5 Steps to Support Worker’s Family After a Workplace Tragedy

Safety professionals work hard at preventing workplace tragedies from happening. But serious injuries and fatalities can still occur despite your best efforts. If the worst does happen, the way your company responds can make a difference to the family of the injured or deceased worker.

Threads of Life is an organization whose mission is to help families heal through a community of support and to promote the elimination of life-altering workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. They released a report, based on a survey of members who’ve experienced work-related injury or death in their families, that provides some clear steps an employer can follow to connect with and support the family after a tragedy.

The report recommends that employers take these five steps:

Step #1: Go see the family. It’s highly recommended that a senior manager, CEO, HR professional or other senior representative of the company go to see the family. If the employer has the duty to inform the family, in person, of a workplace death or serious injury, send a small team, including a senior manager, a staff person or workplace friend who knows the family, and a mental health professional, counsellor or member of the clergy.

Step #2: Keep the family informed. Have an internal discussion ahead of time, with legal consultation, about what company representatives may and may not say. Ideally, companies should develop a response plan and policy on communication before it’s ever required, and make both available to anyone who may be asked to communicate with the family in the event of an incident.

Step #3: Provide support. There are forms of support, both immediate and longer-term, which are meaningful to and appreciated by a family in the wake of a serious workplace injury or death, such as staying with the individual until another family member can arrive, driving relatives to the hospital and making phone calls to clergy. Make no assumptions about what will be helpful and ask what the family needs. But only offer what you know you can fulfill and, if you make an offer of assistance, be sure to follow through with it.

Step #4: Honour the worker. Families understand that work must go on, but they value companies’ efforts to honour the worker. In the case of a fatality, attending the funeral—and allowing co-workers to attend—is an obvious first step.

Step #5: Stay in touch. Families said they were touched when company representatives visited or phoned regularly, sent a card and continued to remember the injured or deceased employee months and years after the tragedy.

Bottom line: Families appreciated when an employer maintained “open lines of communication” with them.

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