Is perceived safety and threat after workplace terrorism linked to employee sick-leave? A registry-based longitudinal study of governmental employees in Norway

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Alexander Nissen, Mona Berthelsen, Maria Teresa Grønning Dale, Marianne Bang Hansen & Trond Heir


Background: A large body of research has shown that terrorism enhances fears and undermines perceived safety in a high proportion of both directly exposed individuals and individuals without any form of direct exposure (i.e. no geographical proximity to an attack). Some studies have further suggested that fear of terrorism may adversely affect health in those without direct exposure and that this may constitute an important public health burden because of the number who are indirectly exposed. Limited studies have investigated threat and safety perception after workplace terrorism and the possible consequences for employee health.

Objective: To explore whether perceived safety and threat in employees whose workplace was subjected to a terrorist attack are associated with subsequent sick-leave.

Method: A longitudinal questionnaire survey on governmental employees’ perceived safety and threat at work one (T1) and two (T2) years after the 2011 terrorist attack on the Norwegian ministries was linked to registry data on doctor-certified sick-leave for two 9-month periods following T1 and T2 (N = 1703).

Results: There was fairly strong evidence (0.004 < p < 0.034) that higher perceived safety was associated with a close to 30% reduction in sick-leave in fully adjusted models which included terror exposure and symptom-based PTSD. There was inconclusive evidence that lower perceived threat was associated with reduced sick-leave in the full models.

Conclusions: Reduced perceived safety in employees following workplace terrorism may have adverse health consequences of public health significance given how prevalent this perception seems to be. The study supports that post-terrorism response plans should include strategies on how to address the potentially large number of individuals suffering ill health after terror even if they were not directly exposed and do not meet criteria for PTSD.

Received 20 Mar 2020, Accepted 05 May 2020, Published online: 11 Aug 2020

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