How to Manage a Death in the Workplace
The recent tragic deaths of two soldiers on gruelling exercises whilst on a training exercise for SAS recruitment in sweltering heat in the Brecon Beacons brings into focus a dreadful possibility that some employers may need to face. The MOD already had health and safety procedures in place ensuring soldiers carry six litres of water and take essential rest during training, but obviously something went wrong and this will be investigated.
Dealing with a death at work is one of the most stressful things an employer will have to face whether the death is caused by an industrial accident, disease, natural or stress related causes.
The emergency services will of course need to be called, but the body should not be touched before they arrive.
An employer should keep next of kin details on file so that they can be informed and they should be informed very sensitively ideally by someone who knows them well.
If an employee dies at work an employer has to also inform the police and the Health and Safety Executive. This includes if there are any deaths or serious injuries off site. Within ten days an employer must then follow this up by sending a completed accident report form to the Health & Safety Executive. An investigation will then be carried out to determine the circumstances which led up to the death. According to the Health & Safety Executive the number of workplace deaths in 2012-13 was 148 a drop on the previous twelve months, a relatively infrequent occurrence, but one nevertheless that can occur.
Once family/next of kin and the necessary authorities have been informed there is a raft of administration to be dealt with. All outstanding payments will need to be made. This will include calculating final salary making appropriate tax and other deductions. Payments made after death are subject to the same tax rules as before. However, class 1 national insurance contributions for both employer and employee do not have to be made. A P45 will also have to be completed.
A surviving spouse and other dependents may be entitled to receive a survivor’s pension and in some cases a lump sum. The pension scheme trustee will be able to provide the correct information.
If the employee has taken advantage of a “death in service” benefit linked to their pension or with a separate insurance scheme then their family may benefit from a tax free lump sum payout to their nominated beneficiary. This can be up to four times their annual wage if the employee dies before retirement. Death in service ends to be typically available in the public sector linked to current generous final salary pension schemes.
When an employee dies it can cause stress with colleagues; they should be informed sensitively and compassionately and providing access to an employee assistance programme might help them cope if they are particularly affected. Time off for the funeral may also need to be arranged provided the family is in agreement for colleagues to attend. An employer might like to send a letter of condolence or organise a floral tribute. In some situations a subsequent memorial service might also be appropriate.
Outside contacts with whom the deceased had regular contact may also need to be informed.
Coverage of the employee’s job may also need to be arranged. Short term arrangements may need to be made before making a longer term decision to recruit. In the meantime provisions should be made to return personal belongings of the deceased to the next of kin.
Fortunately death at work is not a highly common occurrence but having effective health and safety procedures in place will help prevent this. Understanding what to do in such a crisis can help employers effectively manage the consequences.