The wave of devastating natural disasters in recent times, from floods, to earthquakes, has had a severe impact on Australian businesses, and serves as a reminder that companies must ensure they have up-to-date risk management strategies in place.
According to Gary Anderson, managing director of business and risk consulting firm, Protiviti, HR is critical to an effective emergency response plan. “[HR]’s role is to ensure staff have regular, practical and up-to-date training so they understand what to do and what to expect when a crisis strikes,” he said. “HR will also be instrumental in ensuring there are appropriate contingency measures where a crisis impacts staff working arrangements. These include policies relating to compensation, reduced hours, remote working or relocation where the business is temporarily unable to operate.”
All relevant staff must understand the hazards they potentially face, the steps they should take and who to contact within the organisation for information. Companies operating in disaster-prone regions need to develop comprehensive business continuity and emergency response plans so they are prepared to act quickly when a crisis erupts. According to Anderson, key features of such a plan include:
Mitigation strategies for business disruptions that may affect staff resources, supply chains or critical infrastructure
Safety procedures, such as shut-downs and evacuations
Infrastructure to work remotely if the need arises
A crisis management team and safety officers who are up to date on the company’s policies and procedures who are able to facilitate clear communication
An emergency contact system for employees to report their status and whereabouts
Getting policies and procedures right is crucial when it comes to employee safety in a crisis and requires time, commitment and investment. Anderson said the better resourced companies generally do a better job than smaller ones, but the challenge for all is to keep plans current, responsive and realistic. “A world-class response to a crisis is vital to a company’s ability to recover from it. Sooner or later, every business will face a crisis that cannot be prevented, whether it’s [a natural disaster] or some other ‘black swan’ event like the GFC. Response readiness in the face of such dire events will be the real test of whether a business will sink or swim.”
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