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Defusing Model & Traumatic Debrief

Diffusion is a widely recognised process, particularly within the emergency services, to effectively support staff who have experienced an extraordinary or traumatic incident at work, especially those that engage with violence, assault, or injury.

It better protects individuals and corporations and has a significant effect on managing immediate trauma and facilitating a more rapid return to the workplace. The ROI is substantial.

These events may have significant impact on staff members (as detailed by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)) including:

  • Absenteeism, guilt & fear.
  • Iinsomnia & nightmares.
  • Anger, anxiety & depression.
  • Difficulties performing tasks.
  • Iincreased use of alcohol & medication.

Using a staff-centred approach, it builds on effective ‘people focused’ leadership models such as Transformational Leadership (Alimo-Metcalfe), Action Centred Leadership (Adair) & organisational programmes to reinforce wellbeing promotion, absence management & personal resilience.

Parkinson (1993) defined defusing as “the process of support mechanisms and procedures before, during and immediately after a traumatic incident, the aim of which is to provide a positive and supportive atmosphere and to re-establish the solidarity of the team or group.”

In practical terms, providing a defuse service to staff delivers HSE recommendations & wellbeing strategic aims by supporting staff and provides a cost effective, adaptive response to acute incidents.

To avoid any confusion, psychological debriefing such as traumatic incident stress debriefing is a different and specialist intervention, conducted by trained and qualified professionals, at the earliest 48 hours after an incident. Whilst operational defusing is a completely different process, primarily task focussed and aimed at establishing effective procedural implementation, adherence to policy or legislation and organisational learning.

Delivery options

Defusing Training

An optimum of 20 supervisors/managers can be trained to diffuse in a one-day programme.

The morning will focus on understanding the likely impacts on individuals & teams prior to developing the knowledge of the process, with the afternoon being used to discuss referral options incorporating small group scenarios.

Traumatic incident debriefing

Delivered directly to exposed staff by a trained external practitioner, between 3-14 days post event, in their workplace where a diffuse has not been delivered or is of such magnitude that further face to face support is necessary.

Lead facilitator: Alan Fairclough

An experienced leader across two Police Forces, Alan's transformational & people focussed approach led to him building on training foundations to become a qualified Traumatic Incident Debriefer.  Having undertook several debriefs of staff & officer teams, he helped them to remain in work, understand their reactions and support their families in providing wrap around wellbeing support.  This included staff involved in high profile, International significant incidents. 

He co-authored the diffusion model used within Cheshire Police and having trained numerous staff to undertake such debriefs with great success, he went on to lead the newly formed team of Traumatic debriefers.  After gaining his Masters NVQ L7 in Strategic Leadership, Alan became an associate trainer with The College of Policing. 

Case Studies


A member of a retail store team witnessed a male shoplifter being detained by a security guard, which led to a serious head injury to the guard.  Other staff intervened but also were badly injured with glass from a broken bottle.  The colleague reported immediate adverse reactions to the event, including feelings of helplessness, loss of confidence & was prevented from sleeping.  The injured colleagues were cared for but there was little attention to the witness who was expected back to work immediately and to help with providing extra cover for those absent.  She reported sick with stress and after several weeks is still working towards returning.  There was no diffuse on the night or a traumatic debrief in the following weeks to provide peer support.


Staff were required to provide resuscitation on a young person unexpectedly in public.  Alongside the first aid, they were under extreme pressure from the casualty’s family, public & being filmed on a phone.  The ambulance arrived & took primacy for the casualty, who did not recover.  The staff were provided with an immediate diffuse the same day, where peer & organisational support was provided.  All staff returned to work the next day, but as one member found the incident very hard (due to personal circumstances) a traumatic incident debrief took place some 4 days later.  Here the support was reinforced & further signposted which enabled the team to step up & keep their struggling colleague in work.

The case of Josephine Mitchell & Others v United Co-operatives Limited [2012] EWCA Civ 348 is leading case law on this issue.