Can HR ever truly prepare staff for emergencies?

by John Maguire13 Oct 2015
Last week, a man was arrested after entering a Darlinghurst recruitment agency’s office and stabbing an employee in the hand.

According to reports by Fairfax Media, the man entered the office and began yelling threats, including one that he was going to kill someone.

Police will reportedly state in court that he subsequently stabbed the woman before being wrestled to the ground by clients and a member of staff.

The attacker did not know the employee who he stabbed, and was reportedly under assessment for mental health issues.

A client who was in Max Solutions’ office at the time told Fairfax that although the office was full of employees, around 20 employees raced into an adjoining room and closed the door, leaving their colleague and clients in the room with the attacker.

“There was no one in charge, the staff didn't know what to do, other than to take care of themselves,” he said.

“It was terrifying. Finally an internal security guard almost ambled in, and the police turned up after that.”

HC spoke to Leveasque Peterson, partner at Lander & Rogers, about employers’ obligations when it comes to preparing staff for responding to emergencies.

There are no work health and safety laws that require employers to provide training to their employees specifically relating to emergencies, although some high risk environments like major hazard facilities do have requirements for systems to incorporate emergencies.

“Generally, an employer’s obligation is to ensure a safe workplace, and that incorporates situations of emergencies,” Peterson told HC.

She added that different industries have different risk profiles.

“Some sectors are inherently more risky,” Peterson explained.

She gave an example of health workers who come into contact with patients prone to violent behaviour – but added that this was a “sharp contrast” to office workers.

“A good employer will have a comprehensive employee induction,” Peterson continued.

“They will always provide instruction on what to do should an emergency arise in their workplace. This would ordinarily be tailored to suit the risk profile at that workplace.”

Emergency response training

“I don’t think you can ever train people to handle an emergency,” Peterson told HC.

“By nature emergencies are panic situations that could have a variety of different outcomes. You can only equip employees with information on what to realistically expect.”

“If there is a higher prevalence of occupational violence or some other kind of emergency, it might be useful to consider training employees on how to diffuse those incidents.”

However, she emphasises that emergencies should always be treated as a situation where employees retreat and take themselves away to a place of safety.

“Often police reinforce this when we hear the ‘hero’ stories,” Peterson said.

“Heroic efforts make a great story, but those people have placed themselves at risk by acting this way. Retreating is often better option and employers need to keep that in mind.”

She added that another thing to remember was that employees must always remain the number one priority in emergencies.

“Property damage and business interruption is an inconvenience, but these losses are all insurable. Safety is priceless, and that has to be the first port of call.”


  • by Bernie ALTHOFER 13/10/2015 10:48:39 AM

    It does seem that there occupational and work related violent incidents are occurring more frequently, although there may be a lack of direct data that will support media reporting. Any incident involving violence can result in a physical or psychological injury, not to mentiion a financial cost to all involved. Despite the physical presence of threats, reports indicate that 'no-one was was injured' often mean that no physical injury occurred.

    Can organisations prevent such incidents from occurring? In all reality, it does seem that there is a risk that these type of incidents may continue to occur. Can staff be prepared? Organisations may have a raft of policies and procedures on how to respond to specific incidents e.g. bomb threat etc. However, when it comes to acts of physical violence, not all organisations may have the capacity to respond, or to respond well. Managers and workers may very well attend training or read the policy but when the chips are down, flight or fight may kick in. How individuals respond may have some influence on the outcome of the situation.

    No-one goes to work expecting to be subjected to a violent act, and how individuals respond in such situaitons may very well influence the outcome. For example, being able to provide basic life support, knowing how to call for emergency services, how to stay calm etc may all need to be practised. Conducting risk assessments to determine the level of risk exposure may provide some 'guidance' as the amount type of training provided e.g. a state of readiness. Planning not only for the probability of a violent incident is important, along with the immediate response. In addition, managers and workers need to know and understand post incident procedures e.g. psychological support, court attendance, injury management and return to work, and even media management.

    Unfortunately, in some situations, an employee may have already been exposed to a violent incident, and a repeat exposure may lead to a workplace claim. Understanding past exposure and responses may be an important issue in work allocation, rostering etc, just as it will be an important issue in determining the level of support that will be provided to that employee.

    Just because an incident has not happened, it does not mean that there is no likelihood of a violent incident occurring.

  • by John Wayne Legg - 14/10/2015 7:36:10 PM

    There are actually many things that can be done to prepare staff for an emergency such as violence in the workplace. It all depends on how much of a priority it is to a particular organisation, and whether they are prepared to invest in the relevant training.

Most Read