Critical events – whether violent acts, natural disasters, or public health incidents – overwhelm crisis-hit organizations – often swiftly. Nevertheless, the organizations in question remain PCBUs (Person(s) Conducting a Business or Undertaking), meaning they maintain a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their staff to the extent practicable.
Crises, emergencies, or other business continuity incidents don’t suspend that employer duty-of-care obligation. But they do make complying with the legal mandate that much harder, especially for Safety departments.
Why Safety, in particular? Safety teams often find themselves at a structural disadvantage when responding to a certain class of critical event. Specifically, Safety departments have traditionally focused on internal, unintentional workplace hazards, namely risks 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.
On the other hand, externally-originating hazards – again, violent acts, natural disasters, and public health events come to mind – have long been the provenance of other departments, whether Crisis, Security, or HR. Because of siloing effects, those teams don’t often share relevant information efficiently with the Safety function, even if the hazards they seek to prevent, respond to, and recover from can and do impact employee safety.
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