Employees sometimes face personal emergencies during the workday. Organizations are sometimes caught unprepared, and their people are at risk.
A young woman weeping uncontrollably, with blood all over her face enters her office. The crowd milling about the office lobby and fellow travelers in the elevator just stare.
A young manager suddenly clutches his chest and collapses at his desk. His worried team members crowd around him. Heart attack? Nah, he’s just 35!
Even if it was something less serious – an inexplicable stomachache or a twisted ankle, precious time gets lost because no one knows what to do. When people eventually emerge from their stupor, a democratic – and time-wasting – discussion breaks out as to which hospital to take the person to. So, unless there are proper mechanisms in place, people could die…
Medical emergencies during the workday are rare, but not unusual. We live in dangerous times when just making it safely to office could be a small miracle! For the layperson who works in an office, the key to handling any emergency is a combination of speed and making correct, knowledgeable decisions. For the injured, it could mean…life itself. The time-frame: one hour – the ‘golden hour’.
Yes, there are legal implications too. But this is about an organization’s moral responsibility to its people. One that goes beyond just paying the annual insurance premium.
In order to fulfill this, organizations must have an infrastructure that is both preventive and capable of handling emergency situations.
- Size doesn’t matter: If an organization is large enough to warrant a dedicated Human Resources person, it is large enough to have an infrastructure for employee safety.
- A specific individual should be in charge: Someone who will make the decisions, invoke the emergency procedures, start up the communication tree and get things moving – quickly. If the person has a loud voice and commanding personality, it helps immensely. Such ‘wardens’ should be seated within every employee cluster and trained on emergency procedures. And their training backed up with periodic refreshers and practice drills.
- Emergency contact details should be displayed prominently: And periodically updated. Exactly whom to call, the nearest hospital, police station and police women’s cell numbers, etc. should be boldly printed and placed in high-visibility locations around the office.
Parallel to the internal set-up, organizations must have an external network in place. There are three fundamental elements around any office emergency:
- Medical: Despite this being a no-brainer, it doesn’t happen as smoothly as it should. Unless it is clearly pre-determined, confusion could arise when scrambling to find the number of the doctor or arguing over the hospital. While hospitals are eager to empanel themselves with companies, some thinking should go into considering proximity to office locations. Be particularly aware of all-India deals with chain hospitals – their hospital in Delhi may be close to your premises, but your office in Chennai could be miles away from their facility there!
- Legal: An injured employee may require legal assistance in cases requiring a police report – eg if they’ve been mugged, or in an accident. The legal infrastructure must consist of a readily available lawyer/law firm, and someone who can liaise with the police. This is especially important if a woman employee is involved.
- Communication: The first communication needs to go to the family of the employee. Which means that everyone’s emergency contact details must be available, updated and accessible – but within privacy norms. The business head/CEO should also be informed of the situation. As should be the employee’s immediate team members. They would most certainly be traumatized and eager to hear that their colleague is getting better. A well-worded email from the business head’s desk gives people the comfort that their colleague is being ably cared for and they can get back to work.
Reasonably robust mechanisms do exist in places where there are chances of a workplace accident occurring – like factories, or where heavy machinery is being operated. However, many office locations lack the existence of a formal process and people who are trained to handle emergencies.
Not-for-profit organizations like the Pune-based Rashtriya Life Saving Society provide training and certifications that help people do the right thing in a variety of emergency situations. Sadly, they struggle to convince organizations to participate in their programs.
When people lack the appropriate knowledge, they freeze. They fear that they could get implicated despite their good intentions, and so wait for ‘someone else’ to do the needful.
India doesn’t yet have a ‘Good Samaritan Law’ that can protect a well-meaning colleague from being implicated, should things go wrong despite a life saving procedure. Hopefully, there’ll be one soon…
Meanwhile, organizations would do well to spend some time, effort – and funds – on a formal mechanism to prevent, protect and save their employees, should they get hurt.