The Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness & Performance (CISWP) at Conestoga has launched Addressing Operational Stress Injuries during Infectious Public Health Crises: A Guide for Paramedic Service Organizations.
This new guideline provides paramedic service organizations with a series of evidence-informed, action-orientated recommendations to address the numerous stressors associated with paramedic work in response to infectious disease outbreak. Operational stress injuries refer to a broad range of mental health conditions caused by operational stressors that may include tending to medical calls, overtime and shiftwork.
“This guideline addresses a critical gap as there are very few evidence-informed tools, guidelines and resources available to support the mental health and wellness of paramedics during an infectious public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Amin Yazdani, CISWP director. “We are making this guideline freely available to paramedics across Canada. The guideline and the self-reflection tool can be adopted by paramedic service organizations to evaluate their response in supporting the mental health of their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and document lessons learned to prepare for future public health crises.”
According to CISWP, paramedics are at an elevated risk for developing mental health conditions due to long hours, shift work, limited control over work and exposure to traumatic events. The additional stress caused by COVID-19, such as coping with staffing challenges, elevated levels of fear and anxiety, isolation from the community and the stigma of being perceived as carriers of the virus will likely increase the likelihood and severity of mental health injuries among paramedics.
CISWP’s new guideline provides paramedic service organizations with a series of evidence-informed, action-orientated recommendations outlined as Ten Organizational Elements to implement an organizational-wide program to address operational stress injuries (OSI). These elements are:
- COMMIT: Cultivate a psychologically safe and healthy workplace
- COMMUNICATE: Provide clear and consistent communication
- EDUCATE: Provide mental health and infection prevention and control training
- RELIEVE: Provide opportunities for recovery and maintaining resiliency
- IDENTIFY: Identify and recognize the common and diverse risk factors of OSI
- MONITOR: Detect early signs and symptoms of OSI
- SUPPORT: Provide various types of mental health support services
- ACCOMMODATE: Provide meaningful work accommodations
- EVALUATE: Collect relevant data to inform program development and continuous improvement
- ANTICIPATE: Plan for future infectious public health crises
Yazdani said the goal is to support paramedic service organizations in proactively addressing the numerous stressors associated with paramedic work in response to infectious disease outbreak, creating a workplace to support psychological health and safety, and reducing the risks and negative impacts of operational stress injuries.
Development of the guideline was informed by the available grey and peer-reviewed literature as well as consultations with subject matter experts within the Canadian paramedic community during regular operations and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The guideline is in alignment with Canadian Standards Association's (CSA Group) Standards Z1011.1-2022 Work Disability Management for Paramedics and Z1003.1-18 Psychological Health and Safety in the Paramedic Service Organization.
Research partners across Canada supported this applied research project led by the CISWP team of Dr. Yazdani, Dr. Marcus Yung and Mr. Bronson Du, CISWP researcher and project coordinator. Conestoga’s Dr. Veronique Boscart and Dr. Philip Bigelow from the University of Waterloo also supported the project.
This guideline draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) on behalf of the College and Community Innovation Program - Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19.
Download the guideline and accompanying tools:
- A Quick Start Guide for Paramedic Service Organizations
- Addressing Operational Stress Injuries during Infectious Public Health Crises: A Guide for Paramedic Service Organizations
- Self-Reﬂection Tool for Paramedic Service Organizations