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Critical Incident Stress and Support

Critical Incident Stress and Support



Surf Life Saving Australia have a number of responsibilities when it comes to caring for members, including the development of systems for managing critical incidents and stress, and promoting a culture of safety and wellbeing.

Due to the nature of Surf Lifesaving, our members can be exposed to potentially traumatic events. Examples may include the recovery of a drowned person, the administration of major first aid treatment, performing resuscitation, or a perceived threat to the lifesaver’s own life. These can lead to the lifesaver experiencing ‘critical incident stress’. People will respond to situations differently, even a minor incident can cause issues, while some others are strengthened by the experience.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Flashbacks

  • Hyper-vigilance

  • Changes in behaviour (possibly appetite)

  • Avoidance or withdrawal

  • Emotional outbursts


Psychological first aid is designed to reduce the effects of the initial distress and involves strategies for promoting natural recovery processes and reducing the potential for the trauma to become ingrained. Any member who has experienced a traumatic event is encouraged to:

  • Exercise

  • Talk with someone you trust

  • Keep to a routine

  • Spend time with family

  • Decrease alcohol/caffeine consumption

  • Engage in positive thinking

  • Rest and sleep

  • Let thoughts flow

  • Perform slow breathing exercises


Surf Life Saving Australia 2014, Public Safety and Aquatic Rescue, 34th edition, Elsevier (Australia), Chatswood, NSW, pp. 2 and 12.

After an incident your patrol team should conduct a debrief where broad details of the incident are discussed, including performance and the emotional response of members. We as a surf club encourage you to talk to your Patrol Captain, Operations Manager (Suzanne Fairbrother) or Club President (Paul Willmot), or anyone you feel comfortable to talk with. We highly encourage our underage members to talk to their parents. If you require further help, you can organise counselling with a local therapist or contact Surf Life Saving Tasmania where confidential counselling can be arranged.

Surf Life Saving Tasmania – 62167800

Beyond Blue (depression and anxiety) – 1300224636
eHeadspace (mental health and wellbeing support for 12-25 year old) – 1800650890
Lifeline (crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention) - 131114

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