And with those four words, the wheels were set in motion that would change many lives forever.
It was just after lunch and I had just sat down at my desk when my phone rang.
“I’ve been given your name and number and told you can help me”, said the caller.
“OK. What’s happened?” I asked, a bit unsure of what to expect.
“I’ve just killed someone” and then the caller broke down sobbing.
Holy hell! How do you respond to that? What do you say? And a million other thoughts rushed through my
mind in a matter of seconds.
“OK. Sorry, let’s start again. What’s your name and where are you calling from?” I asked.
Over the coming few minutes I quickly learnt that this caller was a senior manager of a small business who had just been involved in a workplace incident..... less than 45 minutes prior to ringing me, that had resulted in the death of one employee.
He wanted to know what he needed to do, who he should call and a million other similar questions.
For obvious reasons, I can’t go into specific details, however, I asked him to wait by the phone and I contacted our Chairman of the Board, Gerry Gibb, who I knew was free that day (And has many more years experience than I do with these sort of situations), and asked him to contact this caller.
Over the next hour Gerry stepped him through the process of what was likely to happen, what the company needed to do, and what to expect in the coming days.
The reality is, despite our best efforts, this could be any business owner, anywhere in the world.
We can have every policy and procedure in place to manage risk, we can have the best slogans for promoting safe practices, we can talk all we want about Zero Harm (let’s not open up that debate!), but I’ll say it again- this could be any business owner or manager making the next phone call.
We all need to be prepared for the worst case scenario in our workplaces.
So what does that preparedness look like?
Incident Response and Management
Everyone in the organisation needs to understand what to do when an incident happens. This is from the moment they need to raise the alarm (when, how, who, etc.), through to a fully involved investigation. Issues arise when incident scenes and potential evidence is tampered with, moved or removed either intentionally or unintentionally.
You need to know what a reportable incident is along with the timeframes for that notification. Depending on where you are in the world, it’s highly likely that the Regulator has the legal right of entry to your premises anytime of the day or night. You need to understand their authority and what they can do whilst investigating. Best practice is that businesses appoint a Company Liaison Officer to handle all interactions and inquiries from the Regulator (or other agencies, such as the Police). Other employees should be aware of what to do or say if they are approach by representatives from the Regulatory agencies or Police.
If your company does not already have legal counsel available within the organisation, you should know who you’re going to call. Best practice is to have arrangements in place so investigations can commence as soon as possible under Legal Professional Privilege.
Following an incident, it’s highly likely you will have discussions with family at some stage, whether that being them coming to you or you to them. Again, you need to be prepared for the myriad of emotions from distress to anger that will be present. You need to know how to respond, including what can and can’t be said. Best practice for preparedness includes having a Family Liaison Officer who is trained and prepared for dealing with this highly charged, emotional role. (Note – the Family Liaison Officer should not be on the internal Investigation Team).
Be hyper aware of the impact a major incident will have on your staff. Just like media management, you need to be prepared for discussions with your staff and contractors and likely questions and discussions to come out of such an incident. Know who to turn to should anyone require counselling or other forms of assistance. Again, arrangements should already be established for Employee Assistance representatives to be dispatched to site as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the full impact of a workplace fatality on colleagues tends to be seen several days after an incident. Don’t presume everyone is handling things OK because they appear to be coping in the first few days.
You need a clear policy about when an internal investigation will actually be done internally or be facilitated by an independent, external investigator.
Likewise, you need a clear policy on the type of investigation method- as an example, many organisations use the “5 Why’s” methodology for low level incidents and then methodologies such as ICAM for Significant or High Potential incidents.
Be very clear about who is going to liaise with media, should they come looking for information. Preparedness includes having a Media Liaison Officer. Ensure all of your staff know how to respond, what they can and can’t say if the media approach them.
Are you prepared?
Are your staff prepared?
Taking steps now to prepare can prevent many headaches later on, should something occur. On the phone to someone you don’t know after an incident is not the time to figure out what to do….
Interested in Knowing More?
Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website: http://www.safetywise.com/
Additional ICAM Related Services
Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:
Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM
Trend analysis of organisational factors contributing to serious incidents
Participation in investigations as an external / independent party
ABOUT THE AUTHOR- Luke Dam (Chief Operations Officer)
Luke has worked in various industries over the years including pharmaceutical, retail, manufacturing, and transport including iconic brands like WesFarmers, Goodyear, CSL Limited, and Incitec Pivot Limited.
His work in OHS and learning and development has seen him deliver services to clients, both internal and external as well as managing service delivery teams around the world.
Luke holds a Graduate Certificate of Management (Learning) as well as a Diploma of Occupational Health and Safety, a Diploma of Training and Assessment Systems, a Certificate IV Workplace Training and Assessment, a Certificate III in Mine Emergency Response & Rescue and a Certificate II in Public Safety (SES Rescue).
Luke is extensively involved in a project to establish an association dedicated to confined space safety and to drive change in legislation to promote best-practice in this high-risk area. Luke is passionate about online OHS and incident investigation communities, moderating a number of large LinkedIn groups boasting over 11,000 members globally.