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Self preservation in times of crisis

We recently published an article about what to do if there is a fatality at work, and in discussions with several people one other subject has been raised. It is human nature that when things go wrong, or when there is an investigation involving authorities, that we go into a self-preservation, almost panic mode. It is often stated in fact, that self preservation is the first law of nature.

But when there is a serious accident, a compensation claim lands at your door, or if the HSE or police knock on your door investigating a complaint or incident, that instinct of preserving what you have - whether that be reputation, finances, or even freedom - kicks in. This self-survival instinct at all costs is natural, and in some instances is a good thing.

But in other cases it can cause irreparable harm - to you and (possibly more importantly) to those around you. All sorts of thoughts race around your head. You become defensive, intolerable, aggressive, and even evasive. None of this helps you or the situation.

In health and safety you see self-preservation all the time. After Hillsborough, as an example, it came out in the Inquests that the police had doctored notes to cover things up. After Grenfell, the Council appeared in the media to go into self preservation mode. In one case I dealt with, a manager tried to force the first aider to lie about what happened because the manager was in the wrong. The first aider refused, and after investigation, the manager lost her job. And rightly so.

Whether an employee or an employer, after an incident it is important not to hide or destroy things, not to blame others, not to try to force others to lie or cover up for you. Doing this is self destructive. That is far more difficult to do than it sounds, as panic and fear causes much irrational thought and can even lead to a complete inability to act.

Before acting in self-preservation, there are some vital things you need to consider:

1. Stop and think

Do not rush into hasty decisions, remarks or actions. Think things through as rationally as possible first. Note also that you may not concentrate on normal day to day things - so if necessary - do not drive or do a task requiring concentration. Your mind will be preoccupied.

2. Ask for help

It is vitally important that you seek legal advice immediately before making any decisions. Tell a trusted person how you feel. If you don't feel you can trust anyone, there are helplines that can help, such as the Samaritans. If necessary, seek medical advice.

3. Look at the situation from other people's shoes

Stop and think outside the box. Look at the situation from the injured person's viewpoint. If you are asking people to help you, think what impact this may have on them. Never get them to lie for you. If the situation leads to a criminal case, you could be implicating them. How do the other people feel?

4. Think of the consequences

At every stage, before doing anything, think through the consequences of what that action will mean for you or others. Acting incorrectly will make the situation much worse for you and those around you.

Whatever happens that leads to self-preservation, taking easy steps and thinking rationally, without rushing will reduce the damage resulting from that situation. Failure to do so will make the situation far worse.

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