Whether it is an accident in the workplace or a product recall, a health and safety incident can be difficult for a business to manage. Not only will the business have to work to try to resolve the issue as speedily and satisfactorily as possible, it will also have to contend with media interest and speculation on social media and other communications channels. This will, of course, have potential repercussions for its relationship with employees, clients and consumers.
Whatever the specific nature of the incident, in order to avoid a full-blown communications crisis, it is crucial that the business has a comprehensive strategy in place for dealing with the media, and for handling social media fall out. Here are our five tips for dealing with a health and safety incident.
1. Get your communications experts involved right away
As soon as any incident occurs it is vital that the communications team is informed and involved in agreeing a plan of action. They will then be able to devise an appropriate strategy for dealing with journalists, and can advise on talking to stakeholders to calm their fears. Most importantly, the communications team will be able to support the business in developing a strategy to help control the flow of information on social media and other digital channels, to ensure the incident doesn’t flare into an online crisis.
2. Determine the nature of the incident
To help devise the best strategy, the business needs to determine the precise nature of the health and safety incident. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for dealing with such issues. The response to an involuntary product recall will differ from that to a voluntary recall, and the approach for an accident in the workplace will vary depending on whether the people involved were employees or members of the public. Each particular incident will generate its own level of interest from traditional media and from social media, which also needs to be taken into account when developing a plan of action. The communications team will be able to support the business during this process and help it select the right response.
3. Communicate with key stakeholders
Communicating with stakeholders, both internal and external, should be a key priority. These should include not just investors, but also suppliers and employees, as they all have a stake in the on-going success and stability of the business. The nature of the incident and what action is being taken to address it should be explained quickly and succinctly to put their minds at rest and safeguard morale. The business should also take this opportunity to ask stakeholders not to talk to journalists as this could cause confusion in the media, and they should also be asked not to post anything related to the incident on their social media accounts.
4. Engage with journalists and social media
The longer the general public is left without any information about the incident, the greater the likelihood that it will develop into a full-blown crisis, so it is important that the business considers the correct time to start proactively talking to the media. Rather than waiting for journalists to approach with questions, or allowing speculation to build on social media sites, the business should reach out across appropriate channels. This will demonstrate that it is keen to resolve the problem and is co-operating with the authorities.
The communications team should take charge of relations with journalists and of social media management at this point, as it is crucial that the business speaks with a ‘single voice’. This will help to minimise the risk of incorrect details being leaked and to avoid confusion about how the incident is being dealt with. The business should work with its communications and legal teams to decide and agree on what it can discuss and in what detail. If questions are asked regarding sensitive information that could affect any potential legal inquiries, the business should explain why it is being as open and transparent as it can be without being able to give a fuller answer at this time.
5. Plan for the future
In the grip of a crisis, it is understandable that a business may not feel it has the time to consider what happens afterwards, but this is precisely the best time to start thinking about how to rehabilitate its reputation in the eyes of stakeholders and customers. The business should work with its communications experts to plan an appropriate strategy for traditional media and digital channels. Done with sensitivity and care, issuing appropriate ‘good news’ stories – about product launches, acquisitions, or executive appointments – can be an excellent first step, as is developing a comprehensive social media programme to engage directly with consumers. Putting these into action during the crisis can also help to offset the negativity of the coverage surrounding the health and safety incident and lay the groundwork for rebuilding the brand.
A rapid response
Dealing with a health and safety incident is a challenge for any business, but it is important to react immediately to whatever has happened. By following these five tips, and doing so as quickly as possible, organisations can ensure that they remain in control of events, rather than being swept along by them. This can help them avoid a crisis, protecting their brand and their business.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.