When Health and Safety Plans Legitimately Save The Day


Health and Safety: three little words that unanimously invoke sighs and eyerolls among many an office manager. Up until last week, I was among the sighing, eyerolling mass, full of dread at the upcoming changes to Health and Safety legislation here in New Zealand. (One of the key changes that will be enacted with the Health and Safety Reform Bill is, as the NBR notes, “that directors of a company could be held liable for failing to ensure that a PCBU [Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking] complies with health and safety regulations – even if they have not directly contributed to the failure.” So needless to say, we had some work to do, revamping and expanding our health and safety documentation.) I viewed H&S policies as a necessary evil. I think I conceptualised them as something that was theoretically useful, not something that would actually guide human action in the middle of an emergency. 

Then last week happened. I was climbing the top of the stairs to our level when I saw one of our residents on the ground in the courtyard, surrounded by three others, wet towels scattered around her and paramedics on the phone. She had experienced an allergic reaction, was drifting in and out of consciousness, and was starting to go into anaphylactic shock. 

Immediately, I knew what it was. A few days prior she had informed us, by way of explaining her absence from the Dojo, that she’d experienced a severe allergic reaction and that it had been triggered in minor forms a few times since then. The people she was with were also aware of this, as she’d mentioned it in passing to most of the residents she was close with. This key part of her medical history meant that the others helping her understood what was happening and knew exactly what to tell the emergency operator.

We’d toyed with the idea before of collecting emergency contacts or asking about pre-existing health conditions, but this incident hammered home the full value of having that information in a way that binders full of health and safety documentation could not. But health and safety doesn’t live in binders; it lives in these moments when the unexpected happens.

Thus I present to you… the somewhat awkwardly-worded 

Five Tips for Effectively Managing Health and Safety in a Coworking Space!

1. Give your residents the opportunity to provide information about their health, and also emergency contact details. This is particularly relevant for members of your community who may not have any family in your city. Don’t make it mandatory and explain this information will be kept for emergency use only. But if someone has a seizure and you don’t know they’re epileptic / goes into anaphylactic shock and you don’t know about their peanut allergy / whatever, you’re slowing down the response time. 

2. No, this doesn’t mean you’re taking on the role of employer. Or parent. As demonstrated in the scenario above, our community is well prepared to step up - so having someone on site who’s armed with pertinent information about pre-existing conditions fits naturally within the BizDojo’s framework of support. 

3. Identify who in your space has First Aid experience. We didn’t know that one of our residents was a St.-John’s-trained first responder until the incident above, and we’re now in the process of identifying residents with First Aid training by marking their photo on our kitchen facewall with a little red cross so that the whole community knows who their resources are in an emergency. 

4. Don’t assume that ‘common sense’ will be enough in the moment. When sh*t hits the fan, it’s amazing how quickly most of us dumb down. Giving people a template of what to do in an emergency does actually work! Even if not every single detail of your health and safety plan is remembered, the broad strokes will be there to guide your staff and residents in the right direction. 

5. You may not always be needed in a particular emergency. Just because you may be the boss, the Community Manager, or the one who wrote the health and safety plan doesn’t mean you’re automatically the best person to help in the moment. In the case above, I knew that someone had called 111, I knew our resident was surrounded by people she had solid personal relationships with outside of work, and I checked in with those people to make sure they felt comfortable staying with her and walking through the process with the paramedics. I decided that I did not need to be there to add to the clutter or number of voices. My job from that moment on became running interference with other passers-by, assuring them that the situation was under control and that nobody needed to ogle. 

And, for the record, our resident with the allergic reaction? A few other residents covered shifts at the hospital and then brought her home. And she’s doing just fine. 

Sarin Moddle is the BizDojo Community Manager for Auckland. Follow her on Twitter.