The West

WA lags on protecting officers trauma: report
Medically retired police officers, David Bentley, David Matthews and David Nelson with the trauma report. Picture: Guy Magowan/The West Australian

WA is lagging the rest of the nation in safeguarding the mental health of those who protect the public and the State Government should make sweeping improvements, a parliamentary committee has urged.

A year-long inquiry into trauma suffered by emergency workers and volunteers recommended that police and fire agency bosses be made "personally responsible for the psychological health" of those reporting to them.

Although hailing the report as signalling a new era in emergency personnel management, three former police officers lamented it recommended no redress for those who had already been mentally shattered in the line of duty.

The report, tabled in State Parliament yesterday, found no WA emergency service kept track of how many critical incidents workers responded to in a given period, noting the cumulative effect drastically increased the magnitude of trauma.

Committee chairman Tony O'Gorman told Parliament the workers were burdened with "a huge toll and one that is not recognised by our agencies sufficiently".

"We don't look after them well enough," Mr O'Gorman said.

One police witness told the committee he had attended about 100 deaths during five years with the police railway unit.

"Debriefing" among workers after critical incidents was paramount, but there was just one peer support officer for every 69 WA police officers. In Queensland, the ratio was one to 21.

About 12 officers a year were medically retired from WA Police during the past five years, according to the report.

The committee recommended WA Police, the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and Department of Environment and Conservation create a computer program tracking attendance at critical incidents and more funding for "psychological first aid". David Matthews, David Nelson and David Bentley, who left WA Police after breakdowns, welcomed the report but were disappointed it had not recommend financial help for traumatised former officers.

"When we walked out the door, we were the forgotten people," Mr Bentley said.

The West Australian

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