Healing workplace accident wounds

A serious workplace accident is not only highly distressing for the victims and those team members who work with them, it can also invite unwanted and damaging media attention that can impact a company’s brand image in the eyes of consumers, business partners and potential future employees.

Press coverage of such incidents can be difficult to deal with as it can often be sustained over many months while public health and safety enquiries take place, keeping the story in the spotlight and at the forefront of stakeholders’ minds for a long time after the event.

To make matters worse, in this Digital Age, team members who witnessed the accident might break the news via their social media accounts before the company has had time to coordinate an appropriate media response, making the story much harder to contain.

In such a climate, then, how can a business limit the damage to its public image?

Before speaking to anyone, it is imperative that company executives talk to their public relations (PR) experts, as they can determine which details can and can’t be revealed both to employees and to the press and begin to manage and direct communications about the incident. Some aspects of the accident may be sensitive and revealing them may impact any official investigations, so it is important to seek advice quickly.

Once consultation has been sought, company executives should then address employees’ concerns. They should be open and honest about what has taken place, reassure the team that they are safe, that the necessary safety checks are being carried out, and that they are co-operating fully with the authorities.

Above all, company executives should ensure that no one in the team says anything about the accident on their personal social media accounts, as this can prejudice the investigation. The company should invoke a ‘One Voice Policy’, a plan of action whereby all communications regarding the incident have to be referred to the PR team, and is designed to protect not just the business, but also the employees.

Executives should explain why the One Voice Policy is being put in place to ensure team members understand why they need to comply and to put them at their ease. Transparency and openness with employees about the accident and the investigation can help rebuild morale, and the PR team can assist here to make sure they have all the information they need.

When dealing with the media, sometimes there is a need to be proactive in directing journalists’ attention to the story to help pre-empt the reporting of anything that can cause particular damage to the company’s brand. However, this will largely depend on the circumstances and legal aspects of the case.

Any media enquiries should be addressed immediately and openly to demonstrate that the company is co-operating with the authorities and prioritising employee safety. All of this will help to minimise the potential impact on its reputation as an employer, and help calm the concerns of other external stakeholders, such as suppliers and customers.

The company’s PR experts can help direct and manage these media enquiries. They can also help to develop an appropriate communications strategy to rehabilitate the business’s public image by releasing good news stories and messaging to counter the effects of the bad.

An accident in the workplace, no matter how serious, is painful for the victim, his or her colleagues, and for the business. But, by simply being open with employees and the media, companies can do much to reduce the impact of any potential negative coverage. Employers should work closely with their PR team to devise the most appropriate media and internal communications response for the particular incident, helping to heal any wounds inflicted on the business’s image and on employee morale.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Sandy Lindsay at Tangerine PR.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.