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Report offers recommendations for employers dealing with workplace tragedy

Feb
13

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. But if the worst does happen, the way the employer responds can make a significant difference to the family of an injured or deceased worker.

A new report released by Threads of Life, the Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, details how a company’s interaction with the family can either help or hinder emotional healing after the tragedy. The report is based on a survey of Threads of Life family members.  (The full report can be downloaded at http://threadsoflife.ca/employers/workplace-tragedy-employer-communication-and-crisis-response)

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

While the Threads of Life survey is not scientific, it accurately captures families’ perceptions of the way companies both large and small deal with family members after a serious workplace incident, and reflects the impact that treatment can have on the family. Sadly, the survey reveals that such a positive relationship is the exception rather than the rule for most families who’ve experienced a work-related fatality or serious injury.

Only half of employers took any steps to support the family, less than half made any move to honour the injured or deceased worker, and just over a third maintained a longer-term relationship with the family.

Based on the survey findings and recommendations from those who’ve lived through a workplace tragedy, the report offers five key recommendations which companies should build into their emergency plan and safety program:

  1. Go
  2. Tell
  3. Support
  4. Honour
  5. Keep in touch

In the best cases, the report concludes, a compassionate response from the employer can promote a family’s healing, enhance the perceptions the family and others have of the company, and ultimately help to build a culture of safety.

“My spouse's boss touched base by phone with me every couple of days while [my spouse] was in hospital, and then once he died the boss contacted me approximately once a month for a year,” one person said. “This helped me to feel they (his work) had not forgotten about [my spouse] and his family. This really helped to console us, and made us feel like they actually cared.”

Read the full report, Workplace tragedy: Employer communication and crisis response, by visiting the Threads of Life web site at www.threadsoflife.ca, or click here for a direct link to the PDF.