It’s the most important call many people have to make and the Call Takers at NSW Ambulance do an amazing job in providing assistance and keeping people composed amid chaos at the most traumatic time in their lives.

Yet some Call takers have reported that they can take as many as 6 calls a shift that are abusive or threatening.

NSW Ambulance admit that death threats, intimidation and verbal abuse have become the norm and have taken active steps to address support for Call Takers but this issue must remain on the agenda to ensure ongoing support for Call Takers is readily available and more importantly that NSW Ambulance are continuing to discuss this issue with Call Takers and the USU so this issue can be readily monitored and our members are getting the support they need.

In accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, PCBU’s (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) have a duty of care in ensuring that work, health and safety risks are minimised to their workers. A PCBU “must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other person’s is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking” (Work, Health and Safety Act 2011).

Verbal Abuse (and the fear of verbal abuse) can lead to distress, anxiety and longer –term ill health. This is a Work, Health and safety Risk that must be minimised!

However, there is a lot managers can do!

Minimising Risks

  • This includes;
  • Appropriate staffing levels to reduce queuing time
  • Appropriate software to assist call takers to deal promptly with enquiries
  • Avoiding unreasonable performance targets
  • Ensuring that the work environment is safe and healthy, proper lighting and heating, low noise levels, suitable workstations and equipment.
  • Regular consultation with Call Takers and the USU Representative’s and HSR’s on performance of the Risk Management control measures regarding Call Taking, Health and Safety and Abuse.
  • Regular Breaks

Dealing with Abusive Calls

NSW Ambulance Call Takers regularly receive abusive, intimidating and threatening calls. These can include but not limited to;

  • Prank or nuisance calls
  • Calls from members of the public who are frightened, in shock or under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol which can become abusive or threatening.
  • Threats against NSW Ambulance or NSW Police.
  • Personal abuse directed to the Call Takers.

It is important that NSW Ambulance continually monitor this issue in consultation with Call Takers themselves, HSR’s and USU Representatives (including Union Officials), to ensure Call Takers are prepared for abusive calls and what to do if they experience them.

  • Is there an escalation for Call Takers if they have to experience an abusive call i.e. to a Manager or Team Leader?
  • Do Team Leaders provide support to Call Takers when there is an abusive call?
  • Are there enough Peer Support Officers on each shift?
  • How often is Peer Support Training conducted to ensure enough support for each shift?
  • Is there immediate access to EAP or Chaplin’s to support Call Takers when required?
  • Are there policies made readily available to Call Takers regarding security information, work, health and safety procedures, provisions for employee support systems for e.g. complaint procedures, counselling and advice?
  • Are all Call Takers trained on procedures for managing abusive or threatening calls?
  • Are Call Takers given sufficient time away from their workstations to take a break after experiencing an abusive or threatening call?

NSW Ambulance have addressed support for Call Takers but more than ever Call Takers and the USU need to keep this on the agenda. This issue must be constantly monitored to ensure that NSW Ambulance are continuing to do all it can to minimise the risk to health and safety of our members and keep them safe and comfortable while they continue to do the amazing job they do.

If you wish to discuss this more or want to take part in keeping this on the agenda, you can contact your delegate or contact the USU on 1300 136 604 and our Support Team can direct you to your union official.

If you are not a member of the USU and wish to join, you can do so by contacting our USU Support Team on 1300 136 604 or by visiting our website

Let’s work together to keep this on the agenda!

Photo source: Central Western Daily