Former Chief Scientist Officer

Martin Lloyd Sanders | Bring Your Child to Work Day….Perils and Pitfalls

Martin Lloyd Sanders | Bring Your Child to Work Day….Perils and Pitfalls

Bring Your Child to Work Day – Martin Lloyd Sanders

Having just wrapped up my umpteenth Bring Your Child to Work Day (BYCWD), I am happy to report there were no disasters, injuries, crimes, fires, and there was a minimum of crying.

Having spent a majority of my career overseeing safety in technical institutions, BYCWD always represented both a wonderful opportunity to promote science and technology and an opportunity for horrible disasters.  Most organizations have a handle on activities for BYCWD, but my experience has shown me there are many areas for improvement in awareness, planning, and implementation of safety and security concerns.

The key to a successful event, as always, is the quality of your pre-event planning.  Not only should enough time be set aside for planning, but the composition of the planning teams needs to be very inclusive.  It may take the combined efforts of legal affairs, human resources, labor relations, safety and security, senior leadership, at others to ensure a smooth running and safe operation.  My experience tells me this level of planning is rare, and as always many events are successfully held without it.  Where this will become critical is in the event of a mishap…have you done enough due diligence to protect not only your employees and visitors from harm, but also your organization from liability and catastrophic impact on both its finances and reputation?

Here are a few observations, anecdotes, and recommendations for those safety professionals who have input into this event:

Risk awareness:

Many organizations have a variety of work environments in their facility.  Industrial, laboratory, storage, etc. each represent unique safety challenges in normal day-to-day operations, let alone during BYCWD.  While it may seem obvious that children or other visitors should not be allowed in a motor pool area or biomedical laboratories, some folks are lulled into a false confidence based on their biases in their own work space.

For example, a Biosafety Level 1 (BSL 1) laboratory generally handles innocuous biological materials, in many cases non-infectious to people.  As a result, some professional start to equate BSL-1 with “risk-free.”  As safety professionals, we must constantly remind them that a laboratory can be filled with chemical, radiological, or flammable hazards, sharps, and other risks and still be labelled BSL-1.

While chemical or biological risks are usually obvious, there can be other sensitive areas that folks may not think about.  As an example, workshops, areas with sensitive data (more a risk of unauthorized parents seeing information they are not cleared for), patient care areas (waiting rooms etc.) that could cause exposures to potentially infectious diseases, etc.

An inclusive planning group that is encouraged to think outside the box is the best practice to identify and prioritize these risks.  This must then be followed up with an effective risk mitigation and communication plans.

Liability:

An argument can be made that best industry practices would exclude visitors of any kind into higher-risk areas such as laboratories, industrial areas, etc. Organizations must therefore be very cautious regarding larger events such as BYCWD.  The safety of the employees and guests is always the primary concern, but organizations must weigh more strategic impacts on the bottom line into their decisions making process.

In order to strike a balance many of the events I, Martin Lloyd Sanders, have been involved in limit visitors to common areas and conference rooms.  However, they also wish to engage the children and stimulate their interest in what the company and their parents do.  In order to balance concerns, some of the steps I have seen implemented include:

  • Bring the science to the children, not the children to the science. Many of our organizations create programs held in common areas for the children to watch and participate in.  This can safely allow the various workplace activities to be showcased without the concurrent risk.  While my organizations are primarily scientific, many fields of study can utilize this approach.
  • Limit access. Having individual parents bringing visitors in and around a facility can create numerous risks across a facility that could overwhelm support staff. Limit access to certain areas to scheduled group tours and ensure these pre-identified areas are shut down for safe visits.
  • Engage you legal, HR, and labor relations assets. The best laid, most well intentioned efforts can easily, and unintentionally, run afoul of labor, HR, contractual, or legal hurdles. Regardless of the intentions, it is always a best practice to seek the input of these groups into your pre-event planning.  In my experience most are very willing to support the goals of these events…their inclusion in the planning process will help avoid last minute conflicts on a variety of fronts.
  • Don’t forget your Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP). How are the employees and visitors instructed on what to do in a fire?  Having dozens of children in a facility can change and/or complicate evacuation procedures and emergency responses.  Be sure to include for OEP points of contact in the planning and adjust your plans for your event.  Also ensure that how to respond in the event of an emergency is clearly communicated to your employees and potential visitors.

The benefits of BYCWD events can be huge. Like ripples in a pond, these events can spark lifelong interest in a field of study, bring families closer together, and act to boost morale and organizational wellness.  It is up to us, as the professionals behind the scenes, to ensure appropriate risk management, safety, and planning, in order to have the best and safest event possible.

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