Safety teams have long understood employee health and safety to lie at the intersection of health protection and promotion. In turn, those teams have developed sophisticated programs to enhance worker wellbeing and prevent injury and illness.
But the growing risk of workplace violence has upset the balance. And now, without accounting for this key safety issue, even the most innovative programs won’t be able to adequately ensure safety and promote employee wellbeing. To keep up, what new capabilities will safety practices have to add?
Well, the case of the public healthcare sector might prove instructive for Safety teams more broadly. Here, major public security events often trigger lockdowns – lockdowns of facilities that are not the primary site of the mass-casualty incident in question.
In one crucial respect, the underlying risk assessment that explains this type of emergency intervention is particular to the healthcare sector, i.e. the hospital’s responsibility to provide consistent care to its patients. In the event of a public shooting, suspects might come to hospitals to inflict further harm on victims. Or, the public at large might retaliate against an injured perpetrator if they learn that the bad actor has been taken to a hospital for treatment. Further, a potential convergence of publics (on to the healthcare facility) might exacerbate the challenge of treating other emergency patients.
Still, there’s a critical element of the safety risk calculus that is globally applicable beyond the healthcare sector. As employers, hospitals qualify as PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking), as well. They thus have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of staff. And that duty of care obligation doesn’t end during a crisis, emergency, or other business continuity incident, especially if that crisis (violence) is perfectly foreseeable.
And it’s this aspect of duty of care that might be most difficult to maintain for Safety departments. After all, Safety teams traditionally focus on workplace hazards that are internal in origin and unintentional in spirit, i.e. arising from unsafe work practices, hazardous industrial conditions, or exposure to harmful chemical, biologic, or physical agents. Indeed, the duty of care obligation itself comes from a case of unintentional negligence.
But as enshrined in law, the obligation remains operative even during violent acts in the workplace, the response to which has traditionally been the provenance of Crisis and Security teams. Since those acts and other security incidents (e.g. vandalism, theft, fraud, and protest) can and do compromise employee safety and wellbeing, they must be squarely in the sights of Safety teams – now more than ever, as security crises count among the top ten business continuity threats and disruptions.
What’s more, jurisdictions are increasingly imposing stricter regulatory regimes on at-risk sectors and their PCBUs. Remember, the very factors that put healthcare workers at high systemic risk of violence are present in many other industries where employees work alone, in isolation, or in remote areas with limited ability to call for help, or work in unpredictable environments, communicating face-to-face with customers, using service methods that might cause frustration, resentment, or misunderstanding.
Safety teams at PCBUs in other at-risk sectors, such as retail, construction, and utilities, must therefore ensure that their workplaces are free of hazards causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. That means identifying, understanding, and controlling what have traditionally been security risks liable to cause security crises. So, what can make those PCBUs more confident in their response to security crises and ability to maintain duty of care? Download our guide to bridging the gap between safety management and crisis.
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