Handling the media following a health and safety incident
There have been many examples of high profile health and safety incidents in recent years, including major rail disasters, the serious incident at Alton Towers and of course the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
By Amy Sadro, Principal Associate at Eversheds Sutherland and Kara O’Neill, Associate at Eversheds Sutherland.
These have rightly received high profile, widespread and ongoing media coverage. We all hope that we never have to deal with a serious event but when an organisation experiences a workplace incident, whatever its nature, there is always the potential for media interest.
How the media covers an event can have lasting and potentially damaging effects on an organisation’s reputation; the key is to be prepared and to act proactively, quickly and decisively.
The media now takes many forms from digital media to social media, print media, TV and radio; and organisations need to be able to respond proactively and reactively as an event and investigation unfolds.
We have set out below our top tips to proactively prepare for dealing with the media:
1. Initial reaction is important – it is often hard to know what to say at the outset of an incident when the facts remain unclear, particularly in the face of very serious injuries or even death. However, organisations should not be afraid to say sorry for what has happened, acknowledge the incident and human impact and that it is investigating and assisting the police or a regulator with its investigation.
2. Have a tested and trusted crisis management plan in place – this can also encompass having an effective communications person or team alongside lawyers to assist in an event of an incident to structure the most appropriate level of engagement with the media.
3. Brief all senior people and your workforce – it is important that all levels of employees within an organisation are aware of an incident and briefed on how to respond to the media as well as have the right level of support.
4. Choose an appropriate spokesperson – this should be someone at the right level of seniority who has had some experience/training in communications and can therefore best handle any media requests/responses.
5. Give a face to your organisation – this could be through having a consistent spokesperson communicating with the media or through creating a social media presence to give a company a level of ‘personality’.
6. Cultivate a relationship with the media generally as part of your overall business strategy – by speaking with journalists (who specialise in the sector you work in) on a more frequent basis or even allowing the press into your organisation on occasion, it may assist in how incidents are reported.