Construction Company: Worksite Fatalities

CONTINGENCY PLANNING PROTECTS A 100-YEAR OLD COMPANY'S REPUTATION

Damage from Construction Accident Contained


When one of the nation's top construction companies engaged Nicolazzo & Associates to develop a corporate communications policy and contingency communications plan, management was more prescient than it realized.  Only months after the program was put in place, two of the company's construction workers were killed at the Las Vegas site where the company was building a major hotel/casino complex.

Background and Situation Analysis

The Las Vegas accident followed the year-earlier accidental death of another employee working on the construction of a bridge in New Jersey.  While the company had achieved an acceptable safety record-by industry standards-over a term of many years, the coincidence of these two events raised concerns.  Particularly noteworthy was a story line being developed by a Las Vegas television station, which sought to link the three deaths as evidence that the company was "accident prone" and "indifferent to workers' safety."

The Plan

With N&A's advice and counsel, the company developed a communications protocol for responding quickly and effectively to any ensuing crisis. This plan called for:

  1. Framing the crisis at hand by acknowledging the accident(s), clarifying the cause(s) of the accident(s) and any actions being undertaken or contemplated to prevent their recurrence.
  2. Expressing condolences to the families of the victims.
  3. Issuing a backgrounder on this national company that stresses the firm's "excellent" safety record while completing some of the country's most complex construction projects.  This backgrounder also emphasized the inherently dangerous nature of construction work and cited industry statistics to support its assertions.
  4. Proactive, timely communication with:
    • The relevant local media: With the goals of keeping the story local and the coverage balanced.
    • Employees: To address morale issues, stem rumors, stress the importance of vigilance and safety on the job and relay information coming out of any accident investigation.
    • State and local safety officials, OSHA, the governor (if necessary), the property owner, and any other interested parties: To provide the appropriate level of detail.

Results

Because of the advanced planning that had been undertaken and because of the communications protocol already in place, the company-with N&A's assistance-was able to swiftly react with crisis-specific responses.  As a result:

  • Media coverage was focused on probable causes for the accident at the casino rather than on allegations of negligence or sensationalism.
  • Management was portrayed as compassionate-with the televised airing of its condolences-and responsible-by virtue of the coverage of its internal investigations into probable causes of the accident.
  • Any attempts to link the Las Vegas accident to the New Jersey accident were abolished.
  • The company's reputation as a safety-conscious, responsible employer remained intact.
  • Important follow-on media coverage occurred when local Las Vegas union officials toured the construction site and issued a statement endorsing the company and the working conditions at the site.
  • Media coverage was contained to the local market and quickly subsided after the initial round of stories.