When Dave Fleming was 21, his best friend Tim was severely injured in an explosion at the municipal arena where they both worked. Tim died from his injuries 10 days later.
Fifteen years have given Dave perspective on the event and its aftermath. However, he still goes quiet when talking about his friend, and he still bridles at the memory of the treatment he received from his former employer.
Dave and his friend Tim had worked part-time at the arena for about five years. Each new season they assumed greater responsibilities. In 1996, they were both working as arena operators while going to school. Keen hockey players, they both liked the arena environment. They worked hard at their jobs and got on well with their supervisors. In fact, working for the municipality full-time had been a possible career option for Dave until Tim’s death.
Not after. “I could never have worked full-time for the employer,” Dave later realized, “because of how I had been treated. I thought, ‘If anything ever happened to me, they’re not going to help me or my family.’”
How an employer responds after a serious workplace incident can strengthen or sour employer-worker relations. “Get it right,” says Andrew Harkness, healthy workplace specialist for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, “and you can create a more cohesive, respectful and safer workplace. Get it wrong, and watch distrust and fear rise while morale and productivity fall.”
Either way, the effects can be lasting. “One year, two years, even three years after a serious incident,” says Sandra Lawson, a regional director for the Ministry of Labour (MOL), “I’ve often heard inspectors say after they’ve gone back to a workplace that the experience has really affected the workplace and the people there.”
Employers may not be able to fully shield co-workers from the emotional fallout of a serious incident or fatality, but according to experts, employers can minimize the consequences, help workers re-establish their balance sooner, and restore or even improve organizational performance.
HSO Network Magazine spoke with employee assistance program (EAP) providers and others about this challenge, but before we share their comments, read more about Dave’s experiences.
“One year, two years, even three years after a serious incident, I’ve often heard inspectors say after they’ve gone back to a workplace that the experience has really affected the workplace and
— Sandra Lawson