough to go through something like this'.
Don't give simplistic reassurances such as, 'I know how you feel', 'You shouldn't feel that way' or 'You'll be fine in no time'.
Allow enough time to speak with the person so they don't feel rushed.
Maintain a calm and caring approach even in difficult circumstances.
Don't worry about saying 'the right thing'; what's important is listening and showing genuine concern.
Don't talk about your own or someone else's troubles.
Avoid using humour that may be interpreted as making light of the situation.
Don't be tempted to share your own experiences of OVA as this could be interpreted as trivialising or lessening the person’s experience.
Try to get accurate details about what happened (preferably from someone not directly affected) before you offer support to staff.
Ask yourself whether you are the best person to speak with staff. If you have been directly affected by the incident, consider who else may be able to provide support.

Helpful things to say to staff

Safety
  • The area is well controlled; you're safe now.
  • Is there anyone you would like to have with you who would help you feel safer?
  • Let's work out a plan to get you home safely from work. How does that sound?
Calming
  • Those distressing reactions you describe are not uncommon; most people have a stress reaction after something like what you went through.
  • I can see you're very upset right now. That's quite understandable given what's happened.
  • What helps you to feel calm and take your mind off things? Is there something you could do to distract yourself?
  • Taking care of yourself and spending some relaxing time with family or friends can be quite helpful during this tough time.
Self-efficacy
  • I understand that you feel overwhelmed. Can you think of at least a couple of things that you do have some control over at the moment?
  • What has helped in the past when you've had to deal with a lot of stress? What hasn't worked so well for you?
  • I can see that there are competing demands at the moment. Let's work together to see what we can prioritise and what we can come back to later.
  • I can see that you want everything to return to normal as soon as possible, but you may want to pace yourself for a while. Try not to make any major decisions about work and home for a while.
Connectedness
  • It's helpful to have people around who you know you can rely on, and who you enjoy spending time with. I know that you are working night shift this week, but is there any chance over the next few days you could catch up with friends or family?
  • Would you like to talk this through with a counsellor? It can help to speak to someone confidentially about what's happened and how you're going.
  • I understand that you don't feel comfortable getting professional help just now. It's there if you change your mind.
  • Have you thought about seeing your GP or using the Employee Assistance Program? It might be good to touch base with someone neutral who can help you.
Hope
  • An investigation into the incident will be conducted. We’re keen to hear any ideas you might have about changes that could be made to reduce the risk of an incident like this happening again.
  • Let's catch up again to see how you're going. I really hope things will start to settle down for you soon.
  • You are doing such a great job of managing things considering how tough this has been.
  • I've got a few ideas about helping you get back to work in the near future. What do you say we make a time to meet with human resources or the Return to Work Coordinator to have a chat about that?

Promoting awareness in your workplace

As a manager, you can plan and implement simple and achievable activities that promote awareness of mental health issues and reduce stigma in the workplace, improve how staff respond after an incident, and provide staff with ready access to additional professional supports. These activities include:

  • talking to staff about the stress of working in healthcare settings and about the support that is available to help with work-related stress
  • talking to staff about the risk of OVA, preventative strategies that are in place (or will be put in place), the importance of staff reporting incidents, local policies and procedures, and what support and actions will occur if staff are exposed to OVA
  • inviting senior leaders and representatives of local peer or professional supports to talk and listen to staff about their roles and issues, what the organisation is doing to prevent OVA, and what they can offer following an incident of OVA
  • downloading or ordering WorkSafe Victoria's It's never OK campaign materials to display in staff areas
  • distributing and displaying information about local peer, EAP, and other professional supports and mental health professionals, as well as services in the community including the Better Access initiative and Lifeline
  • promoting awareness of beyondblue's Developing a workplace mental health strategy: a how-to guide for health services.

Taking care of yourself

After an incident of OVA, it's important that you look after your own wellbeing.

Use this simple 10-question self-assessment tool to measure your psychological distress.

Read our ten tips on coping with an incident of OVA.