Critical Incident Stress Management

Critical Incident Stress Management

Critical incident stress management provides support to assist the recovery of normal individuals experiencing normal distress following exposure to abnormal events. It is based on a series of comprehensive and confidential strategies that aim to minimise any adverse emotional reaction the person may have.

Critical incident stress management strategies in the workplace include:

  • Preparing workers for a possible critical incident in the workplace
  • Demobilisation (rest, information and time out – RIT)
  • Defusing (immediate small group support)
  • Debriefing (powerful event group support)
  • One-on-one support sessions
  • Follow-up support.


Critical incidents may trigger a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure and anxiety. Demobilisation (rest, information and time out) is a way of calming workers following a critical incident and ensuring that their immediate needs are met. A supervisor or manager who was not involved in the incident, or affected by it, carries out the demobilisation.

A demobilisation takes place before the end of a shift or before those involved in the incident disperse. Strategies include:

  • Convene a meeting for those involved as soon as possible.
  • Summarise the incident and clarify uncertainties.
  • Invite questions and discuss issues of concern.
  • Show care and support, including the provision of Psychological First Aid.
  • Draw up a plan of action, taking into account the needs of the workers.
  • Make short-term arrangements for work responsibilities.
  • Offer information on defusing and debriefing.


Defusing (immediate small group support) is conducted by a trained staff member and is designed to bring the experience of the incident to a conclusion and provide immediate personal support. The aim is to stabilise the responses of workers involved in the incident and provide an opportunity for them to express any immediate concerns. This step should take place within 12 hours of the incident.

Strategies include:

  • Review the event.
  • Clarify workers’ questions and concerns.
  • Encourage workers to talk about what happened.
  • Identify current needs.
  • Offer workers advice, information and handouts on referrals and support agencies.
  • Arrange debriefing and follow-up sessions to provide additional information about the event when available.

Follow-up support

Stress responses can develop over time and follow-up support may be required by some workers or groups. Perspectives may change after the first debriefing session and additional sessions may need to focus on new aspects of the incident or stress reactions.

It is also common for critical incidents to bring up a range of personal issues for workers. Short-term counselling may be required to prevent further difficulties. Where counselling sessions identify other or more complex needs, it may be important to refer a worker to an appropriate service for additional support.