Job options key for emergency service workers' mental health
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Job options key for emergency service workers' mental health

Helping emergency service workers transition to other careers - including in the public sector - can be a key tool in addressing trauma associated with frontline duties, a senate inquiry has heard.

Appearing on Wednesday before a committee investigating the prevalence of mental health conditions among first responders, ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane said frontline workers needed to be provided with alternative career options in the event they suffered a breakdown.

Mr Lane said that could involve firefighters switching to roles in the ambulance service, or even to office jobs in the wider public service.

 ACT Ambulance Service Chief Officer Howard Wren and ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Dominic Lane gave evidence at a Senate inquiry on Wednesday.

ACT Ambulance Service Chief Officer Howard Wren and ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Dominic Lane gave evidence at a Senate inquiry on Wednesday. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Movement between the historically insular workforces was already occurring, he said.

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"Traditionally that might have been seen as quite outside the norm and extremely unusual [to switch roles] - and heaven forbid they actually took a role in the public sector," Mr Lane told the senate committee.

"But what is important is that people have options because, unfortunately, people in the past felt like they didn't have options.

"It gets back to people work really hard to gain a role as a paramedic or as a firefighter. At their graduation, you see them with their families and how proud they are because they have attained their lifelong dream in many cases.

"It becomes very challenging, of course, when that dream job starts to unfold."

Mr Lane suggested traditional rivalries and cultural differences between emergency service agencies had inhibited the movement of employees between the organisations.

The commissioner, who gave evidence at the hearing alongside ACT Ambulance chief officer Howard Wren, said the ACT Emergency Services Agency had a heightened focus on the welfare of its frontline workers.

The agency has a dedicated welfare programs manager, the product of an ACT government 2016 election pledge, as well as dozens of employees in peer-support roles.

Paramedics have also received mental health training a part of is first-aid program.

A total of 116 submissions have been submitted to the senate inquiry, which is examining the underlying causes of mental health issues experienced by first responders, the links between frontline work and trauma, as well as how conditions are managed in emergency service organisations.

On Wednesday, it heard evidence from the Australian Federal Police, national police and ambulance unions and insurance companies involved in assessing compensation claims.

The senate committee - which has already held six public hearings across Australia - is due to report its findings in February next year.