About the initiatives
Ambulance NSW provides clinical care and ambulance services to more than 7.25 million people across New South Wales. It employs 4,000 people, 90 per cent of whom are operational staff on the front lines of service.
Because these front-line staff are regularly exposed to traumatic events, mental health in the workplace is a principal concern for Ambulance NSW. Its primary means of ensuring mental health is a thorough staff support system, one element of which is the peer support program.
The program consists of 140 peer support officers and a full-time peer support team coordinator. Peer support officers are paramedics who maintain their regular roles, but also take on a peer support role on a voluntary basis. Staff undergo a two-day training program to become peer support officers and participate in refresher courses and regular contact with an EAP psychologist. The training program covers topics such as mental health awareness, active listening and recognising the signs that someone is at risk of self-harm. It also acts as a screening tool to find the right people for the job.
Early intervention is believed to help prevent mental health issues. The intention of the program is to develop qualified staff members to support their peers – someone they can talk to who understands the difficulties of the job, who they can relate to at their level.
The program also incorporates a staff support activation policy. Through this policy, peer support officers proactively contact workers who have participated in jobs known to have a traumatic impact, such as the death of a child, to check on them and offer support.
Recent improvements include enhancing coverage of the peer support program and developing and distributing cards with contact details of all staff support services. The organisation is also developing a smartphone app that would make it easier for paramedics to find a peer support officer in their region when they need it.
Other workplace mental health initiatives of Ambulance NSW include:
- managers are trained in supporting staff members, particularly in identifying mental health issues and providing assistance and referrals
- stress management training is mandatory for new staff and refreshers are provided periodically for current staff
- the ‘Support Your Buddy’ program is designed to encourage colleagues to support each other in the workplace
- a dedicated committee has been set up to look for strategic ways to develop support staff and improve employee wellbeing and mental health
- participation in community initiatives such as Mental Health Month and participation in R U Ok Day
- regular wellness checks for paramedics involving a one-hour, voluntary appointment with a psychologist about improving mental health and stress management
How the initiatives came about
The findings of a parliamentary inquiry in 2008 gave rise to a broad program of looking at how Ambulance NSW could better support its staff.