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Why More Employees Are Being Exposed To Death

07 October 2016

Why More Employees Are Being Exposed To Death


Although the likelihood of someone witnessing a fatal accident at work has decreased, with just 144 workplace related deaths occurring in 2015-161, the risk of employees being exposed to a sudden or unexpected death has increased.

Not only are employees more likely to get caught up in international disasters or terrorist activity abroad, but suicide has become the main cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK, with one death by suicide happening every two hours2, totalling 6,000 deaths a year. Add to that the risk of a senior employee suffering a fatal heart attack at work, or someone being caught up in a fatal road traffic accident, and the risk of employees being touched by the death of a colleague has never been greater.

In response, an increasing number of employers are updating their disaster recovery plans by incorporating strategies for helping employees exposed to an unexpected death or traumatic event to recover.


What’s a compassionate continuity plan?

Whereas traditional business continuity plans are primarily concerned with getting business processes and functions up and running again as quickly as possible, a Compassionate Continuity Plan (CCP) recognises that if a large number of employees are touched by a human trauma, such as the suicide or unexpected death of a much loved colleague, this could affect them so much that it starts to affect the business.

By recognising that employees and customers exposed to trauma are likely to be detrimentally impacted, a Compassionate Continuity Plan (CCP) allows the leaders of the organisation to think through in advance how they will show compassion and provide immediate, appropriate and practical leadership required in times of crisis. This is particularly important because the extent to which the organisation is able to show leadership and compassion can impact directly on the recovery of employees. The sooner you can pay attention to their emotional and psychological needs, the less traumatised they will be and the sooner they’ll feel able to work again.

Also, you only need to look at Malaysian Airlines’ decision to use text messages to tell the relatives of the passengers aboard flight MH370 that no one had survived3, to see just how quickly a human disaster can turn into a public relations nightmare. With social media ready to expose and jump on any misstep or perceived mistreatment, you’ve only got one chance to get it right. Upfront planning is critical for providing the right, properly thought-through response, and means business leaders avoid having to come up with a plan of action while in a state of bereavement or crisis.

Creating a compassionate continuity plan

A useful first step is to look at your existing disaster recovery plans and ask yourself if your loved ones would think this is a good plan or not? Anyone who cares for you will want to know that you’ll be okay and looked after. If the plan only looks at ways of relocating vital business services, with no mention of how to make its people feel cared for and looked after, your family wouldn’t be happy and neither should you be. 

By bringing together HR, OH, security, safety, risk and communications, as well as any third party suppliers responsible for returning people to work or otherwise safeguarding their wellbeing, you can consider what you want people to be saying about the organisation in the aftermath of a human disaster. 

If you want to be good at getting people to feel safe again, you might need to have plans in place to access transportation to take them home. If you want them to feel like the company isn’t trying to hide or withhold information, you need to have a process in place for regular open communication, even if it’s just to say that police are talking to the family of the person involved before you can say anything more.

Managers and business leaders also need to be prepared to handle questions from employees in a compassionate way, rather than resorting to cold hard facts or insensitive language. They also need to know in advance how to deal with everything from how best to represent the company at a funeral to how soon to let someone new take on the desk of someone who recently died. Essential to showing the caring side of the organisation and minimising further emotional distress is having a process in place to assess the psychological impact of any actions taken, or not taken.


Find out how we helped Nationwide to prepare for the unexpected here 



1 Statistics on fatal injuries in the workplace in Great Britain 2016, HSE

2Mental Health Foundation, 2016

3 Distraught families told by text message to assume ‘beyond doubt no one survived', Independent, 24 March 2014