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  • Emergency Preparedness

    ACOEM Statement On Worksite Fear Of Terrorism

    As a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon using passenger aircraft, many employees are voicing concern to their managers about jobs that might require air travel air, working in tall buildings, and/or working at other sites that might be perceived as being vulnerable to future terrorist attacks.

    This concern, which for some employees may be a real fear, is not the manifestation of a thought disorder nor a psychiatric condition. Careful “listening” by managers and continuation of, or return to, work with some flexibility in assignment are the dispositions of choice for employers and employees. Most employees who fly or work in demanding assignments possess considerable “resilience” (see “Building Resilience” below).

    Concern or fear of future terrorist attacks is not the usual “fear of flying,” and considerable professional judgment is required before labeling otherwise rational behavior as chronic, abnormal, or diagnosable. Symptoms of fear of terrorism are usually controlled rapidly with care and time. Individual strengths are sufficient for return to work in a matter of a few days. Moderate symptoms will usually be controlled within a week or two, up to a maximum of four to six weeks.

    In more severe presentations, such symptoms might be properly viewed as a form of “acute stress disorder.” These symptoms may affect both employees and their families. Occupational medicine physicians should assure that proper referral networks, such as employee assistance programs (EAP), are in place for these individuals.

    A substantial number of working individuals suffer chronic mental health disorders and are receiving effective care. The real and devastating occurrences of September 11, 2001, may weaken the coping mechanisms that these individuals have used so successfully. Employees with symptoms that interfere with work or daily living may be provided with voluntary referral to usual sources of care or to an EAP.

    Many companies have assisted employees with both mild and more serious levels of fear by reviewing and strengthening their own travel safety and security processes. Regular communications are provided to employees about the companies’ security arrangements, travel expectations, and the heightened security that airports and airlines have implemented to minimize any risk of air terrorism. Occupational medicine physicians may wish to assist management in these efforts.

    Several excellent news reviews have been published. Noteworthy is an article in the Washington Post, (Section F, September 18, 2001), that presents an excellent discussion of “resilience” vs. “trauma.” Sally Squires wrote a special sidebar,“Building Resilience,”* which provides a list of common-sense advice including such recommendations reducing other stressors as much as possible; getting enough sleep; and listening to others.

    * Per the Washington Post's policy, this link will be active for only the next few days.