Doctor wheeling patient
Image © JazzIRT | iStock

Fast-paced environments, demanding schedules, and high-stakes decision-making all contribute to the stressful environment emergency response workers endure daily

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated this, with huge increases in call volumes placing unprecedented pressure on the mental health of emergency workers.

Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t improved much as the backlog of delayed treatments and chronic conditions continue to build, and the combined “Twin-demic” (COVID and flu) continues to create high work volumes even if the risk, for most, is now lower. Because of this and other issues, staff vacancies in the NHS are at an all-time high, leading to unprecedented strike action by nurses and ambulance call handlers and paramedics.

Mental strain in high-pressure environments

Even prior to the pandemic, it was clear that emergency response workers were subjected to huge amounts of stress and pressure due to the nature of the work involved.

Research from Kings College London, the Open University, and The Royal Foundation found that UK emergency responders were more likely to experience mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to those in other professions across the UK.

Another study conducted by Ryerson and Toronto University found that control room staff experience a similar rate of trauma and mental health problems as their colleagues who arrive at the scene to respond to the emergency at hand. In fact, it also found that the level of trauma may be heightened for some individuals due to their remoteness from the scene and their consequent lack of agency and closure.

‘Levels of trauma may be heightened for some individuals due to their remoteness from the scene and their consequent lack of agency and closure’

Other studies have shown that emergency response workers are now at a higher risk of experiencing PTSD and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). For example, one in four blue light staff have considered ending their life, and over two-thirds (63 per cent) have wanted to leave their job as a direct result of poor mental health or stress.

Awareness of the mental health concerns of emergency responders seems to be increasing, and organisations, such as the Blue Light Programme, are highlighting the issue. The programme emphasises the importance of reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues, promotes overall well-being, and improves the availability of mental health resources for safety workers.

Anesthesiologist watching computer monitor on a surgery in hospital
Image © FG Trade | IStock

Harnessing technology and data to improve well-being

Innovation has also played its part in alleviating the stress placed on public safety workers. Technology and data analysis can help monitor staff workloads and traumatic coded jobs, allowing supervisors to provide staff with some respite and flexibility in their work environment.

For example, by examining routine operational data, such as that generated from computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, 999 centre managers can gain insight into daily trends and activity. In fact, team supervisors can generate reports to identify possible misalignment of staffing levels and predict peak call times, allowing earlier intervention. With this insight, teams can address public demand and balance workloads more effectively between staff, meaning teams can avoid working extensive hours, which is known to place tremendous strain on emergency response workers’ mental health.

Reducing the pressure on call centre staff at all levels

By further integrating with artificial intelligence, operational analytics and data can provide new levels of assistive insights to dispatchers. Autonomous processes can work quickly and efficiently in the background to scan for anomalies, connections, and patterns across all calls coming into the control room. This additional information can help to reduce the pressure on call centre staff at all levels by lessening the amount of traumatic coded jobs being sent to the same dispatcher and routing fewer such incidents to new employees.

Operational technologies can also be configured to provide staff with necessary pathways to mental health resources after potentially traumatic events have occurred. For example, by displaying a pop-up window once a pattern of calls had been dealt with. By providing access to these kinds of resources directly after experiencing a distressing event, supervisors can ensure stress is minimised as much as possible, prioritising mental health and wellbeing.

Cloud technologies can also play a vital role by connecting staff with public safety data and applications from a temporary office or even home during an emergency. In addition to providing emergency services with a level of resiliency in their operations, this type of workplace flexibility can also help to improve employee wellbeing by offering more convenient work patterns and avoiding hours wasted on long commutes.

A healthier approach to protect emergency response workers

Long before COVID, the mental health of emergency response workers was in jeopardy. Due to the stressful nature of their work, public safety workers undergo mental health stresses beyond what most of the public experience. This can lead to an array of complex mental health issues, including burnout and trauma. Although it would be impossible to remove each stressful factor from emergency response, taking steps to mitigate them and support the well-being of safety workers is hugely important and should be prioritised.

Given the rise in mental health issues, it is more important than ever for agency leaders and control room managers to prioritise the care of employees. By implementing modern technologies, leaders can do their part to protect the mental well-being of those who work on the frontline.

By Nick Chorley, Director, EMEA Public Safety & Security, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here