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Letter: Please — protect our protectors

I have seen more traumatic death than any person should. I have encountered the devil in human form and I have carried bundles of stress that would break many humans but, for some unknown reason, just knocked me down.

I experienced this exposure to these hazards during my 30 years of public service as a police officer. All persons with long-term exposure to the types of hazards mentioned above will be affected by that exposure. Oftentimes the exposure will result in injury, and sometimes the injury will be fatal. We witnessed that recently at the funeral of Cpl Trevor O’Keefe in Bay Bulls.

Last week, as I was driving through the recent aftermath of a head-on collision near Howley, some horrendous images from my past involvement with traumatic deaths crept to the forefront of my memory. Fortunately, with the passage of time, the images are not as crisp as they used to be and it has become easier for me to push them back into the “do not open” memory drawer. I can push them back but I cannot erase them. Some first responders cannot push them back.

As I continued through the debris field, I recognized a first responder. I know Terry from my 10 years of service on the west coast. I wondered how Terry was doing. He has been exposed to events like this for about 30 years. I wondered, what is Terry’s exposure limit? Has he reached it? We all have different exposure limits. The limit represents the maximum concentration of a hazard to which a person can be exposed to over a period of time without suffering any harmful consequences. What is your exposure limit to traumatic events?

Although I was pleased to hear the recent public discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I was disappointed that I did not hear any discussion about prevention. We all agree that more must be done to help our first responders who suffer psychological injuries in the workplace, but isn’t an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure? I can tell you that very little is being done to prevent psychological injuries to our emergency first responders. This is aggravated by the fact that employers of first responders exist and operate on public funding.

All occupational injuries are preventable. Employers can be held criminally responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to workers. Employers in Newfoundland and Labrador are required to have a comprehensive health and safety program. Do the RCMP and RNC have health and safety programs that meet the legal requirements? Are hazards that could cause psychological injuries identified and adequately managed within the program? I know that as of the year 2012 the RNC did not have a health and safety program, and during my employment there, the organization did not have a system for the recognition, evaluation and control of hazards. Has anything changed since 2012?

We must do more to protect our protectors. What should we do? We must keep talking about this problem and ask the tough questions to the employers of emergency first responders.

The minister of Service NL must make the prevention of psychological injuries to emergency first responders a priority. First responders are being crippled by PTSD and some are dying because of it. I encourage you visit WorkPlace NL and the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Division’s websites to check government’s response to this significant workplace issue. Good luck finding any reference to psychological injuries and hazards.

OH&S legislation requires the establishment of a health surveillance program by employers where workers could be exposed to hazard substances, but yet for exposure to traumatic events that can injure and kill, there are no requirements.  Why not? Surely if we identify psychological injuries early the injured workers can be better treated and we will prevent deaths. 

I will end my letter on a personal note to Chief Joe Boland of the RNC. Joe, during your time as leader of the RNC, please make the prevention of psychological injuries to emergency first responders a priority. To help you with this, I am prepared to offer myself in a volunteer capacity.


Calvin Barrett
Labrador City

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