The shock of a workplace injury or death

A workplace incident that results in significant injury or death usually happens very suddenly. It comes as a shock. It can have a devastating and far-reaching impact on many, including the family, whānau, friends, and workplace team of those harmed. It can be an emotionally intense time. Most people try to make sense of what has happened, and why, and what the consequences of it are – or will be.

If you, or someone close to you, has been injured at work, or if someone you know has died at work, our Support Workers are available to support you, your family, whānau, friends, or workplace colleagues. We also offer support for anyone who may have discovered or witnessed the incident, which can be very traumatic.  

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand for as long as it is needed. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Whatever has happened, right from the start people will react in their own ways. Those most affected by workplace injury or fatality incidents will commonly experience a mix of reactions, such as:

  • shock – hard to take it in, understand, or believe
  • numbness – unable to feel anything, may be difficult to think or speak
  • horror, helplessness – things feel out of control
  • concern for the safety of any others involved   
  • anguish about the senselessness or injustice of the incident
  • anger –  especially if it appears the incident was caused by the actions or negligence of someone else
  • self-blame or guilt – even if there was nothing you could have done to prevent it
  • feeling blamed or judged by others
  • pre-occupied with disturbing images and memories – real or imagined
  • troubled by nightmares or flashbacks, as if it were happening again
  • wanting to be round people or needing more time alone, away from others
  • sadness and grief for the losses and difficult changes caused.

Those affected will usually also experience some physical reactions, such as a tight chest, a racing heart, shakiness, nausea, body aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, crying/sobbing, or ongoing tearfulness.

All these types of early reactions are normal responses to an unexpected and traumatic situation, but they may be hard to cope with at times. It can be a very emotionally up and down time for some time.

If someone has been seriously injured, their reactions to the incident are most likely to begin once they’ve recovered enough to understand what has happened.

Witnessing a work-related injury incident or a fatality is a traumatic experience. What you saw or heard may be difficult to cope with at first, especially if the incident involved people you knew.

Please see our section for witnesses of traumatic incidents here.

Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family whānau, or work team. Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Please see the information on the following page.

If there has been a death, the police and must be called immediately  on 111.
WorkSafe must also be immediately called on 0800 030 040 (24/7). (WorkSafe is the Government agency that monitors workplace health and safety in New Zealand.)

Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family whānau, or work team, for as long as support may be needed. Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

See ACC’s information about Financial support if someone has died from an injury.
Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) can offer support for partners, children and other dependants. They may be able to assist with things like:

  • funeral grants
  • a survivor’s grant
  • childcare payments
  • weekly compensation.

Close family can contact Victim Support,  their doctor, or their funeral director for support with lodging an ACC claim. More information on these services can be found on the ACC website,  including the “Advice of accidental death” form which must be completed. Or call ACC on 0800 101 996.

Information relating to different causes of workplace death
People can die in their workplace from many different causes, including accidents. Please see the information that is most relevant to what has happened.

Our helpful guide for close family members After a death: Dealing with practical matters  provides information and advice on a wide range of practical matters you may need to attend to after a death.

When Someone Dies Suddenly  is a useful guide to coronial services in New Zealand

Brake - a NZ vehicle crash bereavement charity, which can also support those bereaved by a workplace vehicle accident.

Worksafe - Support information for bereaved families document


After every work related death or serious injury there will be different official investigations that will get underway as soon as possible.

  • The police have a duty to investigate the cause of a sudden death for the coroner. If there is evidence found that criminal actions have been a cause, charges may be brought against the offender/s.
  • WorkSafe will make initial inquires and a decision on intervention, including who the responsible or lead agency will be and whether there is an investigation. More information about this process can be found on the WorkSafe website.

Often there can also be other authorities or organisations that will undertake an investigation, for example the harmed person’s employer or the work industry’s professional body. This is to find out the causes of what has happened and to identify prevention actions to ensure future accidents can be prevented as much as possible.

Most people find that after the first few days, their different reactions continue into the following weeks and months, or longer.  Sometimes people’s reactions may be delayed and can kick in a bit later, often after the initial shock and busyness of the incident’s aftermath is over. Everyone is different.

The effects of trauma and grief often take longer than most people expect. With time, the intensity of reactions will usually  gradually lessen. For some, however, the impact of the incident can be so great that they need some extra professional assistance to cope with it.

Tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to learn ways to manage your reactions, please see:

If your reactions concern you

  • Make time to visit your doctor to explain what you’ve been going through. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression.
  • Consider talking with a psychologist or counsellor who can help you work through your reactions to what has happened and its consequences for you and your family or whānau.
  • Visit this helpful listing to find a doctor or counsellor near you

Supporting children and young people
Children and teenagers who have been affected by what has happened will often find their emotions are strong and their reactions may be hard to cope with at times. They will need ongoing attention, reassurance, and support. For information for parents and caregivers on helping children and young people cope with a traumatic event or sudden death, see our information sheet Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.


Coping with trauma
Dealing with flashbacks
When you are grieving
If you have discovered or witnessed a crime or traumatic incident