Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to have a fatality occur in your workplace knows what a profound effect the experience has on everyone in the organization.

As you grieve the loss of a colleague, it can be helpful to rely on an incident response plan. Its guidelines can help you through a sad and unfamiliar experience. Here are some suggestions from safety professional John Riehs on how to create such a plan.

Before you start preparing your plan, Riehs suggests you contact the law enforcement and coroner’s office in your district. This will ensure that your procedures are kept within local law requirements.

In general, these are the eight things a plan should address:

1. Notification Procedures
Develop a formal method of communicating to ensure that all pertinent departments are notified of an incident. This procedure should specify:

• The names/positions and contact information of those to be notified;
• When they must be notified, listed in order of priority; and
• The person or position responsible for making contact.

2. A Victim Services Team
Consisting of personnel within the company, this team should be responsible for coordinating:

• Notifying the victim’s family;
• Locating the hospital;
• Transporting the family;
• Handling the victim’s personal effects, such as wallet, purse, jewellery, tools, automobile, etc.;
• Procuring critical incident stress services or counselling for co-workers; and
• Notifying the company’s human resources department and initiating procedures regarding dispersal of the final pay check and emergency assistance plans.

It’s important that the family be notified quickly. In small towns, some police reports are still broadcasted over scanners. It’s also important to specify in your plan that a company representative should stay with the family until other personal support, such as clergy or relative, arrives.

3. Medical Waste Management
Outline procedures for handling any medical waste in accordance with federal and state regulations. Many states have regulations regarding the correct disposal of medical waste. In some cases, industrial sites fall under a different set of regulations than other businesses. To be sure your procedure is correct, Riehs suggests you contact your:

• Local health department;
• Local environmental agency;
• Coroner’s office; or
• Local large hospital.

4. Communicating with the Media
In addition to the notification list, work with your public relations staff to determine how, when and by whom information is communicated to the media.

5. Incident Investigation
The company should initiate a formal review of the incident. This investigation should be conducted by someone other than management and the victim’s co-workers. Be sure to notify the family before communicating the investigation results to employees.

6. Privacy Issues
Employees will want to ensure the victim’s family will be financially provided for. They may even want to start a fund drive. Do not breach confidentiality by discussing, for instance, what benefits the employee had and did not have.

7. The Funeral
If a funeral is involved, make decisions early about:

• Who will and will not attend;
• Whether time attending the funeral counts as vacation time; and
• Whether to hire a bus or van or otherwise provide for group transportation. This can increase safety and aid the grieving process by bringing all participants together as a group.

8. Grieving
It is important to take care of your employees while they’re grieving. You can do this by:

• Holding an employee counselling or debriefing session;
• Reorganizing workloads for employees impacted at the jobsite so they have “light duty” or non-safety-sensitive work to do;
• Allowing employees to go home early, if they wish;
• Creating a “buddy system” at the workplace for several days;
• Assigning teams to work together. This not only helps with grief, it also improves safety.

The serious injury or death of a co-worker can be a traumatic and emotional event for employees. Having an incident response plan in place can be a valuable asset. It not only prevents embarrassing public relations situations for a company, but it also provides aid and comfort to your employees and to the family of the victim.

No matter how hard you try to prevent them, workplace incidents do occur. And when they occur, you need properly trained investigators to identify root causes and take corrective actions. Are your incident investigators properly trained?

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