Real life part 2: Navigating next steps after experiencing a critical incident

We at Operation Lifesaver have embarked on a new series that will feature some firsthand accounts from survivors, those who work with people who have experienced critical incidents in the workplace, and rail employees willing to share their experiences. In sharing their stories, we hope that you will be reminded of the very real dangers associated with trespassing on railway property and behaving unsafely at highway-railway crossings. Please share these stories with your family and friends so that no one you love befalls a similar fate.

Last week we shared Stacey’s story of survival. For this instalment of the series, we sat down with Sue Brady, of Brady and Associates, an Oakville, Ont., company that provides unique occupational health and critical incident management services to the corporate community for both management and employees. Sue has worked with VIA Rail for quite some time and recently began working with Operation Lifesaver in December 2013.

Can you tell us a bit about Brady and Associates?

Our services were developed in response to a need in the corporate community for small town professional attention in a workplace that confronts many demands and challenges for employees.

Of special interest to myself is the Critical Incident Management Program, which provides support to employees who have experienced trauma in the workplace. I have worked with railway and airline employees after worksite incidents, bank employees after serious bank robberies, and returning American soldiers from the combat zones, to name a few. I also led a team to New York City to work with employees working with Canadian corporations after the 9/11 attacks.

What is your job exactly?

When it comes to Critical Incident Management, we are the interventionists. We help the employees with ‘emotional first aid’ assisting in defusing and debriefing after a critical incident. We are there to listen, support and ensure they are ‘safe’. We do not offer ongoing therapy but will help folks to negotiate the healthcare system to find longer-term care providers, who will work with them individually. I have also been part of the VIA Peer Support Team for the last nine years which takes employees who have suffered a workplace trauma on a retreat for three days.

How long have you been doing it? 

[caption id="attachment_8186" align="alignright" width="305"]Sue Brady Sue Brady[/caption]

My first exposure to Critical Incident Management was in 1998, when a bank employee was killed at their worksite.

Can you elaborate on critical incident management?

Dr. Roger Solomon has stated:

“A critical incident is any situation beyond the realm of a person’s usual experience that overwhelms our sense of vulnerability and/or disrupts our sense of control.”

Defining differences to how each individual handles a critical incident in their life include their perception of vulnerability and their ability to control any given situation.

What areas do you focus on in regards to this subject?

There are simple essentials of being a good responder or peer supporter. Let the person who has experienced the critical incident know you are there for them, encourage them to tell you of their experience, stay focused on what they are saying and the body language that they are conveying. Let them know that everything they share will be held in confidence, and do not share your own opinions or biases to the situation or others that might be involved in that situation. Practicing ‘active listening’ with the occasional head nod, or responding, ‘I see, I understand, I hear you’.

Of these areas (i.e. anger management, workplace violence, sudden death), where do you find that you are needed the most?

Most of the responses we are involved in are ‘sudden death’. This could be a railway trespasser incident, the sudden death of a favourite employee in the workplace, or a worksite tragedy.

Do you offer strategies that employers can refer to time and again?

We have assisted several corporations with guidelines for response for ‘violence in the workplace’ or support after a crisis in the workplace. Some corporations have information sheets that we have produced that they provide to their employees after a worksite intervention.

In particular, Dr. Solomon and an ex-railroader, Tim Kaufman, set the strategy for the Peer Support Program at VIA Rail many years before I got involved. This program is world class. The Executive Management Team and the Union at VIA have been extremely supportive.

Can you share some of the feedback you’ve received from impacted employees you’ve worked with in the past?

The following comments have been sent to me personally:

“Your workshop has made a difference in my life and being able to open up and not being judged makes this workshop work.”

“I have been in my job for over 30 years. After my 10th incident my doctor asked: ‘When you started, did you realize that people could die while you were doing your job and you would have no control over that?’. I am so glad that (my employer) has provided the Peer Support workshop.  My images have been stuck in my face from the first accident and many of the ones in-between.  Now I no longer see them. They are put away after all these years because of (working with Brady and Associates). I will be able to tell my doctor ‘Yes, I have been told and am now as prepared as possible and know where to seek help if I need it.’”

If you could share any advice for a victim of a rail incident (i.e. the family, engineer, first responders) what would it be?

Talk to other colleagues and their families about their feelings and experience. It helps to ‘talk it out’, and not isolate yourself. If these ‘abnormal feelings’ continue for more than 7 – 10 days they should speak to a health care professional.

Why do you think rail safety is important?

By the very nature of rail travel, most incidents involve tragedy. Trains cannot stop ‘on a dime’ nor ‘swerve’ to miss someone on the train’s tracks. AND there are more victims than the person who dies or is maimed on the tracks – there are the engineers who witness the incident, the onboard staff who could also have seen the results of the collision, the passengers on the train, and the family and friends of the victim. This is why the Operation Lifesaver is so important for public education of adults and children.


Thank you so much, Sue, for taking the time to provide more information about Brady and Associates and to share with us the extremely important work you do with victims of critical incidents.

For more information and to access a wealth of free online rail safety resources, please bookmark Operation Lifesaver, and share it with your family and friends.

Now that you’ve read Stacey’s and Sue’s stories about their personal involvement and commitment to rail safety, we encourage you to read a few more and learn the importance of rail safety and how it affects all those involved.

As always, we would like to remind you to ALWAYS: Look! Listen! Live!