Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Human Side of Crisis Management: Catastrophic Workplace Incidents Impact People in Ways That Can Have Lasting Negative Consequences. Even Crisis-Prepared Companies Often Overlook These Needs

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Human Side of Crisis Management: Catastrophic Workplace Incidents Impact People in Ways That Can Have Lasting Negative Consequences. Even Crisis-Prepared Companies Often Overlook These Needs

Article excerpt

Effective response to a workplace crisis--a violent act, a serious injury or fatality or some type of natural or man-made disaster--requires an understanding of what people need from management and how to provide it.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In Durham, N.C., a construction worker was killed on May 27 when a 100,000-pound concrete slab tipped over on him in an accident similar to one that killed three construction workers in Greensboro, N.C. in 2002.

On May 26, a clerk at a drugstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., was stabbed and killed when he confronted a man stealing razors and blades.

A factory worker in Indianapolis was killed May 27 when he was pinned between some equipment in a forklift accident. His coworkers watched as he was freed and transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Almost daily, employees are killed or seriously injured in the workplace while coworkers look on. Sometimes a single employee is involved in a lifethreatening situation. At other times, an entire work force might be in jeopardy, such as when an explosion, fire or natural disaster strikes.

What do employees need--beyond basic survival--following a workplace disaster? They need immediate aid and assurance of safety; information and reassurance; understanding and ongoing support; and a rapid return to productivity. Other constituents, like family members, institutional investors, customers, suppliers and distributors, also have variations on these same needs.

There are right ways and wrong ways to provide for these needs. Unfortunately, companies tend to be least prepared in addressing these human-side aspects of crisis. Responsible employers should establish in advance a Humanitarian Response Team, which is trained and poised to address specifically, and only, the human side of workplace tragedies.

Risks

Workplace tragedies can compromise assets and lead to persistent human costs. Critical incidents threaten an organization's three core assets--its finances, reputation and people.

* A study conducted at Templeton College of Oxford University, "The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value," clearly demonstrated positive financial effects of adequate preparedness and effective crisis response.

* The Reputation Institute conducted a survey following the Sept. 11 attacks. Affected companies that were perceived to have responded well were rated significantly higher in all six categories used to define reputation than those that did not.

* Impact studies following incidents ranging from Hurricane Andrew to the Oklahoma City bombing have shown significantly increased morale and lower distress within companies that responded with appropriate support for their employees. Those that do not support employees risk on-going problems, such as damaged morale--which can compromise productivity and reputation--and employees who are experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can lead to increased medical/workers' compensation costs and possibly even lawsuits.

There are five excuses that managers and companies commonly offer for failing to have properly protected their core assets:

Denying it can happen: In the short term, many find it easier to simply assume the "it can't happen here" attitude.

Being reluctant to make crisis preparedness a priority: Competing priorities are often allowed to subvert efforts at vital preparedness.

Remaining unaware of risks inherent to your businesses: Without a comprehensive foreseeable-risk analysis conducted throughout your company's operations, the full range of risks you face are not highlighted.

Ignoring warning signs: Organizations often fail to critically analyze their own histories, or the disaster experiences of others in their industry or locale.

Relying on weak, untested plans: Unless your crisis plan has been thoroughly constructed and tested, it will not effectively protect your organization in a real crisis. …

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