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Peter: Workplace Accident

Peter works for a wine export business. He drives a forklift and moves palettes containing wine crates from the warehouse out to the trucks in the loading bay. On the morning of the accident Peter was behind schedule and wanted to carry much bigger loads than normal and, in his hurry, he forgot to buckle his seat belt. In rushing up the ramp that led up to the loading bay his load tipped over and he was thrown from the forklift. Finding himself on the floor, he looked up and saw a palette with hundreds of bottles of wine tipping towards him. He was sure that he would be killed. The palette fell a few inches away from him, however. He got away with some minor cuts on several parts of his body.

Victim’s response and symptoms

Peter remembers being rooted to the spot with fear. He was sure that he would be crushed.

Peter is now on sick leave. He is very distressed at the idea of returning to work. He does not even want to drive a forklift again, which greatly hampers his capacity to be employed again.

He often thinks about the fact that he could have died that day. Images of the event can intrude on his thoughts at any given moment. He keeps asking himself why he had been so careless.

Peter has problems getting to sleep at night. He thinks about the accident at night and mulls over various possible outcomes of the accident. What would have happened if he had fastened his seat belt? What if the pallet had hit him? Various pains, as well as the scars from the numerous glass cuts, are a constant reminder of the accident. He thinks he has narrowly cheated death.

He feels as if he will never be able to return to work and that he will be unable to do anything else, or even be able to live without constantly thinking about the accident.

The psychologist’s observations

Certain occupational accidents, such as Peter’s, can be traumatic. Post-traumatic stress disorder is widely recognized in labour law and occupational medicine.

Traumatic event and peritraumatic response

Peter has experienced a traumatic event. He thought for a brief moment that he was about to be crushed and killed by a fully-loaded, falling palette. He felt paralyzed and was rooted to the spot.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Peter exhibits various symptoms of post-traumatic stress since the accident:

  • Intrusive thoughts: His pains and scars remind him of the accident.
  • Avoidance: Peter can no longer drive a forklift or return to his place of work. The mere thought of it causes him distress.
  • Sleep disorders: Peter has trouble getting to sleep. When falling asleep at night he thinks about the accident and tries to imagine different outcomes. He asks himself how he could have been so careless.
  • Numbness: Peter feels as if the future holds nothing for him. He thinks it will always be this way and that he will be unable to get over his worries and return to work, or to even look for another job.

Other problems

  • Symptoms of phobia: Peter no longer wants to drive a forklift.

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009