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How to: Prepare for the worst

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Firefighters at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York - AFP PHOTO / FEMA / ANDREA BOOHER

The Asian Tsunami disaster and the terrorist activity of September 11, 2001 has exposed the very real threat of adversity and tragedy; crisis management experts ICAS look at coping strategies and how to deal with the aftermath.


The Facts

Incidents and crisis can take many forms, from retail shop raids and employee deaths through to large scale catastrophes and natural disasters.

In the UK itself, official statistics looking at the impact of workplace accidents and injuries speak for themselves:

  • 235 fatal injuries to workers in 2003/4, a rate of 0.81 per 100,000 workers (HSE)

  • 159,809 reported injuries in the workplace, a rate of 629.1 per 100,000 workers (HSE)

  • 9 million days lost in 2003/4 due to workplace injury


Structure

Three tiers of support are required for helping people to manage after an incident:

  • Stabilisation – practical assistance

  • Assessment – identifying people with different recovery levels

  • Treatment – physiological support

The first few hours after an incident are generally the most important, and the tone and initial reaction from key stakeholders in businesses are critical to ensure business continuity is maintained and shareholder value is not impacted.

For instance, following armed raids it is important that managers treat staff with a great deal of respect by treating them as individuals and not just as employees.

Managers need to distance themselves from the day to day needs of their operation (for example cashing up) and ensure that the welfare of staff is the number one priority.

How to prepare

Many organisations have pages and pages of policies and procedures that they believe will protect them and guide their behaviour in the event of a traumatic incident happening in the workplace. But the policies and procedures don’t just happen automatically; organisations are reliant on the resilience, response and good will of the staff at these times in order to keep all the essential functions operating.

So how can organisations ensure that their staff will function appropriately when tragedy strikes?

Here are some guidelines to enable you get the best out of your staff during an incident.

Knowledge

  • Key employees should attend training about the immediate physical and psychological effects of trauma.

  • Employees should then cascade information down to their staff to prepare them for any eventuality.

  • Provide employees with clear, concise instructions immediately after a trauma, so that they know what is expected of them.


Compassion

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how difficult it is to work and respond during a trauma

  • Encourage ‘team effort’ and identify those who are coping well who can support those who are not.

  • Acknowledge that recovery after a trauma happens at different rates so that whilst some people will cope magnificently during and after a trauma, others may fall apart.

  • Discuss with staff what support you will be providing for them if they need extra help to recover.

  • Inform higher levels of managers about particular difficulties. One gentle supportive communication from a Managing Director can motivate staff for many days and weeks.

Demonstrate Authority

  • Be clear about the expectations of staff in the event of extended evacuations. For example are you expecting them to come back to work after waiting four hours for the building to be security checked?

  • Be clear about the policies governing expenses for damaged goods, clothing and baggage

  • Explain whether staff absence after a workplace trauma will be considered as sickness absence or not

The ICAS CRISIS call team assist organisations of every shape and size and are there to help them provide a duty of care to all their publics and assist them through what are typically stressful and upsetting events.

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Annie Hayes

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