I recently had a manager on one of my training courses who shared his experience of an incident that had happened at his workplace. A customer had gone into anaphylactic shock caused by something they had eaten there and paramedics had to be called. Fortunately for the customer, it was treatable but the manager said he had seriously underestimated the impact the incident would have on his staff: shock, guilt, distress, a wide range of emotions. It made him realise how important the wellbeing of your own staff really is.
Whether it is a food-related issue (such as an allergic reaction) or something unrelated (such as a customer having chest pains), a colleague or a customer being taken ill on your premises can be very upsetting for your staff and other customers. I’m sure that experience chimes with many of us, whether because we’ve had to deal with the ‘fallout’ following an accident or incident at work or simply because recent years have shown us how valuable staff need to nurtured. The good news is that there are things we can do, plans and training we can have in place, to help people cope in crisis situations. Here are my thoughts on how you can ensure your staff as well as your customers are looked after appropriately.
Before an incident occurs
There are many things you can put in place to ensure that, should the worst happen, your teams will cope, and most of them revolve around appropriate training. In a challenging situation, knowing how to react and being able to do something puts us all in a more positive place than simply being a helpless bystander. Training is also an opportunity to mentally prepare for situations that may not have occurred to us to think about before. I would suggest the following are essential training steps:
– All staff training: do all your staff, especially food-handling and front-of-house teams, have appropriate food safety training? Are they aware of allergy triggers and could they spot the early signs of a reaction? Do they have basic first aid training so they would know how to deal with any first aid issue? Do they all know who your First Aiders are and how to reach them? Whether you go down the route of Certificated training for all or you run your own in-house awareness sessions, any training and preparation you can give will be invaluable.
– Team leader training: are your leaders level-headed enough to take control in a crisis? In most cases, this is about individual confidence and the sense of having the authority to be more directive in an emergency than they would perhaps usually be. If your trained manager or team leader is on leave, would your deputies feel they have the training and confidence to take charge? Again, whether this is formal training or something you are able to run in-house, leadership training is really helpful.
– Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA): a MHFA is a colleague, usually a volunteer who is interested in mental wellbeing, who is trained to provide first line support for others experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. That support might be having a conversation through to sign-posting the individual on to further help. Having MHFAs in your team won’t solve everything but it does mean you can be more proactive in spotting colleagues who may be struggling and have a channel to refer them for more help if required.
– Scenario-based team training: It might not be the most cheerful subject for a team training session but spending time working through possible situations can help head off problems before they happen. A bit like a live risk assessment, ask your team to think about how they would handle a particular problem and see what they come up with. If we have to call an ambulance, where should we direct them to park on our premises? How could we ensure the dignity of the ‘patient’ whilst also minimising any upset for other patrons? If they need a private space, where or how could we create one? Get them to reflect on the activity and come back with any other ideas or suggestions they might have as it has sunk in. It is often suggestions from people ‘on the floor’ that are the most practical and realistic. Activities like this are also really good for team-building and (rather perversely) team morale.
During an incident
It is too simplistic to say “keep calm and carry on” but, in essence, that is what you need to encourage your staff to do. Any incident will be an evolving situation for staff and customers so monitoring people’s changing reactions to it will be key. Now is not the time for big dramatics so finding useful jobs that take ‘drama queens’ away from the immediate vicinity are always useful: if someone goes queasy at the sight of blood, for example, perhaps they could be the one sent outside to keep an eye out for the ambulance?
After an incident
Once the immediate crisis is over, every individual is likely to respond differently. The team leader who has remained completely calm and professional throughout may collapse into a puddle of tears as the ambulance drives away; and it is absolutely fine if they do that, it is just their way of dealing with the emotional response. Because everyone could respond differently, it is important that there are a number of different follow-up activities to help everyone cope in their own way.
– Reassurance (and no blame): whatever caused an incident or accident, it is unlikely that it was intentional, so staff need to be reassured that they were not at fault. Managers and team leaders need to help restore the team’s confidence that they did a good job in responding but that it was an accident. Even if an incident was a result of a mistake on the part on an individual, take it as an opportunity to refresh training rather than blame them for doing something wrong; chances are they feeling guilty enough already. In the unlikely event that a staff member needs disciplinary action following an incident, this should be done with sympathy and patience, and in a way that their colleagues understand.
– Informal opportunities to talk: as soon as is practical after the incident, find an opportunity to reflect on what happened as a team, ideally very informally. Reliving an experience alongside those who also went through it often throws up perspectives that weren’t noticed at the time and can help people process the emotions triggered. Reassure staff that it has been a difficult situation and that it is perfectly normal to feel some upset; however, remind them that they have been trained, they did their best and (whatever the outcome) it was not their fault, so their emotional response needs to be kept in perspective. Anyone who appears to continue to struggle to process their emotions would probably benefit from a chat with a MHFA in the first instance. Remember that everyone’s experience is different so no reaction is ‘wrong’; a staff member who witnessed a sibling have an anaphylactic shock as a child is likely to react differently to one who didn’t, and we don’t always know enough about our colleagues’ backgrounds to know this.
– Formal opportunities to talk: once the first emotions have settled but before everyone has forgotten the detail, it is also worth getting the team together to conduct a more structured review of the situation. How did we do as a team? Did we look after our customers well enough throughout? Was there any additional equipment or training that would have been useful? If this happened again, what would we do differently? Was there anything that we did particularly well? Again, avoid blaming any individuals if you can but review the situation as a team response.
– Identify further training opportunities: undoubtedly an incident will highlight potential gaps in training, or opportunities for refresher training, so ensure those are identified and planned in at the earliest opportunity. Having just experienced an incident, most staff will appreciate this training is to help them deal with anything else. It is particularly important if you have a relatively high turnover of staff or a high volume of seasonal or casual staff not to assume that ‘everyone knows’ as there is a chance they don’t.
Academy Training Manager
Rod Carver - Level 3 Food Safety Attendee