Last reviewed 2 June 2020

A health and safety professional body has warned that recognising the secondary trauma suffered among key workers during the coronavirus crisis will be essential for recovery.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, key workers have been keeping essential services going for the public, and in so doing potentially have had more exposure to the coronavirus. This is certainly true for healthcare workers.

With healthcare workers in particular having to manage critical issues daily, such as lack of hospital facilities, personal protection measures and exhausting working hours, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has called for closer safeguarding of key workers’ psychological health linked to Covid-19 related secondary trauma.

Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is the technical term for when an individual has been exposed to difficult or disturbing images or events, whether it be directly or indirectly.

This can occur by coming into contact with material that has negatively impacted wellbeing.

While occupational secondary trauma is not a new concept, with journalists, police officers and crime scene investigators being the professionals most likely to suffer from symptoms of secondary trauma, IOSH says the safeguarding of key workers globally during lockdown and as we move into the recovery stage of this pandemic is essential.

Commenting on the issue, Bev Messinger, Chief Executive of IOSH, said, “We believe it is essential to protect workers’ physical and mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers and others on the frontline must have adequate mental health support and return-to-work processes throughout these challenging times.”

She continued: “Many workers are also working from home and may begin to experience a range of emotions including a loss of control, boredom, frustration and loneliness, therefore occupational safety and health professionals have important roles in helping organisations and governments manage wellbeing risks during this pandemic.”