Planning for a workplace crisis

By and |  July 21, 2017

Workplace accidents almost always occur suddenly and without warning.

We do not see them coming. We want to believe no such thing could ever happen here. But they can… a highwall suddenly fails, engulfing equipment… an unplanned explosion occurs in the plant … a catastrophic fire erupts and spreads quickly to critical equipment. An accident causing injuries or loss of life is certainly a crisis, but a non-injury causing accident can be, too, if it disrupts the worksite in a significant way.

While we continuously try to prevent such crises from occurring, we do need to plan how we would manage the crisis before it occurs. It is all too easy to put off such planning for a less-busy day. However, advanced planning is essential and good planning can have a direct impact on the outcome for employees, the operation and maybe even the company as a whole.

What crises can occur? The first step in crisis management planning is to identify what types of crises could occur. Start by making a long list. Consider every category of disruptive workplace events that you can. In addition to the operation-related accidents and injuries that you certainly want to include, also consider severe-weather-related events, workplace violence, and other man-made and natural disasters.

You might even want to include possible crisis-level impacts coming from outside sources such as an event at a neighboring facility that could affect your own.
After you have listed every realistic event you can think of, pare down the list to a manageable size. Leave on the list only those events that are more likely to occur and maybe also one or two that could be catastrophic to the operation.

What immediate response is necessary? Once you have identified the various types of crises to be addressed in your plan, the next step is to map out what immediate responses are necessary. In the first few hours of the crisis, what needs to be done? Contact local police and fire authorities? Close off access to parts or all of the operation? Provide first aid? Shut down critical processes to prevent further harm? Post personnel in vehicles at the front gate to help emergency responders find their way into the property?

Put in the plan not just what is needed, but how it will be done. Maybe include some basic flow charts. Include contact information for local authorities, key company personnel and the Mine Safety & Health Administration.

Who will handle the immediate response? Once the immediate response is mapped out for each type of identified crisis, you are now ready to designate who will be responsible for each action item. Remember to build in flexibility, to the extent possible, as specific persons may be away from the site, or even could be among the injured and otherwise unavailable at that critical time.

Planning for the next stages

After you have developed the plan for the initial hours of the crisis event, expand the plan to include action items for the next stages. Here the plan likely will branch out to multiple possible action items that would be occurring concurrently. Consider HR needs for those most impacted by the event: their families. Other sections of the plan should include communications with the media, customers, suppliers and the community.

Developing a crisis management plan may seem like a lot of work preparing for something that likely will never happen. That may be, but there is one other possible valuable benefit of crisis management planning.

In spending the time thinking about possible crises that could occur and considering impact and response, it may become apparent that there are things you have overlooked that could be done now to reduce risk. In other words, prevention can come into play here, too, and may just be an unexpected benefit of crisis planning.

Bill Doran and Margo Lopez are with the national labor, employment and safety law firm Ogletree Deakins.

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