Business leaders urged to be ‘human’

RESPONDING to death or serious injury in the workplace with a com­ passionate and ‘human’ approach is vital to minimising harm and protect­ ing a company’s reputation and employee relations, according to Harmers Workplace Lawyers

RESPONDING to death or serious injury in the workplace with a com­passionate and ‘human’ approach is vital to minimising harm and protect­ing a company’s reputation and employee relations, according to Harmers Workplace Lawyers.

Jamie Robinson, a partner at Harmers Workplace Lawyers said, “If someone has died or been seriously injured, it is important to acknowledge that something has obviously gone ter­ribly wrong whilst not allocating responsibility. There is a significant difference between being compassion­ate as an employer and admitting liability or culpability.”

With approximately 140,000 injuries and 2,500 deaths occurring in Australian workplaces each year, Robinson said that employers must be prepared to respond with due process and sincere care.

“Employers faced with the sudden consequences of such an incident are sometimes railroaded into saying nothing and not sensitively managing the victim or the victim’s family. Even the simple act of how the incident is com­municated to the victim’s family can have significant ramifications for com­panies and yet is so often extremely mismanaged,” he said.

Robinson said when a serious acci­dent happens, it is natural for those in leadership to feel guilt and wonder what they could have done differently to prevent it. Alternatively, some employers shut down and avoid com­

municating.

“Whatever the natural reaction is, my advice to business leaders and managers in these circumstances is that it is possible to protect your com­pany’s interests well while also show­ing compassion and ‘being human’ in their response, most importantly to the victim’s family.

Response plans vital

Robinson said that accidents can hap­pen even when companies have been diligent in workplace safety. He said it is essential for companies to plan how they would handle the situation in the most appropriate, responsible and sen­sitive way.

“Companies must have strong, structured and sensitive response plans in place as a last line of defence. If

something goes wrong and someone is injured or killed in the workplace and the company does not have a proper response plan in place, management will very quickly be forced to make major decisions under considerable pressure and in sub-optimal circum­stances.

“Companies caught unprepared risk making rushed and poor decisions as they face urgent and often conflicting advice and demands from insurers, lawyers, their management team, employees, the media and community at large. Robinson said employers should ask themselves the following question: if an employee was killed in an accident today, could I answer the following questions?

• Which external authorities must be notified of the death and in what timeframe?

• Who in your organisation should be told? When? Why?

• Whose job is it to notify the next of kin of the deceased? What message do you want to convey? Who at your organisation would do this?

• Who is obliged to answer

questions asked by police or industrial inspectors?

• Who in your organisation would answer such ques­tions? What is the extent of your organisation’s obliga­tion to assist an investiga­tion?

• What procedures should be put in place for co-workers and others who have wit­nessed or were involved in the incident? When should this be done?

All of these questions should be out­lined and answered in a comprehen­sive response plan, so that the organisation can act quickly if a death or serious injury were to occur.