Beyond the Incident: Dealing with Workplace Trauma

Two people hugging and consoling each other.In the United States, approximately 13 workers suffer fatal injuries on the job every day. For every tragedy, there are co-workers who witnessed the incident or worked with the deceased employee, a safety and health inspector who responded to investigate, or family members and friends who received calls that altered their lives.

Many people hear “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD and think of its effect on people who serve in the military or as police or first responders. Yet research shows trauma happens in many other high-risk and high-stress jobs and impacts workers in any industry. The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. It can also be caused by witnessing a traumatic incident or after sustaining a painful, unexpected loss of a loved one.

On June 27, 2010, Congress recognized National PTSD Awareness Day to bring awareness to the effects of post-traumatic stress on the lives impacted by it and to help people understand the signs and how to get help. From 2010 through 2021, work-related injuries in the United States took the lives of more than 59,000 Americans. These deaths remain a source of traumatic stress for people across the nation.

For 15 years, I have connected with families affected directly by a workplace incident and seen how PTSD goes beyond grief. Simple things — the loud boom of a car engine backfiring, smoke drifting from a barbeque grill, a movie villain plunging from a great height — can jar loose awful memories of explosions, fire and fatal falls. Unavoidable triggers become constant reminders of the worst day of their loved one’s life.

For some left behind, life becomes a journey scarred by permanent loss. A source of pain that makes them avoid family, friends and other people. A wound that disrupts their lives, forcing them to change places, routines and even jobs to cope with PTSD and its symptoms. An unwanted workplace trauma that forever challenges the mental health of some.

Today, take a moment to consider those forced to survive in the aftermath of a work-related fatality. If you know someone who’s faced the unimaginable loss of a loved one in a job-related tragedy, share your concern or just let them know you care. Encourage working people you know to speak up if they ever feel unsafe on the job. If we all do our small part, we can comfort those who need us and perhaps prevent a father, mother, son or daughter from dying as they try to earn a living.
Find OSHA resources to help employers reduce workplace stress and support mental health or call 988 or chat at

The Department of Labor also has resources for helping mental health at work, for workers and employers.

Tonya Ford is a family liaison for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Follow OSHA on Twitter at @OSHA_DOL and on LinkedIn.