Imagine a house fire. It is the middle of the night and you are awakened by the fire alarm, the smell of smoke and an overwhelming fear. Hurriedly you react. In a panicked fashion you yell to wake your spouse and children, and frantically try to get everyone outside.

This is the essence of reaction. The sense of surprise and not knowing what to do can cripple you in this type of event. 

Now, imagine the same scenario. The fire department receives the call. With a sense of urgency and purpose, the firefighters go to that same fire and instead of a hurried reaction, they respond. They have a plan; they are not reactive. They know what to do. As this example demonstrates, having an action plan and anticipating crisis events is the type of strategy that leads to increased safety. A similar action plan can have an impact on your workplace.

The cost of a crisis

Safety continues to be a driver in the office or factory, costing businesses time, resources and money.  Crises in the workplace cost businesses nationwide approximately $120 billion a year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 

All too often, such resources are spent hardening facilities or physically changing the workplace environment, creating controls and policies to shape that setting. The workplace environment, as they quickly learn, can only be modified to a point. Staff must be trained to respond to the events, and not frantically react to them haphazardly.  Leaders must then ask themselves: Are my staff the type who react chaotically to a situation — or respond in accordance with whatever the situation presents?

The ability to respond to a crisis, with a
sense of urgency and resolve, is a vital factor in the
business world today.

Staff preparation

It is not whether safety training is needed, but rather it is the type of training leadership should choose to best prepare staff for a crisis. This article will help managers and directors understand the tools and training needed to anticipate and respond to workplace incidences, involving the unpredictable aspects of human behavior. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all curriculum, but rather a set of evidence-based guidelines which can be adapted to any situation.

The comprehensive, all-hazards approach

Much time and money is spent creating controls and policies around the safety in the contemporary workplace, to which workers are expected to adhere. However when it comes to managing potentially dangerous and volatile human behaviors in the workplace, the best practices take an all-hazards approach.

An “All-Hazards Approach” to safety preparedness in the workplace is modeled after basic emergency management principles. When assessing for risk in the workplace, one considers all possible hazards associated with risks and bases training and preparedness measures in the most comprehensive manner possible. Trainings then can create a baseline capability among staff and management that not only deals with anticipated risk but can be adapted to address unexpected scenarios.  Human behaviors are volatile by nature and the root causes of them vary, making “All-Hazards” trainings a flexible and essential tool for staff to rely upon in the event of a crisis.

The concept of cyclical events

Emergency management principles explain that crisis situations are not linear events, comprised of a “beginning” and an “end.”  Yet, many regard workplace incidences and other crises conceptually in this manner. This type of thinking, though, incorrectly implies that individuals need not think about or plan for a crisis, outside of an event.  This type of thinking, too, can breed a level of passive complacency that leads to staff opting to react to an event rather than respond to it. 

Staff should be aware that workplace crises exist as a cycle, with various phases of that cycle taking place prior to, simultaneously and after an event. For every incident – those that involve individual interactions and those that don’t – there are other internal, external or unnoticed factors at play that take place leading up to, and even after, a crisis. This is an important aspect of crisis training and it should emphatically reinforce the “crisis cycle” concept.

The phases of the emergency management cycle — “preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation”  — directly apply to crises and their cyclical nature. Training to prepare for a crisis should focus on this dynamic, with a particular eye toward “preparedness,” but weighing the other phases as well. In order to contribute to a culture of anticipation and prevention, each of these is essential. Integrating these concepts enables staff to learn to reorganize their thinking about the factors that contribute to escalating behaviors and how to respond appropriately during moments of chaos.

If your business is engaging in training, or in the process of seeking out organizations to train your staff, you’ll be best served if this “crisis cycle” concept, and other evidence-based practices, plays a central role in their offerings.

Bottom line

Very much like a homeowner would do in preparation for that house fire mentioned in the introduction, you and your management needs to plan for inevitable crisis situations in the workplace.

Assess each of the risks that face your business. Consider all the possible hazards any one risk could generate. Ask yourself: is your staff prepared? Will they react, or will they respond, with a plan and a purpose? 

The ability to respond to a crisis, with a sense of urgency and resolve, is a vital factor in the business world today. Competent, accredited and experienced professionals should be called upon to educate your staff. Education on human behaviors, the factors that motive these behaviors and the cycle of crisis events should be a fundamental aspect of any training provided to your employees and management. 

With proper training, incidents of violence in the workplace can be mitigated; prepared staff can respond to multiple types of incidents; and your company can recover from any incident.