It’s something that you probably don’t want to think about
very often, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed just the same: What
will you do if an incident occurs that jeopardizes the safety of your
Steve Bernstein is the managing partner for the Tampa office
of Fisher & Phillips LLP, which employs 240 attorneys nationwide. He has
coached numerous clients on how to deal with workplace safety issues from
chemical spills to fires, natural disasters and violence in the workplace.
Bernstein says the ability to respond effectively begins with
having a well-scripted plan for incident reaction as well as preventive steps
that comply with Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines.
“It starts with a cultural perspective,” Bernstein says. “If
you don’t have a plan in place to demonstrate your commitment to safety from
the top down, you’re not likely to get it done. Some of our clients make the
mistake of going from A to C in other words, going right to front-line
supervision and equipping them with enough information to get by. I have other
clients and businesses that have a dedicated safety manager with responsibility
for safety compliance.
“That’s great, but those things in a vacuum aren’t going to
get you where you want to go, unless you have a commitment demonstrated from
the upper echelons of the organization. From the CEO on down, that commitment
needs to be there and ideally it needs to be demonstrated to employees through
vehicles of communication.”
You need to piece together a compliance and response plan that
fits the needs of your business, but there are some elements that need to be in
any business safety plan.
“You can’t really pull an off-the-shelf safety program, but
certainly there are elements that need to be in every safety program,”
Bernstein says. “It includes training, communication, recognizing hazards and
evaluating them, and labeling hazards. But it starts with sitting down with the
folks who are out there on a regular basis and outlining a program that fits
the realities of the workplace.
“There has to be accountability and measurable results. You
start by setting objectives that are meaningful because vague objectives and
standards are hard to measure. Ideally you designate one or a group of people
to carry out those objectives, and you hold them accountable if you fail to get
The best lessons you can learn from are the lessons learned
from actual incidents. As you are putting together a safety plan, carefully
study incidents that have happened at other companies, preferably in your
industry. Review how the leadership of those companies responded and take the
lessons they learned into account when formulating your own plan.
“A crisis reaction plan is an important part of any program,”
Bernstein says. “You start by closely examining disasters or incidents that
have occurred in other businesses in your industry and using that as a model to
try to frame a scenario that most of your work force would relate to, and you
can drill them on it.
“There is a lot of scenario planning that can go into this,
but it needs to be real for these employees, so it should take into account
true life incidents that have occurred.
There are outside firms that can help you construct a plan,
but I’d caution against relying too heavily on outside help because chances are
they’re not going to know your business as well as you do.”
How to reach: Fisher & Phillips
LLP, (813) 769-7500 or www.laborlawyers.com