Legal Implications of a Company Safety Policy
Many company communications, mission statements, and handbooks default to stating that safety is their top priority. A seemingly innocuous public statement, companies often mistakenly choose this messaging because of other organizations making similar company safety policy statements and feeling as though it's what must be said; otherwise, public opinion will assert that they are uncaring. Yet, while well-meaning, this unnecessary blanket claim is generally untrue and can create potential litigation issues for a company in the future.
While safety may be a company goal, it is not and likely should not be a company's top priority. Businesses often succumb to outside pressure, making assumptions about what is expected and stating that the safety of an organization's employees, customers, shareholders, or community is the foremost priority of their business. Organizations would be better served by researching what messaging will resonate with their target audiences, plus crafting messaging that doesn't have potential legal ramifications.
Protect your business, brand, and reputation with communications that align crisis communications with litigation strategy. At Courtroom Sciences, our crisis and litigation communications experts can help you with the positioning of communications on topics around safety, using messaging specific to what the business is doing to address the crisis they find themselves in.
What negative impact can mishandling the topic of a company safety policy have on your business?
Although it may sound good on paper to say you prioritize safety over all other facets of your business, it can cause significant problems during the litigation process from a legal perspective. Should an injury occur inside this business, savvy plaintiff attorneys are sure to use marketing materials, safety handbooks, websites, or other corporate documents that include messages like "safety is our top priority" to demonstrate that the company violated its safety policies. This type of messaging can increase the likelihood of jurors finding the company liable for the plaintiff's injuries.
Safety Should Be A Priority, Not The Priority
There is a misguided belief that safety is an all-or-none proposition, particularly among safety directors and risk managers. However, simply choosing not to say that safety is the top priority doesn't mean that safety is not a priority or that a company doesn't care about it. Safety doesn't necessarily work on being in a hierarchical numbered list of priorities, and it can be a goal that runs on a continuum with other topics as well.
When a company says that safety is its top priority, it's not only setting the wrong expectation in terms of how far you're willing to go to protect somebody's safety, but it's also off message. During a crisis, do a bank's customers want to hear that safety is the top priority for the bank, or do they want to know what the bank is doing to ensure they have access to their money or banking services? Similarly, do cell phone company customers want to hear about safety, or do they want reassurance that their cell phone will have reliable service?
Customers already understand that corporations exist to make a profit, help their customers, and make their customer's life easier, things that don't necessarily revolve around safety. Many other components of an organization are not necessarily just safety-related. To say that safety is an organization's top priority amid a crisis is exceedingly short-sighted. Organizations have to keep in mind that there are significant legal implications when an organization puts into writing that safety is its top priority.
Better Messaging Around the Topic of Safety
Crafting safety-related statements may seem to be expected in the face of a crisis, with companies hoping that their words make them look good to their customers and the public. But plaintiff attorneys have learned to exploit the basic notion of safety being good through manipulative reptile questions. When someone is injured inside a business that, by its admission, has placed safety above all other facets of the business, a witness must agree that the injury occurred because the company violated its safety policies. Based on this, a jury is almost sure to find the company liable for the plaintiff's injuries.
There are better ways for an organization to articulate their commitment to safety that will resonate with and influence the audience they are trying to reach while at the same time not boxing them into a corner. One way that organizations can assure their audience of their commitment to safety is through their actions. Organizations can list the top three to five things they have done to demonstrate their safety commitment. This type of communication builds credibility as customers can see the actions a company has taken to support what they are saying. The public can feel a sense of comfort in seeing what steps a company is taking to address safety. It reinforces the idea that the organization has made safety a priority.
Organizations may think that saying safety is a top priority makes people feel good and is what their customers want to hear. Still, it may be tone-deaf to what people actually want to hear, potentially resulting in legal ramifications.
When developing corporate communications materials and messaging around safety, it can make a tremendous difference to add the perspective of crisis and litigation professionals who are adept at creating psychology-based messaging. Our communications experts will assist in developing a highly responsive crisis response plan with policies, practices, and communications that protect and defend your company's reputation. Speak with one of our critical communications experts to get started.
● There is a misguided belief that safety is an all-or-none proposition.
● While well-meaning, saying that safety is an organization's top priority is generally untrue and can create potential litigation issues for a company in the future.
● When a company says that safety is its top priority, it sets the wrong expectation and is also off message.
● There are better ways for an organization to articulate its commitment to safety that will resonate with and influence the audience they are trying to reach.
● The crisis and litigation communications professionals at Courtroom Sciences can help organizations develop communications messaging that protect and defend your company's reputation.
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