Notifying the family

When an employee is seriously injured or killed on the job, it’s not only co-workers who need to be informed – the victim’s family also needs to be notified.

Few resources are available to help companies perform what is an unquestionably difficult task. Delivering news of a death or serious injury to a victim’s family members is “way outside of [a safety professional’s] training and their subject matter expertise,” said Bob VandePol, president of Crisis Care Network.

Although there is no easy way to deliver bad news, measures can be taken to ease the blow. One of the most critical decisions an employer can make is determining who will deliver the news to a victim’s family. VandePol believes employers often don’t give enough thought to who they will send to deliver the bad news, simply selecting a friendly co-worker of the victim’s and not providing him or her any training on how to proceed. “The ramifications can be negative for the family, for the company and for the person who bears the bad tidings,” VandePol warned.

“You have to carefully select who goes,” he said. “We recommend a team, never one person.” If the news is met by a severe emotional outburst or if a victim’s children are present, one person may not be equipped to handle it.

The team should include a clear leader – someone who has had a good relationship with the victim – and a clergy member, counselor or mental health professional.

“You want to be very careful because a very predictable reaction is blame and anger upon hearing bad news,” VandePol said.

In addition to helping the family cope, a mental health professional can help deliver the news as well. Both the incident and the act of delivering the news can have a serious emotional impact on the messenger, he said, particularly if he or she had a close relationship with the victim.

Peter Kuchinsky, senior risk management consultant and trainer for the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority in Citrus Heights, pointed out that whatever is said to the family should be said privately – preferably before any information is given out to the media. Tell the victim’s family what information the company intends to release. Although the information given to different outlets can be limited or less specific, “do not put out conflicting messages” between media, family and co-workers, Kuchinsky warned.

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