Both Canadian and U.S. safety laws require the establishment of a safe workplace along with clearly defined policies regarding the prevention of workplace violence. Much of the attention is focused on risk assessment and mitigation. But, there is another key area of practice that has been given teeth in Canadian law, and this focuses on emergency communications, specifically with regard to summoning immediate assistance.
This is a crucial step, ostensibly one where the rubber meets the road, since it escalates an incident from an internal occurrence to something that involves first responders and law enforcement. Having notification procedures for deciding how and when to issue this call is a requirement of Canadian legislation, and it is something that could be – and should be – embraced as a best practice in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Canada Requires Notification Procedures for Summoning Assistance
Canada, and Canadian businesses, may like to consider themselves to be one step removed from the violence that plagues other parts of the world. After all, how many other countries can fulfill a positive national stereotype by photographing their Prime Minister paddling his canoe to work?
However, Canada is no stranger to violence in public and workplace settings. Its Occupational Health and Safety Regulations at Section 20.8 acknowledges this by requiring notification procedures to summon assistance, when necessary, in response to violence. The regulations also require that employees are informed about the procedures, and information is posted in a public location.
Notification Procedures Are Necessary for Preventing Violence
The Canadian law is on the right track, we believe. Effective and clearly understood crisis communications plans help organizations stay safe, and meet their duty of care for every person who visits a workplace. Previously, we wrote about how businesses can conduct a broadly scoped workplace review to prepare for the hazards of workplace violence, and that article can be found here.
There is no one single scenario on which to focus any proactive effort. Acts of violence can result from domestic abuse or terrorism, and are as likely to occur in small and quiet workplaces as in loud, bustling ones. Notification procedures designed in advance can facilitate the appropriate response, reducing the chance that an incorrect decision will be made spontaneously.
A proper response goes much further than simply dialing 911. Under the letter of the Canadian Regulations, an employer might satisfy these crisis communications requirements using posted procedures that include emergency phone numbers. But, the response to an emergency situation requires more than generics.
Case history reveals numerous incidents where lives were lost or damage was increased due to a miscommunication or a misunderstanding of what types of communications practices were needed. For example, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy destroyed or cut power to large numbers of cell towers, leaving mobile voice and text communications essentially useless. Salt-laden floodwaters destroyed landlines and switching centers, removing another common means of alerting. Outside of first responder radio equipment and satellite phones, amateur radio operators using older, but still effective technologies were the first civilians to re-establish reliable communications across the affected areas.
The lesson from these situations is that the unexpected is always present in emergencies, and any networked crisis communication solution must have robust, redundant support for multiple technologies. Otherwise, the system risks failure precisely when it is needed most. These systems must support multiple types of first responder communications equipment, satellite phones, marine and aviation radios, and more – in addition to more ubiquitous wired and wireless telephony tools. That way, emergency alerting remains possible, regardless of all but the direst of situations.
For example, AtHoc supports wired desktop connections, digital signage, sirens and klaxons, and public address systems, as well as radio, WiFi, and cellular communications. Its ability to operate in the Cloud and on traditional servers introduces another level of redundancy, enabling full functionality even if a centralized command center is unreachable.
Automated scenarios and response templates mean that critical alerts can be issued based on data provided from the field, such as fire, seismic, or gunshot sensors, connecting emergency response to the burgeoning capabilities of the Internet of Things. This capability is particularly important in operating environments where it might be too dangerous to place responders in harm's way to determine accurate situational awareness.
In addition, a clear and practiced procedure must connect to a solid and secure communication technology for messages and instructions to be dispatched correctly. This applies equally to incidences of workplace violence as it does to natural disasters.
In establishing the requirement for emergency assist protocols in Section 20.8 of the Regulations, Canadian businesses have moved closer to creating a complete timeline of crisis management, from detection to deployment and follow through.
As with many areas of crisis planning, the costs of preparedness are far smaller than the price an organization and its people may pay if they have to address the dangers under-prepared.