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'A Discussion Of The Advances Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Ptsd) Management And The Lessons Applicable To Future Occupational Stress Management'.

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

ESSAY II

'A discussion of the advances of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) management and the lessons applicable to future Occupational Stress management'.

Health and Safety in the workplace has become more prolific over the past 25 years. The strength of the unions and increased public awareness of corporate responsibility have demanded that organisations accept a greater responsibility for the health and safety of their employees. Whilst progress is being made, the wealth of compensation claims and massive corporate fines for negligence, however, suggests that health and safety has yet to reach the top of the priority list for some organisations. In fact, a 2001 Canadian Human Resource (HR) Reporter's survey of HR professionals indicated that only 30% ranked health and safety and 16% ranked wellness as being 'very important'. More recently, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) published their Value of Health and Safety Report (2005) highlighting that most health and safety professionals spend less than a quarter of their time tackling occupational health issues; one of which is occupational stress. These reports not only indicate the low commitment from HR practitioners towards health and safety, it also identifies a more worrying position for occupational health.

Organisations with a poor occupational health record face problems associated with absenteeism and the threat of compensation related legal action. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development Absence Management Survey (2005), indicates sickness absence accounts for 4% of working time, equivalent to 8.4 working days or $1200 per employee per year. In addition, the courts are awarding employees significant damages for work related stress. With both impacting on the 'bottom line', it is therefore not surprising that absence management and workplace wellness is becoming one of 'HR professionals' top three agenda items' (Human Resources Canada, 2002). According to the Health and Safety Executive, this progress is crucial as 'stress is likely to become the most dangerous risk to business in the early part of the 21st Century'.

There is currently no statute specifically covering the issue of stress in the workplace and the law governing stress has evolved mainly from case law rather than legislation. Under existing health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to undertake risk assessments and manage activities to reduce the incidence of stress at work. Examples include the European Union Framework Directive 89/391 and the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executives 'Management Standards for Work-Related Stress' (2004). Although these standards are still voluntary, the Health and Safety Executive has indicated that they will be used as evidence against employers that continue to ignore their responsibilities in managing stress under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

In response to the above as well as the knowledge that both employees and employers have become more cognisant of the effects of work-related stress, HR departments of organisations have begun to implement measures to address occupational health issues. At the strategic level, some organisations have implemented a 'Stress or Well Being Policy'. This requires organisations to undertake an audit of their policies, procedures and systems to ensure that they provide a working environment that protects the well being of their workforce whilst also being able to identify troubled employees and provide them with the appropriate level of support. At a more tactical level, HR practitioners and supervisors are using approaches that look to identify the occupational health related problem through the risk assessments discussed above whilst also examining sickness absence levels, claims for compensation and performance deficits. Operational level approaches include those that take a more proactive stance and look towards identifying ways of creating a healthy workforce through education, employee counselling and stress management training.

Falling under the occupational health umbrella is the form of occupational stress described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Being hailed as 'a phenomenon of the 21st Century' (Meighen, 2005), the term PTSD was introduced in 1980 to describe a pattern of symptoms associated with the reaction to the aftermath of a traumatic event. Whilst it is considered normal for people to show some reaction in the immediate to short term, Hoge et al (2004) suggests that between 10-30% of people exposed to a traumatic event will go on to experience a range of traumatic symptoms in the longer term. Symptoms include persistent flashbacks of the event, avoidance of any of the reminders of the event, feelings of emotional detachment and numbness and an exaggerated 'startle' response or hyper vigilance. Although concerns about the psychological effects of trauma were initially raised in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, it is only in the last decade that governments and military institutions have begun to take any action.

Initial research into PTSD focused

on employees whose jobs were more likely to put them at risk such as emergency service personnel and members of the armed forces with combat experience. More recent studies have shown that any occupation can be susceptible to traumatic events as a result of workplace accidents and injuries. Since organisations are already adhering to forms of health and safety legislation that seek to reduce workplace accidents, there are two reasons why they should also consider the need for a trauma management strategy. Firstly, workplace trauma may have an effect on the ability of employees to function on both a personal and a professional level and, secondly, the significant legal implications associated, not just with the nature of a workplace accident but also the organisations response and after care, can be financially costly. Since, however, the majority of information and media speculation regarding PTSD focuses primarily on the armed forces, the remainder of this essay will concentrate specifically on this occupational group.

For the United States (US) Military the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the most sustained combat operations since Vietnam, while it is possible that they may be as prolonged. It took the Vietnam War for the military community to understand and accept the effects of traumatic experiences on psychological well being; since war veterans began legal proceedings against governments for failing to recognise

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