Terror threats: the modern employer’s responsibility to protect from attack?
Currently there is no escaping the reality of terror threats, with the attacks in Barcelona last week and the UK still on high alert after three separate attacks in as many months.
We’re all impacted to a degree, but there are those that are directly impacted – perhaps an employee? In these times in which we live and work, should employers be preparing for the possibility that they will have to support an affected employee or even protect their workers from such events?
Firstly, an employer owes a duty of care to its workers. Therefore, they should consider what the risks are to health and safety and address concerns raised. For example, if you are a transport company, are you a more likely target due to your vehicle fleet? Or are you based in a place with lots of passing foot traffic such as a shopping centre, which could be a higher target? These are just a couple of examples of factors that may increase the likelihood of being a target for terrorist attacks.
If you believe you could be more at risk due to the sector you operate in or your locality, consider:
- Introducing specific security training programmes, such as bomb threat handling, protocols for recognising and dealing with suspicious packages, and establishing dedicated crisis management teams.
- Updating travel policies so that ‘all business-related travel to risk-rated countries is subject to a formal risk assessment’, as per Willis’ recommendation.
- Undertake a risk assessment and set risk thresholds. Further precautionary steps should be considered, including security escorts, security training, and possibly postponing trips if the risk level is beyond an acceptable threshold.
All businesses should undertake a risk assessment in any event and evacuation drills are an immediate action which could be utilised to ensure all employees know the appropriate procedures associated with a partial or full office evacuation. You should also ensure you have trained your managers and leadership teams in particular in the correct procedures.
Employees need to be made aware of any other measures in place for dealing with a compromise in safety and security. Basic training in first aid could prove to be advantageous in circumstances where non-fatal injury has occurred. Even the most basic first aid knowledge could make a real life-changing impact in the instance of a terror attack.
While our emergency healthcare systems are amongst the best in the world, there will inevitably be delays and difficulties in the event of a terror attack and therefore having first aid training could literally save the lives of employees, colleagues and friends. It could also alleviate some of the fears of employees if they know there is some medical knowledge within the organisation.
For post-event support, the easiest and fastest way for employers to establish a support network for concerned employees is to set up and communicate on how to access an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). These can be accessed confidentially, and counselling sessions can be arranged through them. For other situations, where an employee is perhaps traumatised or caught up in an incident, employers should react as sensitively as possible to their needs, allowing compassionate leave or other time away from work.
Also, foster an open discussion culture and be prepared for staff who may feel uncomfortable heading to and from work, or even while at work. Some staff may suffer a long-term mental health impact as a consequence, so consider training some staff to become ‘mental health buddies’. They can spot the signs of any mental health concerns early on and be understanding and flexible with staff immediately after such an attack. Any requests for flexible working should be seriously considered and can be temporary as staff may want to travel in differently to work.
It is important that lines of communication are open and remain so, not only to help people to remain vigilant and report any concerns, but also to demonstrate support for those who need it. If staff have been directly affected by a terror attack, you could:
- circulate a list of important and useful contact numbers throughout your organisation and ensure these are visible at all times;
- enlist the services of an onsite counsellor for employees to access during the working day;
- in addition, for all organisations, you can also listen to the concerns of staff who commute into cities or other areas which could be targeted, as well as those who take business trips to politically unstable or hostile places; and
- make sure that anyone going abroad on business takes all relevant travel insurance details and contact numbers with them, and consider producing location-specific emergency advice sheets, outlining Embassy details, current security issues, and cultural or religious sensitivities.
Training, talking and raising awareness about terror attacks are key steps to reassuring staff and ensuring they are equipped to cope and that you as an employer have complied with your duties.
Pam Loch is Managing Partner of niche employment law practice, Loch Employment Law.
Loch Employment Law is part of the Loch Associates Group which also incorporates HR Advise Me, Loch Mediation and Loch Health. For more information please visit www.lochassociatesgroup.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org