How to provide support after a workplace tragedy

Senior company representative must visit family
funeral

No one wants a work-related tragedy to happen. A fatality, serious injury or occupational disease exacts a huge emotional and economic cost, and the ripples reach family members, friends, co-workers, the community and beyond. If such a tragedy were to happen at your company, would your response elicit a comment like this:

“This relationship (with the employer) was very important to our family. We felt that they sincerely cared about us and would do whatever they could to help us through the difficult times.”

This individual had a positive experience with the employer following a workplace fatality, but all too often, that’s not the case. When the worst happens, an employer’s response can either help, or hinder a family’s emotional healing.

Threads of Life conducted a survey with some of our members, asking for their feelings about how the employer treated them and communicated with them following the workplace tragedy that affected them. Sadly, the survey indicates companies are generally doing a poor job of dealing with workers and families following a tragedy.

“They acted like they didn’t know me,” one person commented. “It was difficult to get assistance… It was heart breaking. I had worked with and for these people for almost two years.”

Based on the survey, Threads of Life has prepared a report for companies and organizations. Titled Workplace Tragedy: Employer Communication and Crisis Response, the report offers a summary of the survey findings, plus recommended steps employers could incorporate into their emergency plan and safety program.

One such recommendation is for a senior representative of the company to go see the family. The employer needs to show compassion and commitment to the family by visiting the house or, if appropriate, the hospital.

The importance of information was emphasized in every response to the Threads of Life survey. Offer the family what information you can about what happened, acknowledging that you don’t know all the details. Let them know there will be an investigation, and provide assurance that you will do all in your power to prevent further tragedies.

Another recommendation is to honour the worker. One thing many families both dread and resent is the idea that the workplace has simply moved on, and the worker has been forgotten. Some examples of way to honour the worker include planting a tree with a memorial stone, donating to a charity of the family’s choosing and sending flowers to the cemetery each year on the anniversary of the death.

Susan Haldane

Susan Haldane manages marketing and communication for Threads of Life, the association for workplace tragedy family support. Threads of Life brings hope and healing to Canadian families who have been affected by a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease. It is a national charity connecting more than 2,400 family members through one-on-one peer support, links to community support services, and the opportunity to take action to help prevent similar tragedies to other families. Visit www.threadsoflife.ca for more information.

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