About the Project

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU)

CPSU Victoria are the Community and Public Sector Union who represent the Victorian Public Service (VPS) and related agencies. It was formed from the amalgamation of the Commonwealth Public Service and State Government workers unions in the early 1990's. The union has a history going back to 1885.

Unions are organisations formed by workers with a common purpose to improve their pay and working conditions. Unions select representatives to negotiate with employers in a process known as collective bargaining. When successful, the bargaining results in an Enterprise Agreement that improve wages and workplace conditions.

Unions have a democratic structure, holding elections to choose officers who are responsible for making decisions that are beneficial to the members. Employees pay dues to the union, and in return, the union acts as an advocate on the employees’ behalf. Unions are not funded by Commonwealth or state government and act independently to support their members.

The CPSU is about improving the working environment for members. Rates of pay, career structures and employment conditions are all based within the Award and Agreements negotiated by unions. For example, CPSU negotiated the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement that ensures wage increases each year. CPSU membership gives access to Industrial Specialists who advise on rights and entitlements to members in the VPS.

The union also offers training and development opportunities to members in the VPS. From health and safety courses, workplace gender equality training to the popular public sector courses in areas such as administration or policy and project work.

The Development of the Project

Vicarious trauma is an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) risk for many Victorian government departments. Vicarious trauma is one concept used by clinical psychologists to describe the cumulative impact of empathetic engagement with other people’s trauma.

It is a predictable response to work that involves engaging with other people’s trauma. As it builds up over time, vicarious trauma is difficult to identify until signs start to emerge. Though the impact and cost of vicarious trauma is significant, organisational level prevention of vicarious trauma is missing from many workplaces.

The Community Public Sector Union (CPSU) became aware of the emergence of some mental health issues within the public sector arising from exposure to trauma. The union began to research some of the issues confronting the public sector, and we were able to see that there was a pattern emerging around cumulative trauma where there was the exposure to other people's traumas in the workplace.

This led to the CPSU successfully accessing funding from WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund to identify best practice from around the world in dealing with vicarious trauma and pilot vicarious trauma preventions in the Victorian Public Service. The CPSU piloted this process in partnership with the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) and the Department of Family, Fairness and Housing (DFFH). There were six pilot sites across the two departments who developed action plans with tasks and initiatives specific to their work site requirements. The project utilised the Institute of Safety and Recovery Research to evaluate the worksites and the impact of their vicarious trauma initiatives. The project has run for 42 months finishing in September 2022.

The culmination of this work is this Preventing Vicarious Trauma website. The website contains customised resources to begin to increase knowledge and skills for government departments to create supportive vicarious trauma informed workplaces.

ISCRR Evaluation Report

About WorkWell Victoria's Mental Health Improvement Fund

WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell program aims to make mental health and wellbeing a priority in Victorian workplaces through access to resources, funding and knowledge sharing.

The Mental Health Improvement Fund has provided large scale investment for workplaces to promote positive mental health and wellbeing and prevent mental injury. The fund aims to support Victorian workers identified at greatest risk of mental injury: young workers, ageing workers, frontline workers and workers in industries in transition.

How to use this website

The resources provided on this website have been researched and collated over the 42 month period of the project. During this time the project developed resources in conjunction with the pilot sites from Department of Justice and Community Safety and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

The website is intended as a starting point for the VPS and other organisations to begin trauma-informed practices that will inform employees, managers and leadership teams on how to address vicarious trauma at the preventative level rather than relying on reactive measures.

This requires policies, strategies and whole-of-organisation awareness. The resources provided on this website are intended as a guide or starting point for organisations to begin this work.  Ultimately, organisations will need to undergo investigation into their organisation’s specific requirements prior to putting strategies in place.

What we do recommend – and what is stated throughout this website – is consultation. Consult with frontline staff, non-frontline staff, supervisors, managers and executives. From there, develop ‘living’ policies and strategies and keep reviewing them to keep them relevant and trauma informed.

Project Partners

This project has been a collaborative effort between the CPSU, WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell program, teams from the Department of Justice and Community Safety (Loddon Mallee Region, South East Metropolitan Region - Southern Melbourne Area, North West Metropolitan Area) and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (Hume Moreland Area North Division, Central Highlands Area - West Division, North East Melbourne Area). Evaluation of existing practices, monitoring of the project and final evaluation of the project was undertaken by the Institute for Safety and Recovery Research (ISCRR) a joint initiative of WorkSafe Victoria and Monash University.