November 2013

Responding to Workplace Incidents and Requesting Assistance from Local Union Business Managers and Agents

Incident Response & Management Guide for Local Union Business Managers and Agents

In the event that you are involved in, or a witness to a serious workplace incident, it is important for our members throughout the United States and Canada to recognize your local union business managers and agents can help protect your rights during tragic events and the investigative process. Immediately after a serious incident occurs, it is common for multiple parties to become involved and responsive actions to occur. In response to recent serious incidents, the Safety and Health Department has been notified of several situations when information, facts, evidence, witnesses and other important information was not correct, and our members’ rights were not recognized. I want to make it clear that we want to provide full cooperation with all the appropriate parties. However, there is an appropriate time and protocol for our members to provide their witness statements. A recently published “Incident Response & Management Guide for Business Managers and Agents” has been distributed to district councils and local unions with the purpose of helping to protect the rights of our members while cooperating with project authorities and regulatory agencies during the investigative process.

Hard Lessons Learned From Previous Incidents

• Members were pressured to provide statements immediately after serious incidents by either project authorities (owners or general contractors) or regulatory agencies without consideration for the emotional distress of our members.
• Members were prohibited from including their local union business managers or business agents while providing their statements.
• Members were prohibited to provide their answers “in writing” to help prevent incorrect statement or misleading answers to questions.
• Statements provided to regulatory authorities by members were incorrect and could not be obtained for six months.
• Members were prohibited from obtaining a copy of their statements from regulatory agencies and other project authorities.
• Project authorities refused access by local union representatives to conduct their investigation.
• Evidence directly related to the incident was either removed from the project or tampered with.
• Media representatives misreported facts in the newspaper and broadcasts that damaged our contractors and members.

“Incident Response & Management Guide for Business Managers and Agents”

We want our members to recognize the information contained in this guide is designed to help assist local union business managers and agents, protect our member’s rights, and cooperate with project authorities and regulatory agencies during the investigative process. The five key phases contained in this guide are as follows:

Phase 1 – Managing Communications and Statements

-  Designate one and only one spokesperson (business manager or business agent) for the local union.
-  Anticipate a request for statements from project authorities, local media, occupational health, insurance representatives (applicable to members in United States) and special investigators.
-  Instruct all parties that the spokesperson is the point of contact for any information.
-  Instruct union members they do not have to be pressured to provide an immediate statement to anyone.
-  Instruct union members on jobsite that the spokesperson will coordinate the appropriate time and place for them to provide statements.
-  Strongly advise union members to refrain from discussing any matters relating to the crisis event.
-  Instruct union members they have the right to designate the spokesperson, business manager, business agent or legal counsel to accompany them when providing statements to jobsite authorities, regulatory agencies or other parties.

Phase 2 – Notice to Right of Access and Preservation of Evidence

-  Obtain a list of project representatives and their
contact information.
-  Instruct all project authorities not to remove, relocate or disassemble any equipment or material evidence that could
be associated with the incident.
-  Inform project parties that the spokesperson (business manager or business agent) for the local union reserves the right to access any areas where the incident occurred to take photographs, video footage, measurements, etc.
-  Issue a letter to project parties not to remove, relocate or dis-assemble any equipment or material evidence until such time that the spokesperson (business manager or business agent) has obtained access to gather evidence.
-  Keep a record of any project authorities or other parties who have been authorized to access the incident area and have already gathered information prior to your arrival at the jobsite.
-  Note any persons who may have removed, relocated or dis-assembled any equipment or material evidence that could be associated with the incident.
-  If equipment or materials involved in the incident must be removed from the project, a secured location must be designated for all parties to access.

Phase 3 – Coordinating Forum to Obtain Member Statements

-  The spokesperson for the local union members should co-ordinate an appropriate date and time for members to provide their statements to jobsite authorities, regulatory agencies or other parties.
-  The spokesperson for the local union members should designate the local union meeting place (if possible) for all parties to obtain statements from members.
-  Union members must be informed that they have the right to designate the local union business manager, business agent or legal counsel to be present when they provide statements to jobsite authorities, regulatory agencies or other parties.
-  The spokesperson and union members should request that all questions be submitted in writing.
-  Union members should respond to written questions with written answers to provide a more accurate statement, and help prevent any misunderstandings.
-  The local union members must request a copy of their final statements from all parties, and review it for accuracy.

Phase 4 – Spokesperson’s Responsibilities

-  Be consistent with communications to media and all project parties
-  Do not answer questions that should be directed to occupational health representatives, law enforcement, etc.
-  Use only facts in answering questions.
-  Do not reveal names of victims involved in incident.
-  Prepare a summary sheet of all events occurring.
-  Do not comment on “what caused the incident.”
-  Keep a record of all persons to speak with and whom they represent.
-  Never become angry or combative.
-  Always be certain of the facts and your statements.
-  Remember – there is no such thing as “off the record.”
-  Never answer a hypothetical question.
-  Ensure that all questions and comments are directed to the spokesperson.

Phase 5 – Remember the “Do and Don’t” List

DO
Be responsive
Appear helpful
Know the facts
Prepare key messages in advance
Stay on track with messages
Express sympathy for victims
Ask for clarification when necessary
Keep it simple – use everyday language
Immediately correct misstatements
Repeat your key messages
Tell the truth
 
DON’T
Speculate on cause or responsibility
Become combative
Answer questions outside expertise
Report or comment on assumptions
Say too much
Use jargon
Play favorites
Repeat negative words from parties
Go “off the record” to speak
Never say “no comment”
Lie about any topics

Q&As Regarding Workplace Incidents

Q. After witnessing a recent fatality, I did not feel like talking with anyone, but I was pressured to a statement. Am I required to provide an immediate statement to OSHA, general contractor or insurance representatives only minutes after a fatality?
A. No, if you are not prepared to provide a statement at that time, you can respectfully decline and request them to contact your business manager or business agent to arrange an appropriate time.

Q. Can I designate my local union representatives to be present when I provide my witness statements to OSHA officials?
A. Yes, you have a certain rights during the “witness statement process.” You can either request a private statement with the OSHA compliance officer, or request local union representatives or counsel to be present with you.

Q. Can I request my answers to be provided in writing to help ensure accuracy and prevent misleading answers?”
A. Yes, there is nothing that prohibits your statements to be provided in writing, and it is highly recommended that you do.

Q. Can I request a copy of any statements to make sure that they have not be altered or modified?
A. Yes, prior to providing your statements, it is important to make sure your local union business agents have agreed with OSHA that a copy of your statements will be returned to you for review.

Q. If the media or other parties contacts me at home what should I do?
A. I would suggest that you refer them to your local union spokesperson, either the business manager or business agent.

Q. If I see that evidence is being removed from the project what should I do?
A. I would suggest that you get the name of this person or persons and notify your local union spokesperson, either the business manager or business agent.

We deeply regret the loss of our members who have been killed on the jobsite this year, and reports that our members rights were not observed during the investigative process by certain project authorities and regulatory agencies. It is our hope that the recently published “Incident Response & Management Guide for Business Managers and Agents” will serve to help protect our members’ rights and provide full cooperation with all project authorities and regulatory agencies during the investigation process.

The International Association’s “2013 Zero Fatality” campaign will continue to target the deadly dozen serious hazards that affect our members throughout the United States and Canada. Our goal for 2013 is to continue our pursuit of zero fatalities and challenge all members to “See Something - Say Something,” to help recognize and avoid workplace hazards. I will continue to work closely with district councils, local unions and IMPACT regional advisory boards throughout the United States and Canada to promote the 2013 Zero Fatality campaign and help improve safety performance.