“This relationship [with the employer] was very important to our family. We felt that they sincerely cared about us and would do whatever they could to help us through the difficult times.”

Photo by Tom Buchanan, Tom Buchanan Photographics

No one wants a work-related tragedy to happen. A fatality, serious injury,
or occupational disease exact a huge emotional and economic cost, and the ripples reach family members, friends, co-workers, the community and beyond. If such a tragedy were to happen at your company, wouldn’t you want a comment like the quotation above to reflect how to those people felt about you?

All too often, that’s not the case. When the worst happens, an employer’s response can either help, or hinder a family’s emotional healing. Threads of Life conducted a survey with some of our members, asking for their feelings about how the employer treated them and communicated with them following the workplace tragedy that affected them. Sadly, the survey indicates companies are generally doing a poor job of dealing with workers and families following a tragedy.

“They acted like they didn’t know me,” one person commented. “It was difficult to get assistance… It was heart breaking. I had worked with and for these people for almost two years.”

Based on the survey, Threads of Life has prepared a report for companies and organizations. Titled Workplace tragedy: Employer communication and crisis response, the report offers a summary of the survey findings, plus recommended steps employers could incorporate into their emergency plan and safety program.

The report also includes advice from the families about how employers could help families going through this experience in the future.

“Employers should consider taking a step back to try and put themselves in the shoes of the deceased’s family. A death, critical injury or occupational illness in the workplace is completely unacceptable and yet this provides an employer with an opportunity to change and prevent it from occurring again in the future. If the employer conducted a thorough investigation of the incident, several recommendations would present themselves. It is these recommendations, and forward movement from the incident, that I feel would provide some sense of comfort to the family members, knowing that an employer recognizes their responsibility and is willing to recognize their shortfalls in their business and that moving forward they will ensure that this will not happen to another worker. I know if my father’s employer communicated this, it would have assisted in my healing, rather than say nothing at all. An employer saying nothing at all in this situation shows me they do not care and are willing to let this happen to other workers.

 Download the report Workplace tragedy: Employer communication and crisis response from the Threads of Life web site

Susan Haldane
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