Death in the workplace guide could have been much more helpful

Workplace Health & Safety Queensland (WHSQ)has released an update of its guidance on how to handle the impacts of a death at work.  “A death in the workplace– a guide for families and friends” provides very useful information for a period when a family’s life will change forever and when thinking clearly will be difficult.

Like many guidances from OHS regulators, this one is very legalistic or procedural.  It explains the roles of police, coroners, OHS inspectors and others but it lacks a humanity that many would find reassuring in such a difficult time.

One of the issues that creates great anxiety is any delay in getting the body of their loved one back.  The Queensland guide discusses organising this through a funeral director but grieving people want a little more information.  The guide would have been improved by simply stating that there may be a delay in returning their loved ones and that a delay of a week is often the norm.

Often families choose not to know the details of the procedures because they are focussing on their loss.  Anyone who has had to organise a funeral after a sudden non-work related death knows how traumatic the process already is and how disruptive it can be to a family, without the involvement of government agencies, police and others.

If the readership of this guidance was families and friends it has the wrong tone.  It provides important information without understanding the context in which such a guide may be read.  WorkCover New South Wales’ guide for families recognises this context with “a word of introduction”.

What is disappointing in the updated WHSQ guide is that on its “further information” page, one of the links that families are likely to go to for support is a dead link.

“The Uniting Church
The Workplace Death – Partnerships in Grieving website offers good advice about a range of topics related to workplace fatalities.

It does not include good advice as the link does not work.  Not only that, the residual web pages on the internet were last updated in September 2006.

It is reasonable to expect many hyperlinks in hard copy OHS publications to stop working after a while due to changes of circumstance or IT glitches but to promote an updated guide (as WHSQ has in its ESafe email newsletter for February 2011)  that includes a link to an inoperative grief support website is poor form.

WHSQ needs to review this guidance straight away before the grief of a family or friend is not helped by a guide that should be all about helping.

Categories death, government, grief, guidance, law, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , , ,

5 thoughts on “Death in the workplace guide could have been much more helpful”

  1. I agree that document should have empathy, compassion and consideration for the family, friends, employers and co-workers of the deceased.

    I have sat with so many different people over the course of my work, each wanting something to help ease the loss, each knowing that there would be no ease, only the passage of time would soften the numbness, but never replace a lost one.

    None of what I do can ever be written into a brochure, I can\’t even describe it myself.
    What I do know is that sitting with a family going through a death claim is never easy.
    There is no way to prepare the family for the questions asked nor the inference ( in the death of a man) \”are you certain that there are no other dependant children?\”
    I sit I wipe tears, I hold hands and I hold broken grieving hearts.
    I give the family an orange tree and if possible a Hope rose (it is not always possible to buy a Hope rose)
    The reason is because the plants are very real and very tangible things to watch and to nurture, the fruit of the orange can be shared with everyone and the Hope blooms to remind the family that life is still possible.
    But how do you write into a brochure that I give an orange tree and a Hope rose because it is not something that I do at a given time, it is done a gut level feeling time.
    How do you write into a brochure that I \”just happened to be in the area and thought it would be nice to have a cup of tea.\”

    Everything I do can be taught, but it can not be written because everything I do is based on empathy and understanding.

    And yes I have given orange trees and Hope roses to the workplace where the employer and the co-workers are also going through their own grief.
    It is interesting to drive past to see the rest of the garden in tatters cigarette butts littering the yard, but the orange tree and the Hope rose truly cared for.

    I admire the QLD workers compensation for at least writing this brochure, but it should never go to a grieving family.
    The Qld and all other workers compensation systems need to train people to actually do what I do.
    I am not known to the family before the fatal accident, yet within minutes of meeting the family, I know everything about them and sadly everything about the lost loved one.
    I have attended funerals with the family and been the shoulder that they all lean on.

    What I do can never be written, it can only be learnt and understood, and hope that it is never needed.

  2. You\’re right Kevin. I just had a quick read. Does the job in a very straight forward, factual, no nonsense manner – but………….brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr its just plain cold. I didn\’t see one hint of compassion, Its like \”their dead, harden up, we have a job to do\” and I guess some in those roles do become conditioned to death?. I just can\’t imagine anyone normal being able to read that guide soon after losing someone close, or even a while after losing someone close. I think it would make it worse for them realizing how complicated things were about to get as if losing someone isn\’t bad enough and having it expressed so clinically!

  3. There is a place for the legalistic and emotion free brochure that Queensland has provided, it is a place to start it is a reference guide and nothing else.

    The families of deceased workers need some one to sit with them, hold their hands and hold their hearts, dry their tears and soothe the ache that has no end.

    I have sat through death claim investigations, there is no easy way to say this other than to admit at the end of each interview, I feel as though I have survived a mental and emotional assault, there is nothing that can be done to ease the investigation for the families of the lost loved one.

    However for people who have never had any training, or have had no reason to come in contact with a death claim, this information is a place to start.

    It is with issues such as this that I truly wish I had the funding to train Community Advocates to do what I do.

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