Rest in Peace

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner contacted me the other day seeking advice related to the worst possible news:  An employee died on the job.   For the sake of brevity, the employee, despite being coached on two separate occasions by two different management team members was once again riding a 60-inch mower up a slope, an unsafe process, which led the front wheels of the mower to lose contact with the turf, shifting the mower’s center of gravity, resulting in the mower flipping over and crushing the employee instantly since the employee did not have the roll bar in the upright, safe position.

The all too often question was then asked:   “What do I do now, Steve?”

While many of the details of this tragedy are well beyond the scope of this posting, I want to share three key categories of advice I offered as a response to the owner’s plea.

  • Communication.  I worked with the business owner to develop a comprehensive, timely, and sensitive communication plan.   The targets of the communication plan included:  all company employees, legal counsel, the employee’s family, OSHA, the owner of the job site at which the incident occurred, the media, and an external safety consultant.

While the communication content was designed to be factual and sincere, it was also conducted in a sensitive matter dictated by the audience (i.e., the family heard more details than the media).  True to form, the owner presented the news to all employees with appropriate sentiment, dignity, and professionalism, allowing employees to express their emotions, answering their questions, and giving them a day off with pay to process the horrendous event.  A great job, by a true leader.  Not to be excluded in this posting, the decedent’s family, though mortified, was visibly pleased with the compassion conveyed by the owner and the entire company. 

  • Preparation:  At the risk of sounding detached and callous, I had to advise the owner to prepare for the imminent OSHA investigation.  Key topics of preparation for the OSHA visit included:  OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 Forms for the past five years, all Safety Data Sheets, all safety training records and tailgate sign-in sheets, training program content, preventative maintenance documentation on all vehicles, tools, and equipment, Lockout/Tagout documentation, as well as all internal/external safety audits of the yard, shop, and job sites.

I explained to the owner that for the purpose at hand, OSHA will only have one focus:  Liability.  That liability typically falls onto one of three entities:  the manufacturer (e.g., equipment, vehicle, or tool), the business owner, or the employee.  Due to the owner’s strong commitment to an ingrained safety culture, the company had its documentation well prepared.

  • Prevention.   Looking forward, we also had to design a proactive system to prevent any possible reoccurrence of this safety tragedy as well as other potential safety disasters.  This program included getting several employees to become OSHA 10-hour certified, instilling safety compliance through immediate performance management, mentioning the decedent’s name over time (e.g., signs, payroll stuffers, at safety tailgate sessions) as a reminder of how important safety, life, and people are, and increasing the role of safety procedures throughout the organization.

Rest in Peace

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.