Are You Ready for Risk?

The tragic death of an Edinburgh man and the continuing plight of the remaining victims of the city’s Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak provide a stark reminder of the hidden dangers that can arise from our built environment. The quality and consistency of health and safety on the UK’s building sites has improved significantly over the past 20 years, but this high profile case of Legionnaire’s Disease begs the question whether enough is done to underpin the health and safety of our built environment for the whole of its lifecycle? No doubt there will be plenty of finger pointing and lessons learned over the coming weeks and months as we find out definitively where the outbreak came from, why it occurred and what can be done to prevent it happening again in the future. But, before any of the outcomes of these investigations are truly known, one thing is already clear: effective, proactive and expert building management and maintenance regimes are essential in reducing the risk of such harmful incidents.

Assessing the public health risks of any environment can be a difficult business because there are so many unknowns and, let’s face it, so many risks. However, the first step is recognising that risks do exist, then exercising due diligence in assessing them and mitigating them.  From a communications point of view, a key part in that risk assessment has to be the risk to, reputation, brand customer loyalty if a company is perceived to have put public health at risk.

For example, cast your mind back to the 1990 benzene contamination incident that took 160 million bottles of Perrier mineral water off supermarket shelves around the world. Attempts to play down the risk and a lack of coherent messaging led to confusion amongst the media and the brand’s customer base which resulted in long-term damage to brand collateral and market share.

The Legionnaires Disease outbreak in Edinburgh is a reminder to us all that preparing for a crisis is an essential element of successful marketing and communications.  The nature of the crisis may be unknown but the communications channels, chain of command and ability to move quickly in the best interests of all stakeholders should be planned and agreed at senior level as an integral part of business continuity.