How to proceed after a health and safety incident?

Where to start when you have to manage a health and safety accident?

There are no books or specific legal guidance documents on how managers and business leaders should behave. Without a doubt it is a time of uncertainty for colleagues, co- workers and everybody involved with the injured or diseased employee.

There are lots of aspects of the situation to consider.

Firstly of course the managers need to pay attention to the particular legal proceedings and investigations, either internal or external of the case. As important as these is the moral responsibility of the organization. Their families and colleagues may need support may it be practical, emotional or financial, what assistance would be adequate at the particular situation?

Here we present you with a basic checklist of things for employers to have in mind in the event of health and safety accident.

Gossip and rumours.
There are going to be all sorts of conspiracy theories, distortion and exaggeration of the truth among the staff. Many of these rumours will also be shared with people from outside the company- families, competitors, etc. Try to avoid a situation of too much gossip because it creates instability, breaks down the organizational process and could lead to reduction of the productivity and a bad name with competitors and customers.

Be communicative.
Try at all costs to stop the gossip. A straightforward explanation at the right time can make the difference, save you time and lots of problems. Some staff gossip because they are worried about external bodies investigating and also about their own safety and jobs. So try to be concise and explain what is about to happen, when and why. Reassure them, and remember-accident happen all the time but you are a team and should remain a good team in the bad moments too.

Remember people are different.
Different people react differently. There will always be the employee who will be back at work as soon as he or she feels better, while others would need more time to recover. Of course as a manager you are concerned about work witch needs to be done, customers attended and generally, business has to carry on no matter what... A health and safety incident could lead to a conflict of interests, where you are short of staff and those people remaining are upset and worried. In this situation the management would always benefit (if it allows) some compassion and some time for the staff and injured employees to recover from the trauma.

What about witnesses?
If an investigation is taking place, those of the employees who have witnessed the accident will be under pressure. Act sensitively and assure your employees that the main idea of the investigation is to improve safety at work and find the root of the problem. Also it is necessary to inform them that they are not obliged by the law to respond to specific questions, witch make them uncomfortable. This is unless the investigation is carried out by the HSE under section 20 of the HSWA 1974.

Contact relatives with care.
When and how to approach an injured employee or the family of a diseased colleague? Before responding to this question, employers should think exactly what they want to achieve by this contact. Certainly In some situation a different approach is needed, think about if you would just like to show some support or you might need a written statement for the internal investigation?

Is it necessary to visit the family or would just a phone call be enough, etc.
Sometimes the correct person to send and make contact would be a senior manager or director, This should give out the message and demonstrate that the company is serious about fixing the problem. In other cases the most adequate person might be a close friend or colleague. In many cases it will be necessary to involve the companies HR department and the companies Lawyers, especially if disciplinary action is to be taken or long term sick pay is to be given.

Make the legal process easy.
Always maintain a good level of dialog whatever the situation may be. Good communication with the employee preceding a court hearing will always benefit the company.

Keep the press away as much as you can.
Limiting any press comments as to avoid their natural urge for sensational headlines is the best you can do. Any inaccurate information could cause substantial problems between you and your staff including mistrust and unease. Your main goal should be to take care of your staff and keep them informed; you can always deal with the press at a later time.

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