Learning Network

The Emergency Services Foundation (ESF) has received WorkSafe WorkWell funding to Chair the ESF Learning Network to support agencies improve mental health and wellbeing for the emergency services sector.

The ESF Learning Network connects organisations and experts to share ideas and knowledge to collaboratively design and implement workplace initiatives that create long term, sustainable and organisation-wide change for safe and mentally healthy work environments.

The ESF Learning Network uses an integrated approach to tackle work-related factors for mental health for the purpose of:

  • sharing ideas, insights and resources for promoting workplace mental health and wellbeing
  • Co-designing a leadership pilot to develop frontline managers to lead for better mental health and wellbeing
  • building capacity through knowledge sharing and translation activities

The underlying principle of this program is that a collaborative approach will help emergency management agencies be stronger, and more consistent and creative in their response to the mental health needs of their volunteers and staff.

Siusan MacKenzie (CEO of ESF) is the Chair of the ESF Learning Network. Sarah Hewat is the project manager.

Bringing together organisations

The ESF Learning Network brings together the following organisations:

              • Country Fire Authority (CFA)
              • Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV)
              • Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA)
              • Red Cross
              • Ambulance Victoria (AV)
              • Life Saving Victoria (LSV)
              • Victoria State Emergency Service (VicSES)
              • Victoria Police (VicPol)
              • The Victorian Council of Churches Emergencies Ministry (VCCEM)
              • St John Ambulance
              • Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP), Forest Fire Management (FFM)
              • Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BRV)
              • Emergency Management Victoria (EMV)
              • The Inspector General of Emergency Management (IGEM)
              • subject matter experts


Leadership Pilot

In 2020, the Learning Network [wellbeing managers from the above agencies] engaged in conversations and data gathering about barriers and enablers to positive leadership in the sector.  This led to the development of a pilot, co-designed to develop managers of frontline teams  to lead for better mental health and wellbeing. Read more about our Leadership Development Pilot here.

Each agency will nominate a couple of frontline leaders to participate in this leadership pilot. The pilot will bring these agency representatives together to participate in an innovative development program marked by the following points of difference:

      • Sector wide – will bring frontline managers together from across the sector to participate in a unique learning environment supported by heads of agencies and wellbeing managers
      • Participatory and iterative – the development program has been co-designed informed by feedback from frontline managers, and the pilot design will be responsive to learnings, and refined by participant feedback in the implementation phase
      • Systems approach – action learning practice will bring awareness to organisational barriers and enablers to MH&W leadership and highlight opportunities for improvement
      • Frontline managers – most leadership development targets senior and executive level people yet we know that middle managers, leaders who directly supervise frontline employees and volunteers, can have a huge impact on performance and wellbeing because they interact with people and influence their day-to-day experiences of work. This development program is specifically for frontline leaders and tailored to their unique challenges.

Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing

Every day in Victoria, emergency management agencies respond to 7000 calls made to 000. The 125,000 men and women who work for these agencies see and do things that are often hard to cope with emotionally. They help people in situations such as road trauma, bush and house fires, workplace accidents and suicides.

This work can take a toll.  Beyond Blue (2018) Answering the Call research into the mental health of police and emergency services nationwide revealed “a workforce that is deeply impacted, both by the nature of the work they do and the pressures of the environments in which they work”. Compared to the general adult population in Australia, this research found that first responders have higher rates of psychological distress, suicidal thinking, and diagnosis of mental health conditions.

It is well known that repeated and prolonged exposure to violence and traumatic events is linked to higher rates of mental illness and injury among emergency management workers.  Beyond Blue (2018) research showed that – as with the working population in general – other work-related factors also have a significant influence on stress, illness, injury,  burnout and general quality of life in the sector. 

According to Beyond Blue (2018) “these results compel action. They require a dedicated and collective effort to ensure that we strengthen our approach to protecting those who protect us – to make a real difference in people’s lives.” The Emergency Services Foundation’s WWLN is working collaboratively to take action. Sharing knowledge and applying best practice evidence will ensure our people and our workplaces are mentally healthy.

Integrated approach

ESF will use the ‘integrated model’ in their approach to improving mental health outcomes for frontline workers. Developed by Anthony LaMontagne (2014) and colleagues this model  promotes the positive aspects of work for positive mental health.

The integrated model encompasses three main areas of activity:

          • protecting mental health by reducing work-related and other risk factors for mental health problems
          • promoting mental health by developing the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities
          • responding to mental health problems as they manifest at work regardless of cause (work-related or otherwise).

This three-pronged approach represents an effort to distil complex requirements (for a complex need) so that workplaces can begin from varying starting points and develop, over time, mature multi-component workplace mental health programs.

Knowledge Sharing and Translation

The ESF Learning Network shares and translates knowledge through:

    • Learning Network Meetings
    • Mental Health and Wellbeing for Emergency Services Conference 2021
    • Literature Digest – a monthly digest that summarises information and research to build the evidence-base for improving mental health and wellbeing in Victoria’s emergency services.
    • Knowledge Hub – provides information about programs, products, practices, and policies that currently exist to improve mental health and wellbeing in the emergency service sector.