As I write this column, the awful events in London last Thursday are still fresh in everyone’s minds and, although it’s far too early to tell what all the consequences will be, some things are already becoming clear.
First, the response of ordinary employees was simply awesome. That’s true of emergency services staff, who had clearly trained for just such an eventuality and had superb communication and management systems in place. But it’s also true of shopworkers at stores such as Marks and Spencer on Edgware Road, which was turned into an emergency triage centre.
Every time I shop at my local supermarket in Ladbroke Grove I drive past a memorial to the victims of the Paddington rail crash, after which the staff of the nearby Sainsbury performed so heroically in tending to the injured, and they were there again at Hatfield. I know it’s a cliché to talk about the ‘Blitz spirit’ as if that’s something unique to this country, but there really is something amazing about the way ordinary workers rise to occasions such as this.
Second, every employer needs to have a robust disaster recovery plan in place. Fran Wilson, policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says it’s vital for companies to have an emergency plan that has been rehearsed so staff know what to do. Two years ago a survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) found that, while 80% of large firms had disaster recovery plans, 83% of SMEs did not - and only 10% of firms that did have a policy had actually tested it or trained staff in how to use it (an LCCI factsheet on disaster recovery can be downloaded from its website at www.londonprepared.gov.uk).
Third, employers’ policies need to go beyond the incident itself and think about what support will be offered to employees in the weeks and months afterwards.
There has been a heated debate about the merits of providing counselling to everyone affected by a disaster, irrespective of whether they want it or not - some specialists argue that it can actually hinder people’s recovery - but at the very minimum, counselling should be made available to those employees who actually want it. If your firm can’t stretch to a full-blown employee assistance programme or in-house occupational health professionals, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can help you find a qualified practitioner in your area (see www.bacp.co.uk for details).
The flip side of this is the responsibility of employers to ensure they aren’t inadvertently giving jobs - and maybe access to sensitive information or premises - to terrorists. This is one of the key points made on MI5’s web site for businesses (www.mi5.gov.uk). Like me, you may be surprised to hear that a secretive organisation such as MI5 even has a web site, but it’s actually full of useful advice, from conducting risk assessments to mail handling procedures, and it was rated highly by employers in last year’s CBI business security survey.
Above all, though, the London bombings brought home to me how great a responsibility we have for ensuring our employees are safe.
All the strategy in the world is meaningless if you haven’t got great people working for you. We owe it to them to do the maximum within our power to ensure they get home safely at the end of the day.