NIOSH: Return of Guardsmen and Reservists to the Work force Suggests Safety, Work Organization Needs

Feb. 18, 2011
As record numbers of National Guardsmen and Reservists return to the civilian work force from active military duty – in many cases, from duty in a combat zone – they and their employers face challenges that EHS professionals are uniquely positioned and skilled to address.

“Before 9/11, a commitment to the Guard or the Reserves typically meant a few months of initial active duty, followed by a weekend of service or training each month. Today, service in the Reserves is more likely to mean activation and overseas deployment than in the past, often lasting for a year or more, often involving assignment to a combat zone,” said John Howard, M.D., director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

More than 100,000 Guardsmen and Reservists are on active duty, mostly in overseas deployment and combat zones. As a Guardsman or Reservist returns to civilian life and reintegration into the work force, the following considerations arise in regard to safety and health on the job:

  • Physical safety. If the returning worker suffers temporary or permanent impairment from a combat wound, does that impairment place him or her at further risk of a job-related injury? In the past 9 years, more than 8,000 Guardsmen and Reservists have been wounded in combat.
  • Mental health. Post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression may be an emotionally painful legacy of combat service. Where a returning hero is undergoing treatment for a condition, or alternatively has adopted a harmful coping behavior, what safety implications exist for their ability to complete tasks, operate machinery or deal with work pressures?
  • Work organization. Deployment of an employee for several months or a year can create disruptions in the company’s and co-workers’ schedules and work organization when the employee leaves, and again when he or she returns from duty. More and more, business leaders recognize that such stresses have implications for health and well-being and, in turn, implications for efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Howard noted that NIOSH has begun to work with partners, including the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, to address the safety and health community’s role in anticipating and meeting the needs of returning Guardsmen and Reservists and their employers; determining the breadth of knowledge surrounding this population; and determining the gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed.

To learn more, read Howard’s discussion in NIOSH eNews.

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