Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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It Was Going So Well…Until…

picAs business owners and managers of people, we are responsible for the safety and security of our employees, enabling them to become as productive as possible. But no matter how much we think we are prepared to manage our workday in a safe environment, no organization is immune to a critical incident. How can you possibly prepare for the unpredictable, no matter how prepared we think we are for such a sudden disruption? And what if that critical incident involves one of your key personnel? How will this affect the management of your organization?

You may or may not know that help is available through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Student Assistance Program (SAP).

As the owner of a company focused on providing health solutions that empower organizations and their people, I have years of expertise dealing with employers in organizational crisis situations. Below I have outlined a few case studies that showcase the breadth and depth of crisis intervention available for organizations to demonstrate the value of implementing a plan to prepare for the unpredictable.

One such incident involved a fire truck, which was en route to an emergency during whiteout conditions when a car crashed into the fire engine. The driver of the car was taken to hospital. The EAP was contacted by the organization, who immediately assessed the incident and rapidly dispatched their trauma team to the site of the tragic accident. Telephone consultation with management was immediately provided. Onsite debriefing intervention was quickly provided for staff that were on the truck at the time of the incident and for others who were indirectly involved (such as the dispatch personnel). Onsite debriefing was given to the fire department staff as a group as well.

Recently, at a post-secondary educational institution, a student was found deceased in their dorm room by their roommate. This traumatic event was one where the school contacted the trauma response service through their SAP. An immediate consultation was provided to student leadership reps and onsite trauma interventions were arranged over a period of 3 days to support students and staff with group and individual debriefings. Counselling services were also extended to the family of the deceased as well.

Another crisis situation where an organization benefited from their EAP’s trauma response program occurred when an employee’s son (known to employees of the company) jumped off a bridge to his death. When the trauma service was contacted, immediate consultation and follow-up was provided to management and an onsite debriefing was given to staff as a group and individually to staff members. The Clinical Response Centre was available to all employees of the organization for ongoing 24/7 support and extensive counselling was additionally provided to the employee, the employee’s spouse, and employee’s daughter.

When crisis strikes your organization, rest assured that there is help. Make sure you are prepared with a plan that accesses specialized defusing/debriefing interventions to provide support through all stages of a traumatic event. It is almost like an insurance policy – you never know when you may need it.

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Does Your Organization Consider Mental Health a Public Safety Issue?

Mental-Health_0Should mental health care be considered a public safety issue? The recent crash of a Germanwings plane that took the lives of 150 people certainly highlights this question.

Although still under investigation, this tragedy has brought to the forefront the issue of responsibility of employers to ensure their staff are physically and mentally fit to perform their job duties. As tragic as the apparently intentional actions of the pilot are to fathom, Canadian aviation authorities assure us that this was a rare occurrence. But for this particular airline, and for many of us travellers all around the world, mental illness has now entered the realm of public safety.

We all know the stats – one in five Canadians will suffer with a mental health issue at any given point in their lives. What this tragedy reminds us is that no one is immune to this stat: not pilots, dentists, doctors or any other professional who has responsibility over the lives and health of others in their work.

Federal authorities have long known the risk that some untreated mentally ill people can pose, so whose responsibility is it to report and document these individuals? Doctors and therapists are required by law to report to the federal government employees who operate or direct aviation equipment who they determine are living with depression, suicidal tendencies, or other mental health-related symptoms. Certain industries, particularly those dealing with public safety, are strongly regulated to avoid potential tragedies.

No employer wants their employees to struggle with this or any health issue. Responsible employers foster a healthy and safe work environment, and want to empower their employees to seek counselling. This is why many Canadian employers have incorporated external EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) services to help them follow best practices when there is a perceived risk to the mental health of the individual, especially in safety sensitive situations.

While EAPs need to work within the limits of the law, EAPs who assess employees to be at risk of harming others, or themselves, have a professional and legal obligation to report this information to the proper authorities, including the employer if the workplace is at risk.

Being an employer responsible for the emotional wellbeing of your employees means supporting and accommodating your employees for the overall health of not just the employee, but your entire organization.

Are there any situations where the perceived risk to the mental health of the individual supersedes public safety? I look forward to discussing this in the comments below.