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Saskatchewan company leads the way in offering psychological first aid training for employees

By: Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross
 
When a company has employees who are responsible for operating a potash mine in the midst of chemical compounds and massive machinery, their physical safety, as well as their mental health, is a priority.

A picture of K and S Potash Canada mine

That’s why K+S Potash Canada, a mining company and in Bethune Saskatchewan, became the first business in the province to reach out to the Red Cross for psychological first aid training.
“We felt it was important to give members of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) the tools they need to successfully respond to any situation,” said Scott Gibney, coordinator of the Emergency Response Team at K+S Potash Canada. “These members could see and experience things that are traumatic and could potentially create a lot of stress in their day-to-day activities.” 

After the Humboldt Broncos tragedy in April 2018 where 16 members of the Junior A hockey team were killed and 13 others injured in a bus crash, the Red Cross was asked to help support individuals who were affected. The Red Cross Psychological First Aid program was launched and offered for free to people like coaches, billet parents and player parents before being offered to players as part of this support. These people were not related to the Humboldt Broncos, but many of them grew up playing in the hockey league.

The Red Cross Psychological First Aid program aims to teach non-mental health professionals how to help others who are experiencing loss, grief and stress, particularly as a result of a traumatic event such as a disaster or emergency. However, it also addresses self-care, not just related to disasters, but to every day stressors. Evidence shows that most people impacted by disasters and emergencies will recover well if they have access to information, support, and referrals.

“This course is for everyone,” said Andrea Wilkie, Red Cross First Aid Program representative in Saskatchewan. “It’s a daily aid to facing the stresses of life. It helps participants gain an understanding of how to recognize when someone is experiencing distress, and how to offer help.”

The program offers two options for learning – a session that is conducted entirely in the classroom, or a blended course consisting of an online module followed by a seven hour in-class session. K+S Potash Canada expanded the training to include employees who are not on its ERT. “It was important to have employees not directly associated with the team attend this training, to ensure there would be people at arm’s length to respond to any traumatic situation,” said Gibney.

Conducted in a room at the Moose Jaw Public Library in March 2019, 13 K+S Potash Canada employees learned practical methods of helping someone experiencing extreme stress – manifesting itself in reactions that interfere with their ability to function. It was one of several trainings held for K+S Potash Canada employees.

“This course provided insight into how stress can manifest itself physically and emotionally and brought awareness to some basic methods of identifying and coping with these reactions,” said Gibney. “It has helped our team pay close attention to our psychological health, before and after emergency callouts, both in themselves and their team members.”

Would he recommend it to other companies? “Absolutely,” said Gibney. “This is a good course for a basic understanding of an issue that is often overlooked.”

To find a Psychological First Aid course near you, visit www.redcross.ca/findacourse.
 
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