Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Keeping Control in a Crisis; It Is Every Employer's Nightmare: A Work-Related Accident Resulting in Serious Injury or, Even Worse, a Fatality. Tim Hill, Regulatory Expert at Eversheds Law Firm in Newcastle, Looks at How Businesses Can Plan for and Respond to a Crisis

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Keeping Control in a Crisis; It Is Every Employer's Nightmare: A Work-Related Accident Resulting in Serious Injury or, Even Worse, a Fatality. Tim Hill, Regulatory Expert at Eversheds Law Firm in Newcastle, Looks at How Businesses Can Plan for and Respond to a Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Hill

QUITE apart from the human tragedy, the next thought in today's legal climate is more than likely the fear that the employer themselves, both as a company and as individual directors or managers, could end up facing criminal charges as a result of not doing everything that was 'reasonably practicable' to prevent the accident occurring. This is a very high hurdle to overcome.

How an organisation responds to such a crisis, particularly in the first 72 hours, is crucial. Not only does the interaction with the regulatory authorities often set the tone for the ensuing investigation which could last many months or even years, but also, in our experience, the speed and quality of an organisation's response in such a high pressure situation tends to be indicative of that organisation as a business.

Make no mistake: good management of health and safety is good business, and those organisations who make it a top priority, more often than not, are top performing players in their own market.

Trying to manage a crisis without a tried and tested emergency response plan is very difficult. The regulatory authorities (for example, the Police, HSE, or Environment Agency) will be demanding access to premises, documents and people, and may seek to use their powers with threats to use their wide ranging powers if you do not agree quickly.

Staff will be seeking guidance as well as making their own demands to adequate legal advice and, potentially, representation if they are requested to be interviewed.

There conceivably could be actual or potential conflicts of interest between the organisation and employees which leads to its own problems. There is also the very real practical issue of running the business, which could well have become compromised either by damaged equipment or threats of regulatory notices prohibiting certain key operations. By their very nature, this sort of crisis is often well outside the comfort zone of even the most experienced director or manager, and external assistance can be vital.

As part of any emergency

response plan, an organisation needs to set up links with specialist regulatory lawyers who are familiar with dealing with the authorities in crisis situations and able to respond outside normal hours and get to your site, wherever it may be. …

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