Try to think of recent examples of crisis events so appallingly managed that something which was obviously bad, morphed into something disastrous. Number 10 lockdown parties, VW Emissions, Yorkshire CCC and Azeem Rafiq…Why? Lack of competence or lack of a plan? Hard to do much about the former, but all organisations can address the latter, whilst understanding that crisis comes in many forms.
Here we’re focussing on health and safety, but the mechanics of a sound plan apply across all potential risk areas.
If we agreed that we need a health and safety incident or crisis management plan, what are the essential components?
- Risk analysis: Identify and define what is a health and safety crisis for your organisation. What does your data tell you?
- Health and safety team: Create a point of contact team, have an up-to-date emergency contact list and make sure team members understand their roles.
- Activation protocol: When should action be taken and by whom?
- Think about your support network: During a crisis, you may need legal, insurers/brokers, crisis communications, employee wellbeing, all to build external and internal relationships during peacetime.
- Communication/PR strategy: What does your external and internal communication strategy require. Remember if you don’t tell your story, someone else will.
- Devise mechanisms: You’ll need to preserve, collect, and store information and evidence for any audits or investigations later on.
- Internal investigation protocols: Think about your security and legal privilege.
- Strategy to manage external investigations: If the police, HSE, EHO get involved who is the single point of contact approach in your organisation?
- Plan and review: Train, review, update and reflect on your plans regularly to make sure they are all up to date.
- Practice: Execute and practice to make sure there are no gaps and surprises in your plans.
Is there anything else you can do to help deliver better outcomes?
Use your data to inform your thinking and health and safety strategy. If you collect data through a platform like Notify, then you will have a better understanding of your risk profile and where potential crisis incidents might occur within your organisation.
Put people first. Think about your employees’ wellbeing and if someone has been hurt, how can you help them and their families.
Don’t obsess too much about social media. You MUST incorporate this aspect into your communication plans, but it is not a mass communication tool, it is a resource. Focus on the communications to be basics, honest, show empathy and concern, and if you do not have crisis comms expertise within your organisation identify and recruit an external specialist to help you.
Where an external investigation is underway. Whether it is the police, HSE or Local Authority EHO, keeping control of the flow of information is critical. If you’re handing over information, log it and copy it. Remember, if you’re undertaking your internal inquiries, any output may be disclosable and become “exhibit A” in an evidence bundle. You might want to consider using an online platform like Notify to keep the process secure and auditable, and your lawyers to protect disclosure through legal privilege.
Finally, test the plan and your team regularly. Design and use realistic, evolving desktop scenario-based exercises, as they are invaluable for showing up gaps and helping to drive improvements.
By Tristan Meears-White, Specialist Consultant Solicitor
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