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Psychological trauma widespread in federal public safety employees: Union

Workers in RCMP detachments, parole officers affected by victim statements, graphic evidence
| Canadian Occupational Safety

A report released by the Union of Solicitor General Employees (USGE) calls for federal measures to protect and recognize public safety and justice workers who are at significant risk of suffering psychological injuries from exposure to second-hand trauma at work.

The national survey reveals public safety employees are negatively affected by the violent nature of criminal histories, victim statements, graphic evidence and related materials that they manage in high-stress work environments. Of the 92 per cent of respondents across all departments who work with written material or statements during a typical workday, 84 per cent said they are exposed to traumatic content. These include parole officers, teachers and others working in federal prisons as well as employees in RCMP detachments, federal courts and the Parole Board of Canada. USGE represents more than 16,000 members in 17 federal departments.

“The toll from constant exposure to trauma on front-line workers such as police, paramedics and firefighters is widely-recognized,” said USGE national president Stan Stapleton. “Yet public safety and justice workers working behind the scenes are disproportionately affected by exposure to second-hand trauma. These workers receive almost no training or preparation, few protections and little recognition for their injuries.”

The respondents, predominantly female, included RCMP public employees who transcribe hundreds of hours of victim statements describing horrific child sexual abuse; parole officers who document detailed histories of violent offenders; and program officers who work in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders.

More than three-quarters (79 per cent) of those surveyed said they had experienced at least some personal impact from viewing traumatic material.

“We could write a book and nobody would believe what we see, read, hear, endure and deal with every day,” said a female parole officer. “How do you read some of the most traumatic, horrifying and terrifying material and then come home to your family and not bring this with you?”

Eighty per cent of respondents said they experienced at least one of the following: insomnia, nightmares, depression, increased alcohol and drug consumption and relationship problems.

The report recommends amending the Government Employees Compensation Act to recognize operational stress injury for public servants exposed to both direct and vicarious trauma, as well as providing access to specialized trauma counsellors.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of COS.

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