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Assessing risks

When we are drawing up a strategy, properly assessing risks should be one of our first steps. It enables us to address them proactively. As with any risk assessment, the control measures should then be appropriate to the level of risk.

There are 4 main areas we can consider but the examples shown for each below are not exhaustive!

  1. Major incident: e.g., an act of terror, active shooter, multi-casualty incident, line of duty death, man-made disaster (e.g., chemical leak, fire) or natural disaster. Some organisations are more at risk due to their geographical location, the type of work they are doing or even who they provide services to.
  2. Incidents related to the organisation’s activities: e.g., armed robbery, transport / heavy machinery accident, violence or physical assault. Some employees will have repeated and extreme exposure for instance emergency services workers, cash handling and transit services, security
  3. Secondary trauma: e.g., repeated exposure to others’ trauma as part of a work role (think social worker / journalist / emergency services).
  4. Unpredictable “life events”: e.g., sudden death or suicide. These events can have a huge impact on colleagues.

When considering hazards and threats arising from the organisation’s activities or certain roles within it, try to think comprehensively.

People may be at risk directly or as a witness.

Lone or remote workers may be more vulnerable when it comes to risk and on being able to access support.

One of the most challenging workplace events is a line of duty death. The ripple effects are significant as many people who are not directly involved will be impacted by the recognition that “it could have been me.”

We often use the phrase Critical Incident as an alternative to Traumatic Incident. There are several reasons for this:

  • It’s less emotive and frightening. Many people have preconceptions about trauma that are false or unhelpful, for example “it is permanently damaging.”
  • It encourages managers to be less subjective about whether an event was classed as a “trauma” and focus more on the actual impact of an event.

When it comes to distressing and traumatic events, the ISO22330 Guideline for people aspects of business continuity offers a useful definition:

A psychological critical incident: An event or series of events that may cause significant emotional or physical distress, psychological impairment or disturbance in people’s usual functioning.

Some initial questions to ask when you are building a strategy:

  • What are the potential risks to your organisation in these 4 areas?
  • What is the likely frequency or severity of these?
  • Who has been identified as potentially at risk? As well as those directly involved, who may be psychologically affected by these events? Are there related teams, call handlers / reception staff? Often those in a peripheral, investigative or helping role may be missed.
  • Are there “hot spots” in the organisation for sickness absence or burnout? These may warrant closer inspection to see if there is a link with critical incidents particularly in regard to secondary trauma.

For more informative resources on strategies for creating resilient organisations, please see the following link.

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