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Paris attacks: a risk that employers must consider

At the time of writing, the events in Paris are fresh in our memories and Brussels is in a state of ‘lock-down’. These situations may appear to have no direct relationship to workplace hazards but if we consider more carefully we see that this is not the case.

Either directly or indirectly, the results of such atrocities affect how we go about our daily lives, including our jobs. The extreme threat to Brussels meant its public transport services were closed, making it more difficult for people to get to work. Large organisations in the city including the NATO headquarters asked staff to work from home and curtail any external visits.

Though cities in the UK have not seen such attacks recently, many people still remember where they were when the London transport system was targeted on 7 July 2005, resulting in the deaths of 52 ordinary people, many of them simply travelling to work.

Before that, British cities – not only in Northern Ireland but also on the mainland – went through a period when such incidents were common occurrences. With the rise in globalisation, organisations increasingly require their staff to travel to regions which may put their safety at risk. Both Paris and Brussels are economic hubs for business travellers.

In a previous role IIRSM’s policy director was once required to carry out health and safety training in Kuwait, despite concerns about the forthcoming military action against Saddam Hussain. Fortunately contingency procedures were in place which resulted in him being evacuated 24 hours before the missiles started to fly. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in this situation.

A characteristic of such events as the Paris attacks is that while targeted at specific venues – in this case a sports stadium, a concert hall and restaurants – the results are indiscriminate with the dead and injured including people who are at work, such as waiters and stadium staff, as well as members of the public. While such incidents are difficult to predict, we should be considering what actions we can take to eliminate or reduce the risks and to mitigate the impacts.

This was forcefully brought home three days after the Paris incidents when a staff member received an email from a company (a household name in Scandinavia) asking whether he had any contacts in Paris who could provide counselling to staff from their French facility. One of their employees had been injured and others were suffering from trauma. Fortunately we were able to help, but this illustrated how we cannot exist in isolation.

Finally, IIRSM wishes to extend its sincere condolences to those affected, as well as their families and friends.

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