SAN FRANCISCOEmployers should implement crisis-response plans that include a support component to prevent employees from becoming distracted and compromising workplace safety, experts say.
Crisis management isn't just for large-scale events, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or Superstorm Sandy, according to Les Kertay, Chattanooga, Tenn.-based chief medical officer for crisis management firm R3 Continuum. He spoke during the Disability Management Employer Coalition's 2015 conference in San Francisco.
For example, on Sept. 16, 2013, a gunman killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, and in the days following the incident, more than 6,000 employees were offered counseling. A specialized team of counselors stayed at the site, working with people who said they'd been anxious, sad and stressed since the shooting occurred.
Mr. Kertay participated in an Aug. 4 session about curbing pres- enteeism and absenteeism when business operations are disrupted. The company supports organizations in instances that range from company downsizing to a robbery of the business to a longtime employee dying.
Those are everyday events, Mr. Kertay said. Why is an employer bringing us out to talk to their people when a beloved colleague dies unexpectedly? They're doing it for two reasons: One reason is they want to take care of their people; they're also interested in people being and staying productive or getting back to productivity as quickly as possible.
Employers that do offer crisis-response counseling also are taking steps to provide employees with a safe workplace, which can protect employers against litigation later, according to Jeff Gorter, vice president of employee assistance program corporate relations at the Wyoming, Mich.-based Crisis Care Network.
Workplace safety is a main reason many employers in high-hazard industries, such the energy industry, provide post-crisis support, Mr. Gorter said. A worker who's distracted even briefly could have an accident or put other workers at risk, he added.
Everyone is an expert on their last disaster, Mr. Gorter said. Everybody knows what to do for the one that just passed.
What employers should do is develop an all-hazards approach that includes universal strategies to return employees to productive work, he said.
At Optum Inc., a health services firm with 16 U.S. offices, each office has an emergency-response team that helps other employees during a business disruption or a disaster, such as an earthquake, according to Ruth Kenzelmann, vice president of employee assistance programs and worklife services at UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s health services platform.
Each Optum office practices its emergency-response plan yearly, she said.
Citing 2013 research by Aberdeen Group Inc., Ms. Kenzelmann said one hour of downtime due to a workplace disruption costs $8,581 for small companies, $215,638 for medium-size companies and, for large companies, it is $686,250.
There's value in doing something to move people forward, she said.
This report appeared in Crain's Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.