Category: Safety

How to Communicate Safety–Differently


Many Safety Managers use posters and pithy statements to communicate messages and raise awareness about the need to be safe, think safe and act safe.

In this messaging, choice of words becomes important. Standard messaging don’t always cut it.

Thinking out of the box, or using humour can help. I love this example:

Effective Evacuation notification:

Before Texas passed mandatory evacuation law, no one could be ordered out of their home.

A few years back when a hurricane threatened the Texas coast. A county sheriff issued the statement on local radio.

“If you are not evacuating, please paint in large numerals on you roof the number of people staying. That way we’ll know how many bodies to look for”.

Short and Effective. Love it.

Complacency can be a Killer

I recently saw an e-mail on the OD List that I want to share verbatim with my readers and I have the writer’s permission to do so. The e-mail is written by Allon Shevat, an OD Consultant from Israel.

My comments straight after this e-mail.

4 years ago, the train station where I board was bombed at 0700 am. (I was to have been on the 0900 am train.) The station was torn apart, the security guard died, and many people waiting in line were maimed.

Ever since then, there is far more security…….but like many things in my country, it is sloppy and undisciplined.

An airport scanner was installed and now, everything goes on the scanner and passengers must personally walk thru a detector after first emptying one’s pockets.

People wait in the sweltering heat to be checked, and at peak hours it is more or less like JKF in peak hours.

The person who mans the scanner is on her cell phone all the time. She yaks and yaks and yaks, and, like many Israelis (and Indians), she has more than one phone; as she yaks, she send text messages on the other phone.

A few weeks ago, I yelled out “what good is this check point when she is not looking at the screen”? She pulled me aside and told me “I will make sure you take the bus”. I showed her my card with my military reserve rank, and she almost passed out. Within two days, I had a written apology and she was given 2 weeks suspension.

Now she is back again, and…..on her phones.

I was faced with a real dilemma. Since our society is VERY VERY tolerant of bad discipline, (life is hard so we all deserve breaks), I know that I have no chance with getting her off her phone or dismissed.

Yesterday I made my decision and filmed her on her phones and sent the clip to the head to the train hq.

Last night I got a call that “she really needs her salary but you are right; we will have a good talk to her and ensure corrective action is taken……in other words……there is to be no change.

Some societies and cultures are sadly more resistant to random acts of responsibility.

My response.

Until the next bombing……

For the past 16 years I have been an independent consultant focusing on Corporate Reputation. Yet, there is another side to me. I am also a trainer and consultant in Occupational Health & Safety – and it is a passion of mine.

For the past 16 years I used to perform Health & Safety training and consulting a few days a month on behalf of an ISO registered OSHA Compliance consultancy.

What I find so enticing is to raise people’s awareness of health & safety issues (dangers) in the workplace. After these workshops delegates cannot express enough gratitude and the statements are always universally the same:

“Thank you for raising my awareness”!

How do we make people more aware about potential crises in the workplace?

This question should interest all managers.

I believe that it is necessary to expose managers to that type of thinking, that we educate and train them, and we share knowledge. The South African Occupational Health & Safety Act has a number of conditions and issues that has made it one of the most benchmarked Acts in the world. One of the interesting requirements and questions that arise from it:

Have you given the employee adequate information, education, and training in his task considering the task, the hazards, potential outcomes and consequences of non-compliance?

jpg_00004473A few years ago I had the opportunity of standing at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. Standing there with the wind blowing me nearly off my feet, I could not help but visualize friends jumping of the burning World Trade Centre.

911 has come and gone. Yet for many organisations the impact, reality and lessons from it does not remain. How many organisations have not slipped back into the normal mode of doing things? Assuming that an incident like 911 will never happen to them?

Recently I was in a building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa when I decided to use the fire escape instead of the lift, but between the 3rd and 4th floor was a locked gate. When I called the Facilities manager he said the following words to me: “Deon, you worry too much. If a fire breaks out, someone will come and unlock this gate!” No way, in my experience most people look out for number one in any crisis – themselves.

Standing at the 911 site, the thought arose in my mind as to what should an organization do if you are faced with a situation that is beyond an organisation’s normal scope to act? Health & Safety experts teach that 2% of accidents are “Acts of God”, 10% caused by unsafe conditions but that 88% of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior.

How does a company deal with the hand of fate and at the same time protect its reputation and integrity? How can a company come out “smelling like roses”.

One simple lesson is that stakeholders will forgive you for mistakes, but they will not forgive a company for not caring. Therefore in line with industry experience a company who aims to be a good corporate citizen should prepare for any eventual crisis.

But for what and how? Since 9/11, nearly every emergency preparedness and business continuity regulation and industry best practice in the USA has been strengthened, several even mentioning the threat of terrorism as a prime motivation for their enhancements. In South Africa, interest seems to be only to cope with the demands of the latest sporting events.

Considering the following points will help you prepare your organization for the worst.

1. Remember that the very things you believe cannot happen to your organisation can. Professor Ian Mitroff, who for more than 20 years headed up the Institute for Crisis Management ran a crisis management workshop in New York about two weeks before 911 happened. Most of the executives present, represented multi-national companies. In compiling likely risks, car bombs featured at the top of the list. However no one mentioned “flying bombs”. Mitroff goes on to say that something is lacking, and that “That something is our ability to think comprehensively about crisis”. Are you thinking comprehensively about crisis?

2. Equip yourself with knowledge so that you can help your organization be better prepared. One of the most frequent comments I hear from clients is not that they do not know the answers, but that they don’t know the right questions to get started in their planning or to persuade management to allocate resources for this planning. You can read the various good books out there in bookshops or you could equip yourself in the short term by attending training workshops such as my Crisis Management & Communication workshops.

3. Talk to the specialists (consultants, local authorities and emergency management service providers) in your area. If possible, contact your suppliers and find out who has done this type of planning before so that you can reduce your organisation’s learning curve.

4. Revisit the basics of crisis management. I walk into many organisations to do OSHA Compliance workshops only to find out that the organisation have not recently conducted any fire drills, if any. To assume that everyone will be able to escape the building and be accounted for is dangerous. One large firm affected by 9/11 took more than three days to account for its personnel because they lost their primary means to track and contact employees.

5. Appoint one person who is responsible for crisis preparedness across the organization and communicate his or her identity to managers at all levels.

Ensure each crisis planning team (strategic crisis management, business continuity, crisis communications, disaster recovery, emergency response, employee impact, etc.) knows the relationship between their plan(s) and the overall organization’s crisis management goals and objectives. (I provide a two day training course that enables managers to create one integrated crisis management action plan that can assist you. Or, you can purchase my Crisis Toolkit).

6. Audit your organisation’s crisis plans. The audit should cover evacuation/egress planning, personnel accountability, emergency system shutdown procedures, correct names/numbers on emergency phone lists, media and other stakeholder communications guidelines, family communications guidelines, expectations for employee communications and support.

6. Consider holding a table top exercise or discussion around a likely event.

Brainstorm likely crises; determine the roles each team member is expected to play while responding to an incident will help identify strengths and weaknesses in your organization’s ability to respond, especially for teams requiring interaction during the response. Scenario planning is a helpful tool leading to overall preparedness. No organization does everything well, and exercises are a terrific way to highlight improvement needs for multiple areas at one time.

(I work together with organisations to design, develop and facilitate likely scenarios unique to that organisation. I assisted ATNS with that before the World Cup Soccer event, and assisted the Department of Statistics during the Census 2011)

7. Nearly every survey taken after 9/11 has shown that the most overlooked area of crisis preparedness is the human and communication side. When Saambou, the South African bank closed down one employee committed suicide.

Work closely with EAP (Employee Assistance) experts, psychologists, the church and other specialists to determine modes of action prior to problems happening. Communication is integral to making any plan work and should be factored in from the outset.

8. It isn’t enough to know that your organization is better prepared. The impact of a crisis may become an industry issue and affect your business.

The Marikana shooting incidents and riots have placed an unnecessary burden on the Mining Industry in South Africa and has the potential to negatively impact investment in South Africa, and this at a time, just as we are getting things right.

Build alliances with suppliers and industry experts before a crisis breaks, so that you can make use of this expertise when the time comes.

There is lots can be done, but the biggest danger is that of Complacency. Complacency to the extent that people tell me they attended a first aid workshop 8 years ago.

Is your capability/competency still current? If not, you may just hurt the other person.

How sharp is your axe? How current are your Crisis Management & Crisis Communication plans and Capability?

Let me share with you a story written by the late Stephen Covey.

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job to a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was good and so were the working conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Carry on that way!”.

Very motivated with the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could bring only 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but could bring 10 trees only. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.
He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your Axe?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my Axe. I have been very busy trying to cut more trees for you.”

Complacency is akin to not sharpening your axe.

Drills and Simulations are NOT a Waste of Time

Last year a blogger, the Time Ninja blog ran a post – 5 Reasons To Say No To The Fire Drill that I felt was irresponsible and ignored the emergency aspect and saving of lives.

The article asked the question – ‘what would happen if you chose to say no to the fire drill? Would the earth stop spinning?  Would you lose your job?’

I responded as follows:

Whilst this is a good article, it completely misses the point of a fire drill.

fire_01Fire Drills are not time wasters. They are a necessity. Fire kills. Large buildings including warehouses have burnt to the ground in less than 15 minutes.

The objective of such a drill is to save lives.

Not only is it a legal safety issue, it is crucial for any organization that wants to protect its reputation. I mean who wants to work or do business with an organization that killed employees and hopefully not, customers as well.

The whole idea with an emergency is to be prepared and to deal with the crisis situation in an orderly and organized manner.

This brings us to a problem situation. If you are an Emergency Manager, do you run an simulation unannounced or a simulation that has been communicated before the time. The one is real, the other contrived.

IMHO it is the best to do the second. People will comply, once they fully understand the reasons WHY, not just the How. I have taken managers with a dubious outlook to the burn unit at a local hospital. Once they visited there, their whole life experience changed.

Equip people to act positively. Build on rocks, not sand.

Ultimately, this goes deeper. To be an Admired Company today, to be a Best employer, deserves attention to detail others ignore. Ultimately it is about caring. A Company that does not prepare for all eventualities will communicate a message that it stakeholders are not important, and as research shows these days, people want to do business with companies they can trust – even from a safety perspective.

Oh Canada: 150 hospitalized after Vancouver riots–Questions about Crowd Control

This morning the Star headline shouts – ‘Youth Day Mayhem’ – Poor Crowd Control almost leads to another tragedy’ whilst in Vancouver, Canada, 150 people are hospitalised after a crowd goes on the rampage after their team lost.

On one list, a member writes: ‘We’ve got more than our share of morons, it seems, including the noodle headed city officials who put up giant screens in the downtown area so that more than 100,000 people gathered on one street to watch the game.  What a surprise when some of those 100,000 decided to drown their sorrows in anarchy.  As a former police manager, and the survivor of two major hockey riots, all I can do is wonder at the daftness of the people who encouraged 100,000 fans to gather in one downtown area without adequate controls in place’

Crowd control is part of Emergency Response/Event planning and should have been anticipated.

In my work in Crisis Management when we do a plan and a simulation for a client, psychological factors are taken into account – such as trying to anticipate that people would want to go back into a building to get personal belongings, how people would react to messaging, etc.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day yesterday and poor crowd control nearly led to another tragedy at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto yesterday when people stampeded outside the stadium.

Ten years ago, on 11 April 2001, 43 fans died in a stampede at a soccer match at Ellis Park. As a result of an enquiry, various deficiencies in the procedures followed at the match were identified. Since then, problems at other live events also gained media attention, including previous President Mbeki’s narrow escape from injury when a temporary stage covering collapsed at the Union Buildings.

Last week there was a fire at a home for the aged and those with special needs and 12 people perished in a fire. There obviously was a need to take into account that some people move slowly, and I wonder if that was factored in.

The report from the New Orleans Hurricane disaster pointed out that there were two stakeholder groups who were not taken into account – those with special needs like the elderly and young children whose parents perished, as well as those owners with dangerous and weird animals like hippos in private zoos.

This obviously points to a lack of planning, and is an important lesson to us all. What we least anticipate, will happen. People will behave erratically and will not follow normal patterns. Not everyone is conditioned like the people who left the World Trade Centre in an orderly fashion.

The role of Twitter in reporting is interesting –

This raises a number of issues and concerns:

1. What standards are there to establish requirements for crowds at different types of events and crowds of various sizes? Were these followed?

2. Who were the members of the Planning or Steering Committee? Did this group include not just Law Enforcement officers, but also psychologists?

3. Did the event planners study other events and benchmarked their plans against the lessons of what happened in events like soccer?

The reason there were few incidents in South Africa during the World Cup Soccer event, was that the SA Government worked closely with FIFA and other international Law Enforcement agencies to set up standards and protocols long before the event.

What is your Company’s Reputation for Safety?

photo_10447_20091204Your reputation can be an important asset to your business. A good reputation helps you attract and retain customers. It makes it easier to recruit new employees and can improve employee motivation.

It encourages suppliers to want to be associated with you.

Your approach to health, safety and the environment can be an important part of that reputation. Some companies have built their success on a reputation for doing the right thing. Others have suffered as customers, local communities, and even their own employees have turned against them.

Many companies’ spokes persons utter the following words when there has been an accident. “Any time there’s an accident, and any time there’s a risk to safety we’re absolutely concerned about it,”

Fair enough!

What does absolutely concerned mean? A NOSA 5 Star rating? , Minimum legal compliance? What? An injury rate that is below industry norm?

Every single year there are numerous accidental deaths and disablement in industries around SA. The Department of Labour has been trying to impact on this, through closures, legislation, education and many other laudable efforts. Unfortunately with little real impact! How come? Well, it is something that excellent salespeople know. If you sell features, people don’t buy. When you sell, benefits, customers buy.

Unfortunately, threats work only up to a point. Unfortunately many companies do not realise that what they are doing to a large proportion of their share price when there is an accident or major incident? In today’s information sharing age, no company can afford anymore to ignore the implications of non-compliance. These days’ employees do not want to work anymore for an employer who maims and kills its employees.

No I can just imagine, some employer sitting somewhere, reading this post, thinking: “This writer does not know what he is talking about. In SA – a developing country, there are more sources of supply than demand for labour.

Sure, but there is one thing the employer has forgotten about. Bad news now can spread worldwide at the push of a button. And, that push has the impact to affect not only employees, but also suppliers and other stakeholders.

In fact in Europe some employers are not prepared to do business anymore with companies that destroy the environment or hurt their employees.

In the end, if you consider going beyond the legislative and punitive judgements, a company will be remembered for their destruction of the environment(Exxon Mobil/BP) destruction of communities (Union Carbide, Bhopal, India) and their actions when faced with employees that have fallen ill (British Cape, Thor Chemicals, etc.).

But, what about the recipients? Oh, don’t worry! They will receive a pay-out, based on current legislation that will try to recompense them for the destruction of their normal life. What most parties, including the Media forget about is that no legislation, cover pain, loss and suffering.

The only newspaper that has really gone all out to cover these issues in my opinion has been the Sunday Independent newspaper. I mean they have even featured it in the Business Section on the front page. “I mean, what is their problem? (A manager speaking)

It raises an interesting debate. Where are SA’s investigative journalists? Uncovering governance debacles, I presume. High profile cases advances careers.

How come SA’s investigative journalists do not “nail management to the wall” when an accident happens? In the USA and in Europe, the media will not allow this type of situation to proliferate. In SA, Page 4 plus is the norm.

What is your Company’s Reputation for safety?

Tip –

Its well worth making customers, employees and the local community aware of your Safety, Health & environmental commitment. For example, you might want to emphasize the steps you’ve taken to reduce accidents and to reduce pollution. Your approach to sustainability is likely to be of interest to stakeholders.

They may be interested in how you minimise and dispose of waste, what you’ve done to make your processes more environmentally friendly and what you have done to comply with relevant legislation.

It is time for the Annual Reputation Destruction Event again – the annual Office Party!

It is time for the annual Reputation destruction event again – the annual Office Party!

How many people have you not seen over the years who manage to destroy their hard-earned reputations at the office party!

Ok! Jokes aside.

From an reputational perspective there are a couple of dangers inherent in the annual XMas office party.

Will you be serving alcoholic beverages? Will this be on the company’s account? If so, your organisation face danger.

  • For instance, what would happen if an employee drinks too much and becomes abusive? What then?
  • What happens if an employee drinks too much and has an accident on the way home?
  • What happens if an employee goes home and verbally and physically abuse his or her family?

I would hate for the following to happen. This essential TAC Campaign YouTube video is not for sensitive viewers and is a rude awakening for what can happen on the way home from any event.

Watch it and give it a thought. How can you plan an office party that will be exciting and safe?

A Few years ago someone was paralysed when they dove into a swimming pool during an event. This had huge implications for the company, both from a legal and a human resources point of view. Some managers believe that they can transfer this risk through legal documentation, such as getting staff to sign that when they go on an outing that they assume the risk.

The problem about Reputation, is that it cannot be outsourced nor covered through legal frameworks and paper arrangements. A Company’s name will be mentioned in a negative light.

Now the company could argue in a court of law that getting home is an employee’s own indaba and that according to the Occupational Health & Safety Act that they are not responsible, but indirectly they will be.

The company could argue that they are not responsible for clearing the world of social ills.

But can they?

These days stakeholders will scrutinise all actions, performance, behaviour and intent, and it will be even worse if a company’s marketing documents reflect that they state they are a responsible employer and corporate citizen and losing in a court of public opinion can have far more damage than winning in a court of law.

Questions could be raised that could damage the organizations’ reputation:

– Like why did you serve alcohol without adequate controls and safeguards? As a responsible citizen, why did you not think through the whole process, etc.?

I am not trying to be a stick in the mud, but corporate reputation is an important asset and huge risk. I would suggest that you perhaps rethink how you will handle the annual party.

You could always use this test with managers and staff, but I do not think it will pass the efficacy test.


SobrietyTest 2

An Untested Emergency Response Plan is a Source of Reputation Risk

When last has your company conducted a fire drill? Is it still in the planning phase or just not on the agenda?

The lack of organisations to have adequate emergency response plans in place is worrying. Having served as Chairperson and observer on hundreds of OHASA Committees in companies, it seems to be the one point on the Agenda where all committees get stuck.

If I ask when last; fire drills and/or emergency evacuations took place, the answer is always one – of a few years ago to it is in the planning stages. In many cases senior management are always given the blame for not allowing such an exercise to take place, as it may interrupt operational requirements.

However this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Having an Emergency Response plan is a legal requirement and non-compliance with it is a reflection of a company’s enterprise wide-risk management system.

Some of the problems that I have encountered in organisations include:

  1. Emergency Response Plans that are not up to date;
  2. Emergency Response plans that have not been tested;
  3. Emergency Response responsibility delegated to a junior who does not have the authority to implement it;
  4. Emergency Response plans not linked to the communications plan. Very often plans of this nature are not integrated into the organisations overall crisis management plan, allowing for a disjointed approach.

The ultimate objective in any emergency is to ensure that the Reputation and integrity within the organisation is maintained, by ensuring that there is no loss of life or destruction of company assets. By not having an emergency response plan in place that have been duly tested is a recipe for disaster.

If a company’s emergency response plan has not been finalised, am I correct to assume that therefore its disaster recovery and business continuity and other contingency plans are also in doubt? Is your company ready to deal with the hand of fate?

Let me explain by using a scenario and questions:

There is an explosion and subsequent destruction of infrastructure, information and loss of life at your offices. Most major media outlets in Johannesburg rush to your organisation.

The building is evacuated. The authorities and 3rd parties are involved. The evacuation is chaotic and uncoordinated and filmed in time for the early evening news and is used by Carte Blanche as an example of lack of planning.

What will your stakeholders think? The issue thus is not just one of legal compliance. It is about the message that an organisation will communicate when:

  • They are unprepared to deal with an emergency and secondly,
  • The evacuation is a shambles or worst of all in a real emergency leads to loss of life.

An emergency response plan is far more than just a plan or procedure. It is a tool to protect the biggest asset of an organisation- its Reputation, its good name!

If a fire or explosion had to happen in your building and there had to be loss of life due to lack of being prepared, the company’s reputation will be severely tarnished, as the Media will have a field day showing that a company on the one hand writes that they are a caring corporate citizen (in accordance with the King 3 Code of Corporate Governance) but that perceptions and reality does not match.

In a Court of public opinion this will be seen as not caring and it certainly goes against best practice. These days words have to be followed up with compliance and positive actions and behaviour.

Without regular exercises to test emergency response & crisis management plans (In my opinion a Crisis Management plan is the over coupling plan that includes other plans such as Emergency Response, Media & Stakeholder Communication Response, Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity) , these strategies become dormant and ineffectual in the event of a real crisis.

A false sense of security can exist in a company simply because "we have a plan. The experience gained from training establishes the company’s reputation for being prepared and able to survive.

Several types of exercises are required for proper training. A three step approach is common: Notification and Activation; Tabletop Exercises; and actual Simulations.

Training is the final step in developing an emergency response program. It is also the most important step. Many companies overlook training because of their false sense of security based on having a written plan and the expense of employee time for training. An emergency response program, like any business process, must be evaluated completely to be effective.

Not being ready for an emergency when it actually happens is a foreboding thought. How well a company responds is dependent upon its preparation and a proper emergency response plan & procedure can go a long way in preparing a company to do battle in a negative situation.

If an organisation is worthy of its reputation and is interested in maintaining its credibility, then emergency response preparations are an absolute necessity.

When bad news occurs, there are critical audiences, including your own employees, who have expectations of your behaviour and ability to manage problems.

Every one of your stakeholders will focus on your organisation’s response. How it acted, what it said, all of these will either add or distract from the organisations reputation.

The question that companies should be asking themselves is How can I safeguard my Company’s reputation in an Emergency? Because how your organisation handles an emergency and the communication thereof can either sustain or damage your organisations reputation.

Announcement: The Crisis Manager Toolkit

They say that when a crisis strikes, how you act in the first few minutes determines the final outcome. With more companies developing crisis or disaster recovery plans they can turn to if the unthinkable ever happens, service providers are not far behind, hoping to offer them the right solutions for the job.

Numerous crises ranging from product Recalls to Oil spills to Social Media crises have again highlighted the importance for companies to be prepared. REPUCOMM has launched a crisis management toolkit that can assist companies to create a workable crisis management and crisis communication response plan for the business.

‘If you have an emergency situation that needs to be dealt with, the last thing you want to be doing is worrying about how to deal with it or worry how to keep all your stakeholders informed.’ said Deon Binneman. ‘Being prepared is an ethical responsibility to stakeholders’.

The Toolkit

The Crisis Manager Toolkit is a highly effective, low cost solution to assist any company to develop workable crisis management action and communication response plans and is a useful resource that can assist any manager in this phase and during a crisis, and can serve as a benchmarking instrument. It consists of a ZIPPED file format that contains useful information such as the following:

  • Detailed questionnaires, articles and checklists to prompt thinking processes whilst planning and preparing response plans;
  • Various guidelines and tip sheets ranging from stakeholder communication templates to dealing with the Media tips sheets;
  • Handy templates and forms;
  • A Copy of a 2 – day course consisting of a PowerPoint presentation that can be customised for internal training and information sharing use with the Board, executives and staff;
  • A 40 page Crisis Management & Communication Response Plan Template as well as a copy of an Emergency Response plan template;
  • Guidelines on how to respond to Internet Reputation Crises, including Social Media Guidelines on Twitter, Facebook and Blogging crises.

The Benefits

The benefits of the toolkit are numerous including:

j04022261. It allows for preplanning and development of a plan instead of employing outside professionals at the outset of such a project. Whilst having independent input is essential, it can save a lot of costs if the groundwork have been completed.

2. Many organisations do not have the capacity to have a fulltime Crisis Manager position but that does not absolve them of the necessity of planning for dealing with the hand of fate. Today stakeholders of an organisation expect an organisation to be ready to deal with all calamities as well as the unique communication challenges that these situations bring. But in many organisations plans exist in various forms and guises. Plans exist as Disaster Recovery (IT related), Business Continuity, Occupational Health & Safety & Emergency Response plans, and Communication Response plans (PR/Communication). Sometimes these plans are coordinated, sometimes they are not. I believe that all of these plans should be integrated in an overall crisis management response plan for the organisation.

3. Self- Study. The toolkit is a tremendous aid for those who want to bring themselves up to speed with the latest development in crisis management thinking & crisis communication response. The kit contains a complete PowerPoint presentation with leaders guide notes prepared and facilitated by Deon Binneman the past 14 years.

4. Benchmarking – What works? What does not? What does international best practice and experience teach us? The CM Toolkit is a useful product that you can use to see if your plans stand up against best practice. Are you ready?


The rationale behind the toolkit is as follows:

Recent media reports and other business and natural disasters have again just illustrated the need for companies to plan for all eventualities including the communication challenges that is created during these eventualities. The actual process of emergency planning and crises communication management is a vital one if companies want to safeguard their assets, minimise their risks and uphold their hard-earned reputation.

Two thoughts can guide us in this process, the words stated by Benjamin Disraeli “What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least, generally happens”, and the fact that Noah built the Ark days before it rained.

Years and years of experience have proven that the companies who copes the best with crises of all kinds are those who are prepared to deal with the hand of fate. Those companies who have set in motion processes to minimise potential crises. Companies who cope successfully with crises are normally companies who have a predetermined plan of action including communication response plans.

Crises management is defined as the ability of an organisation to deal quickly, efficiently, and effectively with contingency operations with the goal of reducing the threat to human health and safety, the loss of public or corporate property, adverse impact on normal Business continuance, and damage to it’s good name – it’s Reputation.

The toolkit is a useful resource that can assist any manager in this phase and during a crisis, and can serve as a benchmarking instrument.

Here is a quick questionnaire (Based on a very detailed 11 page plus one in the toolkit) that can guide your decision to purchase the toolkit – See my blog post How up to date is your Crisis Management Plan? as well as the post How Reputation Event/ Crisis-Ready is your Organization?


POA – The toolkit is in a PDF and PowerPoint Format can be e-mailed to customers.

To find out more about the Toolkit, contact Deon Binneman. Tags:

Product Recalls done Properly reduces Reputation Risk

Many companies fear that widespread disclosure and publicity of product recalls may be harmful to their reputations.

It could be but it depends on how product defects and recalls are handled. These days stakeholders ask for no less, namely that they be informed, especially if the product carries a health & safety danger.

Since a good reputation for product safety and reliability is an essential ingredient of a company’s sales efforts. Handling product recalls professionally can go a long way to safeguard that valuable asset.

The new South African Consumer Protection Act will impact on recall procedures.

However there are other factors to consider:

1. Recall communications is an expensive exercise. It will necessitate the use of mass media techniques depending on the circumstances, and the role of advertising agencies and other role players in this exercise will have to be factored in.

2. Negative publicity about a product before a company can officially respond can be damaging and may lower trust in the product name.

3. A Recall can have a ripple effect, as it may tarnish the reputation of the organisation and its other products. Act speedily and with resolve is key.

4. There may be product liability expenses. In many cases in the USA, litigation resulting in class action law suits have been extremely expensive. (Study Merck and its Viox withdrawal, which has run into billions of dollars).

As with any crisis, there are two things to remember, namely the reality of dealing with the crisis and the perceptions created during the crisis.

The reality of the situation involves dealing with the actual withdrawal and the perception side deals with informing various stakeholders about the withdrawal.

Here then is a short checklist that I have prepared that you may find handy. My advice is to do your homework before a recall occurs. Remember bad things happen to good companies (Murphy’s Law).

The checklist is by no means comparable to a a proper guide compiled by an external consultant working with your crisis team, but should at least prompt your thinking before a recall actually happens..

Product Recall Checklist

1. Because product recall communications and actions are complicated, close coordination of all the activities of various managers will be needed. Many managers will be affected; Sales, Distribution, packaging, quality control, customer service, PR and legal counsel. Outside stakeholders  such as the Media, Advertising Agencies and the authorities such as the SABS may be involved. Who will act as Coordinator?

2. Where outside specialists might be involved, do you have them readily identified as well as SLA’s drawn up, before a recall happens? Consultants and experts identified at the last minute can be very expensive and often there is no professional working relationships between the parties.

2. Who will issue a general statement issued to the widest possible publicity distribution, spelling out the reasons and steps for the implementation of the recall as well as the steps taken to prevent recurrence?

3. Who will prepare the Recall procedure? How will customers return the product? (This protocol should be created prior to a recall)

4. What about Dealer logistics?

5. How will you keep your stakeholders informed about the success of the recall? Remember that some stakeholders will want to know how many products have been returned and at what cost?

6. Who will monitor Media reaction?

Product Recalls executed professionally can go a long way in allaying the fears of the consumer stakeholder and will bring and instil much needed trust.

New Stakeholder Group – The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications

One of the lessons I teach in my Stakeholder Reputation Master Classes is that every campaign, project, problem or issue will need a relook at stakeholder profiling.

So here is a new stakeholder group whose role you will have to factor in carefully when you do your crisis management preplanning, especially where potential product recalls is listed as one of your key risks.

The NRCS (National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications) is a new public entity that administers technical regulations known as compulsory specifications on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industries in the interest of human health, safety, protection of the environment and fairness of trade.

The regulated products include vehicles and components, electrical appliances components and electronics, frozen marine products, safety equipment and construction materials. The NRCS also administers the Trade Metrology Act and regulations relating to Weights and Measures.

Lack of Legal Compliance is often cited as a major cause of reputation risk. Your compliance with the regulations of the NRCS as well as the relationships that you build with this new entity is important for your reputation.

When last did you inspect your Company’s Bathrooms?

When last did you inspect your Company’s Bathrooms?

Oh, it is not my function!

Isn’t it? Do you think that something as important as that can really be outsourced to a cleaning company?

Reputation Risk is not something you can outsource, and the visual images that visitors see, can influence their impression of the company.

Very often next to the Reception area, the bathroom facilities is the first thing a visitor will go to. And, let me tell you, not all bathrooms are a place where you even want to take a child to. A Few weeks ago I made the mistake (or did the right thing) by going to the wrong bathroom facility. I went to the shop floor bathroom instead, and what I saw there was shocking.

No toilet seats, a blocked toilet, toilets in need of a desperate deep clean, broken window panes. Plan & simple, it was disgusting!

What do you think my opinion was of the management team? What do you think, I think about the company’s reputation?

In the Bible, there is a verse that basically says :’’If God cannot trust you in the small things, how on earth can he trust you in the big things’’

If reputation is about what you see, hear, feel and experience, then you’ve got it! I do not think much of them. How can I trust them in the big things, if I cannot even trust them not to violate a basic human right, i.e. The Right to Safety?

The other day I took two old-age pensioners to a Public Hospital in Roodepoort. They asked me to stop on the way at a Quick shop, because they had to buy their own toilet paper. I mean , here is two old-age pensioners, going to see the Doctor and the medical facility cannot even provide toilet paper. Is that what they think of their customers?

Worldwide companies are instituting hand washing campaigns as an initial protection measure against the spreading of swine flu (South Africa has just had its first confirmed case). How on earth is companies going to influence this, when they cannot even provide a clean and hygienic bathroom facility for employees and visitors.

Take a look at the worst example I had ever seen in my life. This is from a factory floor.


PriceWaterHouseCoopers found in one of their studies that Compliance failure is one of the leading causes of Reputation Risk. In South Africa, companies are not paying enough attention to complying with the Occupational Health & Safety Act , which contains a detailed section on Health & Hygiene.

So what can you do about this:

1. Be kind. Use your mobile phone, take pictures and send it to management and not the Media or The Department of Labour.

2. Call your Health & Safety representative and point out the conditions, so that they can report it to the Health & Safety Committee.

3. Take a good look next time when you go to the loo. Ask yourself, is this a place where a visitor can take his kid to?

To those in management, it is a time to realise that the responsibility for basic cleanliness and hygiene cannot be outsourced. Today staff and customers have camera equipped mobile phones, with which they can do damage.

After all, who wants their reputation ruined, because of a shabby loo.

WHO raises pandemic alert to Level Five – The second-highest level

The World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to its second-highest level Wednesday, indicating the outbreak of swine flu that originated in Mexico is nearing widespread human infection. Dr. Margaret Chan, the U.N. agency’s director-general, said the decision to raise the alert to level five on its six-point scale means all countries "should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans." for the full article.

The declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

What are you doing to prepare your organization against this? Beware thinking that this will not impact locally.

Look at today’s newspaper headlines……

I would suggest an urgent revamp of your Crisis Management & Crisis Communication plans. How ready are you?

The time to act is now!

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

j0341502Nobody was supposed to question South Africa’s readiness to deal with Health & Safety and Emergency Management issues!

Who would dare question the number of advanced life care paramedics in this country (Carte Blanche – – See paramedics show)?

Now we have the fire chief at Cape Town Airport resigning ( after information was released showing that two-thirds of the 62 fire fighters stationed at Cape Town International Airport are “poorly trained” and have little or no general fire fighting experience.

Both reports are scandalous and raises some serious questions and concerns about levels of preparedness for crises and emergencies in organisations.

Do you want to tell me that the authorities do not know or understand that Health & Safety is an international non-negotiable right and directly involved in the creation of a favourable reputation of a country and its people? (Emergency management is an integral part of the Occupational Health & Safety Act)

No wonder that today’s Star reports that an international tourism expert Linda Pereira said that myths and negative perceptions abroad about South Africa’s high rate of violent crime could prevent the desired number of foreign visitors from attending next year’s Fifa World cup (See article on Page 7 of The Star newspaper today).

I guess the word myths is a misnomer, because every day more and more negative publicity is coming to the fore of this country’s non-readiness state. Whilst she is correct that tourism bodies must try and dispel negative perceptions, it is pointless if other parties do not understand the value of a country’s reputation.

How dumb can leadership be? Last year we had the investigation into Mine Safety, and that put our mining sector under the spotlight. Did the rest of the country really think they were going to stay immune? This is the problem about managers not understanding reputation and issues management. An Issue in one sector can spiral into other sectors. And in South Africa, there are still managers who do not realise the damage articles and negative TV programs can do to a country.

The two examples are classical Reputation Risk case studies. It is obvious that there have been an inability to deal, with issues at source and when they are small.

It is also clear that for too long, management has paid lip-service to Health & Safety issues. In most organisations , even the liberated ones, OHASA matters have been seconded to a second –tier individual with an attitude of ‘’we will deal with it when it comes’’. In many organisations, executives are always too busy to attend OHASA committees, ask any Health & Safety representative.

Why? Well, I think the reason is simple. Managers and staff are instructed to be Health & Safety, and never sold the real reasons why, as well as the long-term benefits. Most managers take is…again we will deal with it when it comes…

Dealing with issues and complying with matters such as basic Health & Safety standards are not just compliance or Public Relations responsibility, the process plays a part in building the reputation of an institution or country.

What managers need to understand is that reputation manifests when perceptions and reality meet, and the reality is that South Africans will have to do a whole lot more to build, sustain and protect this beautiful country’s reputation.

Do you still trust a Lift?

I read an interesting article today about how on Monday, 13 people were trapped in one of the courts lifts (elevator) at the Johannesburg High court.

When the group were rescued, three people had passed out – two from the heat and one after suffering an asthma attack. A Few weeks ago the same thing happened at Johannesburg Hospital (now called the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital)

This poses some debatable questions. How can we put our trust in the courts, if we cannot trust the building in which it is housed?

Levels of maintenance creates perceptions, sometimes unwanted.

It also raises questions about risk appetite. The other day I was in a lift in a building,going from the 13th floor to the bottom. On our disembarkment, I asked the CFO about whether the company had a policy stating that key executives should not travel in the same plane or car together.

He stated affirmative, upon which I said: ”But we all got in the same lift together” – there were three of us.

Last year, the Department of Labour conducted spot-checks on lifts in Durban, discovering that in more than 55% of cases, they were not adequately serviced.

Now, some will say, that lift accidents do not happen often…the probability is low. Sure, but the organisation’s reputation is still tarnished.

Customers experiences in a lift creates anticipation for future assocations with the institution.  The mere fact that I read about the level of maintenance, says clearly that the reputation of the institution is being affected.

And that, can take longer to repair, than some maintenance schedule.

(For those interested to find out how an elevator works, go to

‘No to SA Roadlink buses’

This headline just goes to show that once a company develops a bad reputation, it is not easily restored.

You can take the authorities to court, but facts remain. You can deny responsibility, but facts remain.

A poll showed that most readers – who participated – agree that SA Roadlink buses should be banned on South African roads. (For my international readers, this is a company who have had a number of incidents).

‘No to SA Roadlink buses’
Sun, 21 Dec 2008 22:00:00 GMT

Once perceptions or rumours establish themselves, they are not easily shifted.

The problems with SA Roadlink is that they never practiced proper Crisis Management and Crisis Communication from the beginning.

One news report states that SA Roadlink is irked by new Bus Bust. The report states that the KwaZulu-Natal transport authorities denied that SA Roadlink luxury buses were being targeted by the provincial government after another Roadlink bus was impounded at Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape, on New Year’s Eve.

However, Roadlink said it had not been allowed to use independent mechanics to confirm whether the brakes on the impounded bus were defective.

“We are not happy about what is happening because we feel that we are being targeted,” said SA Roadlink spokesman Sam Fidelis.

“Why is it that suddenly after the accident all our buses are being stopped? The bus that was impounded at Mthatha was a brand new bus and it was given a permit last week.”

They miss the point. It has nothing to do with the new bus. It has to do with perceptions…

Waterfalls flow top to bottom and once there are doubts about safety and management’s ability to control a situation, then trust is in doubt.

Will you travel in a new bus, even if you are not sure whether the driver is of standard?

The lack of speedy response is now coming back to haunt them.

How a company reacts in a crisis is of vital proportion to the reputation and success of any organization. No MBA or business qualification prepares you adequately for this type of situation, AND that was apparent right from the beginning.

AS a reader, what would you do to rectify the situation?

A Clean Keyboard – A Sign of a Sick Mind?

The picture above first appeared on the website:

What does your desk look like? Your keyboard?

Is your desk a filing cabinet, a trophy case or a museum?

Did you know that your desk is not just a worktool, but also a reflection of your work habits?

A clean desk falls into a category of Health & Safety called Housekeeping.

Housekeeping is more than just sweeping the floor and wiping dust off a desk, machines and equipment. Cleanliness is only a part of housekeeping. The most critical and most overlooked part of housekeeping is ORDER. A work area is in order when there are no unnecessary objects in the area and when all necessary items are in their proper places.

A workplace is not considered to be in order simply because “there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.”

Do you use your desk area for storage? Do you keep supplies in the area because “they’ll be needed one of these days?” If there is one item in an area that is unnecessary or not in its proper place, then you do not have order. ( Just examine the average offices ).

Order is maintained, not achieved. You cannot put an area in order and then forget about it. A daily conscious effort by everyone working in the area is necessary to maintain order. Order also must be obtained throughout the day. If you wait until the end of the day and then place everything in order, what good did it do you during the day? Disorder wastes time, energy and materials.

Commitment to Health & Safety is much more than Lip – Service!

I am intrigued by how often I read that management express their commitment to Health & Safety Practices in an organization AFTER an accident had taken place.

I think it is time to take a look at why Health & Safety Practices in an organization becomes problematic.Years ago there was a book called Fishes rot from the Head – it had to do with governance practices.

However the title is apt and points to where it starts. Waterfalls flow top to bottom.

It does start at the top. Senior Management are normally exposed to the Occupational Health & Safety Act through a rudimentary overview session. Sometimes this session last only a few hours, because management cannot attend a longer work session since they are always so busy. Fair enough. But how come they can always find the time to pay attention to it after an accident had taken place? Now when it is too late!

Training Managers in Health & Safety is also affected by the traditional view that senior management do not need thorough training. I mean they are highly skilled, often MBA qualified graduates and after all Safety is just common sense.

Is it? What is so common about it?

Perhaps the problem also in the What, Why and When of training. Once-off training is like going to church, once only. After all if you get the message, why go again? No, you go over and over because Repetition is the mother of skill.

Golfers practice their swings over and over, they often go back to basics BUT for senior management it is not necessary after all their job is just to direct. Isn’t it?

In Defence Forces around the world they use a basic principle when training new soldiers. I would like to take just two aspects of this and apply it to the South African situation.

1. Proper Job Instruction – What methods of training are you using in your organization? Competency based training or just awareness sessions? How are you measuring transfer and application of learning? The traditional Sit by Nelly approach is fraught with dangers.

2. Proper Job Indoctrination – This is similar to what the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town call the Immersion principle. For instance you carry your rifle around with you, you sleep with it, go to eat with it for at least a few weeks before you are even given bullets to shoot with at the shooting range. They make sure that you are able to handle your rifle in all types of situations before letting you loose.

In many organizations, PROPER and THOROUGH induction is non- existent. All you get is a vague overview.

I recall that about 15 years ago Xerox released the findings of a study that showed that there can be a loss of up to 98% of learning if there is no follow up, such as refreshers, mentoring and coaching back on the job.

Perhaps I need to share a practical example  with you. My job is to advise companies on how to build, sustain and protect their organization’s reputation. Some time ago I was off to a meeting at a client when I walked past a paint spraybooth. In the booth a young man was working with oil veneer paints spraypainting an object. Now these types of paint is dangerous and the young man is supposed to wear a certain category of respiratory mask to protect himself against hazardous chemical exposure, except his mask was sitting on his forehead.

Since I like to use humour to get my points across, I shouted at him saying: ”Hey man, put your mask over your mouth – a women does not wear her bra on her forehead!”. He laughed and shouted back:”It won’t help, the damn thing is blocked’!”

Now, I could not leave it, because it was important to ascertain whether he knew why he was supposed to wear a mask. He did. When I asked him why he had not reported it, he said that he did so on many occasions, but that apparently there were no money in the budget.

So here is a young man, taking his life into his own hands and where are the managers who so succinctly wrote in the annual report – We care for people?

So now I was concerned. So off to management I went.When I asked the line manager to see his PPE register, he went blank.What is that, he asked.

Ok, to cut a long story short – the young man in the spray booth last got a new mask +/- 2 years ago. So where was senior management? Why were they not reinforcing standards, taking action. After all, they are the ones walking past him every day!

AND this was a branch of a listed company, one of the JSE Social Responsible index companies. Sitting on a time bomb. Sitting on a Reputation Risk time bomb.

The company was clearly non-compliant with the Occupational Health & Safety act. It clearly was not consistent – its actions, behaviours and communication was not aligned. For me an outsider it was clear that their values was not being demonstrated.

This may sound like being naive, but on my first visit to any company I can get one hell of an impression of the company just by looking at the state of the bathroom facility. In the Bible it is stated that if God cannot trust you in the small things, how can he trust you in the big things.

It is quite interesting that if you go and do root cause analysis of accidents, that it is often the small things that cause major damage.

Perhaps it is time for organizations to review their public commitment to Health & Safety, to do introspection and to rectify what is wrong. And that process can be started by senior management being willing to submit themselves to retraining and ensuring that they are up to date with the latest thinking in the field.

After all, waterfalls DO FLOW TOP to bottom.

Years ago, ISM (IBM in South Africa) had an advert that said ”If your failure rate is one in a million , what do you tell that one customer?” The same applies to other companies. If your death rate is one in a”million what do you say to that person’s family and loved ones?

IOL: Toxic water killed E Cape babies – report

I just read this article IOL: Toxic water killed E Cape babies – report and there are a few items that I would like to use as discussion and learning points. I will raise my comments in italics.

  • An interim report acknowledged that a “multiplicity of causes” including “systematic failures affecting water quality” were to blame for the deaths of the babies, said the provincial government in a statement.

This statement in itself is already a warning for Crisis Managers in organizations. Problems tend to occur in clusters. When one problem or barrier has been identified, there will most likely be others associated with it. A staff member who does not show responsibility because of undefined or unrealistic work expectations will likely also show a level of distrust in his or her superiors. It is essential to identify the nature of the multiple barriers and problems and to deal with the whole cluster.

Problems and barriers also tend to sustain and reinforce each other. Suppose, for example, that the effectiveness and quality of communication between a municipal manager and a government office are hampered because he mistrusts them and they are geographically distant from each other.

The geographic distance will reduce the likelihood that the mistrust will be overcome, and, at the same time, the mistrust prevents the bridging of the distance. Although one problem may be eliminated, interdependency means that the force of the other sustaining problems may counteract the effort.

To solve problems before they escalate into crisis  situations will need systemic thinking. Holistic thinking needs to be taught – it does not come naturally.

  • The report states that urgent action, including declaring an emergency in the area, was apparently recommended but not carried out. This sounds just like what happened when Hurricane Latrina (I know it is supposed to be Katrina, but when all the effluent and waters mixed it became like a latrine)struck. It took the Mayor of New Orleans 48 hours to enact his plan.

This raises serious doubt over the ability of municipalities to react to disasters and emergencies. I wonder how many of these municipalities comply with the Disaster Management Act. I wonder how many comply with international best practice when it comes to testing of plans.

  • An official health report, tabled two weeks at a closed council meeting, indicated there had been a breakdown in a water purification works in October last year.

Yet no action was taken. It is called Assumptions. To assume that staff will repair something is naive. To assume that a small insignificant issue does not have the potential to cause harm is naive and it points directly to the type of thinking methodologies employed by managers and employees.

  • The report states that the Cloete Joubert Hospital in Barkly East failed to report the deaths in time for a proper investigation but a senior hospital manager said the municipality did nothing until 15 deaths were reported.

This points directly to communication failures, and it raises serious points with regards to incident reporting mechanisms, internal communication structures and process flow. I wonder who in Government looks at these type of things. Who conducts Communication audits? Who ensures that these types of issues are addressed.

GCIS? I doubt it. The Health Department Communication staff? I doubt it! Internal Communication needs regular attention. It needs auditing.

  • On Wednesday, the provincial government said other socio-economic factors were also to blame including poor service delivery, environmental health and human resource “challenges”.For example there had been inadequate intravenous fluids and antibiotics to deal with the babies who became ill.

This again highlights lack of planning and supply chain management. Something is wrong with the system. It is a known fact in Organizational Development circles that a bad system will always beat a good employee’s intentions. Lack of Service delivery points directly to leadership.

In the Private sector there is consequences when there is failure and lack of performance. In local government there is cover ups and progression up the ranks because the only criteria used is that of political clout.

  • The report also states that people did not have enough Health education.

This is a rural area and there are difficulties in communication sure enough. However it points directly to the authorities.Water, Health and Hygiene issues fall into the realm of Risk communication. Again I must question risk communication efforts in municipal districts as well as the ability of any organization to conduct crisis communication.

Just to enlighten my readers, Crisis communication refers to communication about an unfortunate event or occurrence that can hurt people, organizations, and economies, among other things. Risk communication refers to communication related to the health and safety of people and the environment.

While we can see that the principles of risk communication sometimes pertain to crisis communication… It is also clear that not all risk communication is crisis communication, and, conversely, not all crisis communication is risk communication.

The message of how to deal with a water contamination situation – now that it is a crisis situation, is that Crisis Communication or Risk Communication? Read the last 2 paragraphs of the news release, and let me know what you think.

Whose Responsibility is Communication?

I just read an article that made me choke on my late meal.

Some rugby league player was banned for two years in the UK after failing a drug test. He has lashed out at the league authorities stating that not enough was done to educate players about being drug free.

The article quotes a spokes person for the League saying that they felt they did enough and I quote:” the RFL says it does as much as it can to educate players about the perils of supplements and drug use.

“There has been an extensive information campaign for many seasons now and we have actually been praised by UK Sport for our anti-doping efforts,” an RFL spokesman told BBC Sport.

“We signed up to the 100% ME campaign and introduced a player education programme with posters in every dressing room, lectures, information booklets circulated around the clubs and a special section on our website.”

Oh, so that is enough!

Whose responsibility is Communication? The Sender or the Receiver? Let us go back to Comm 101. Communication is at best an imperfect science. Thus it is the responsibility of the sender.

It reminds me of the Peanut joke. I taught me dog to whistle. His friend replied, saying: I do not hear him whistle. To which Peanuts replied: “I said I taught him, I did not say he learnt how”.

Did the banned player pass an exam? Without checking for understanding and ensuring that the message got through, the League me thinks have a problem.

Read the full article at:

Rugby League player questions Communication