Five Questions about Environmental and Occupational Health in the Context of Crisis Readiness and Response
Frank Mink, MEn, PhD is an internationally recognized toxicology crisis expert who recently joined C4CS
Dr. Frank Mink
You have had a successful career as a toxicology crisis expert. What has been your path to joining C4CS®?
After several years in research on toxic pollutants, I was asked by the first Bush Administration to help the policy staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to improve the understanding of scientific studies results and better integrate these results into rule-making for the protection of public health. I was privileged to help formulate the first human health risk assessment guidance for Superfund sites, revisions to RCRA Rules, and the Clean Water Act review as an Acting Office Director at US EPA in the 1980s. That provided me with a unique opportunity to deepen my understanding of the interface of science and regulatory policy.
Later, my experience allowed me to consult with US federal agencies including the Department of Defense (US DOD), Department of Justice (US DOJ), the Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) on these types of issues. The combination of technical skills, policy experience, regulatory history perspective, and a strong crisis communication team provides clients with a one-stop-shop for complex exposure-related risk and crisis management. A high level of the core competencies in risk assessment, crisis management, and strategic communication seamlessly integrated into a client's crisis readiness and response capabilities results in reduced or eliminated liability on all fronts. I am glad to be part of a very experienced team of experts at C4CS®.
What are a few examples of how your environmental and occupational health expertise has made a difference for companies across industries?
A large utility client was publicly criticized for elevated soil levels of certain contaminates around one of its plants. Our analysis of the data revealed that the levels were almost exclusively naturally occurring and were below levels found in most common food items. At the public meeting arranged by US EPA, the results were presented in a way that allowed members of the community and media representatives to learn more about the issue at hand and understand the context. This translated into a public health issue solved and a convincing public relations win.
In another case a series of legal actions were brought against several flavoring manufactures by production employees who were claiming multiple adverse health effects. The integration of strong scientific evidence and accurate communication of the disease process claimed and the toxicity of the chemical at question resulted in significantly reduced stakeholder pressure and favorable judgments for the companies facing hundreds of millions of dollars potential liability.
Another matter involved a large international manufacturer of agricultural products that faced backlash over new information on their products that was harmful to the company’s reputation. Diligent collaboration between crisis communications and my risk assessment work of all the underlying studies resulted in a swift recovery of corporate reputation and stock valuations.
None of these – and many more – positive outcomes would have been possible without timely and comprehensive teamwork that combined experience in risk communication and risk management, as well as crisis communication and crisis management, with profound environmental and occupational health expertise.
What are the top mistakes you see organizations make in their approaches to comprehensive crisis readiness and crisis response?
Even large multinational companies fail to recognize, assess, communicate, and ultimately effectively manage issues involving potentially hazardous biological, chemical, and radiological risk. This invariably leads to unnecessary, preventable reputation damage, regulatory pressure, unfavorable remedial options, litigation expansion, and regrettable financial loss.
A haphazard approach to risk management driven by a piecemeal selection of scientific, medical, and crisis management teams many times leads to mediocre results at best. Sadly, many management teams never realize the difference between excellence versus average crisis management leading to comfortable if not exceptional results in reducing the time, resources, and damage clients suffer due to adverse issues and events that may evolve into crippling crises.
What are the top best practices you would recommend from the toxicology crisis preparedness standpoint?
Timely evaluation, communication, and context of public health related data has always been and will remain critical to successful risk mitigation and crisis management.
Coherent, timely, and truthful responses to suspected and actual chemical, biological, and radiological releases and human exposure – for example, regarding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides, SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), etc. – by corporations, government entities, and public institutions can significantly reduce negative health consequences and billions of dollars of potential liability with coordinated responses to these complex issues.
Accurate and timely evaluation of biomedical data leads to effective assessment of risk, crisis readiness and response from the right team of in-house professionals and external experts.
What trends do you see in environmental and occupational health and how will corporate crisis readiness planning and response be impacted?
There are a lot of companies that do not integrate engagement of risk assessment, strategic communication, and issues management experts early enough in the process of risk and crisis management – or not at all. I have extensive experience in litigation support expert assignments because of delayed and uncoordinated responses to potentially hazardous releases.
Today more than ever, investors and other stakeholders are punishing clients for mismanaged crisis responses and significant legal judgments against corporate clients through negative stock market valuations, boycotts, scathing media coverage, etc. One of the companies I worked with not long ago lost more than 30% of their corporate stock value as a result of sub-par, delayed risk management and the lack of a coordinated crisis response.
Many future lawsuits, negative media coverage, and corresponding trust, reputation, and bottom-line loss will result from poor evaluation and communication of COVID-19 responses in the coming months. Employers, public health agencies, and service providers have significant potential liability as the scope of this systemic, global crisis increases. The best crisis management teams will be engaged soon by astute and forward-thinking organizations. However, far too many companies will, unfortunately, struggle for years to come in court rooms, as well as in the court of public opinion, and on the trading floor.
When Business As Usual Becomes... Unusual
In the space of just a few months, “business as usual” has become anything but the way things used to be. Pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders forced employees to work remotely and companies replaced in person meetings with video conferencing. After many weeks, face-to-face conversation aided by the precautionary use of masks is now re-entering the shop floor and corporate offices on a larger scale.
Virtually all of our clients have adapted to this new way of doing business – and so have we. The expertise clients across countries and industries have always relied on C4CS® to provide in person has successfully shifted to the internet. Indeed, the number of online meetings and webinars, as well as customized executive coaching and group training sessions our team is conducting has dramatically increased – a new reality that we believe will likely endure despite the easing of pandemic-related restrictions.
Since January, we have spoken with numerous business leaders who continually report that the crisis management and strategic communication advice and support their companies have received from us has made a significant difference. Effective employee communication
, for example, has been and continues to present a big challenge during COVID-19 – a time when communicating with employees is crucial
. Many management teams are also looking for advice on communicating with external stakeholders. “COVID-19 has resulted in an increased need for very good internal and external communication,” said a financial services VP in our COVID-19 readiness & Response survey of international business leaders, published in our last e-Newsletter issue
Companies of all sizes have found themselves facing COVID-19 without a pandemic response plan or an effective crisis management plan in place that would have enabled them to better respond to the unexpected impact, corresponding needs, and evolving challenges. One retail executive admitted in our survey “we were blindsided,” while another business leader told us his industry was “ill prepared.”
For more than two decades, we have been leaders in crisis management planning, training, testing, and response. If you are a manager who recognizes that comprehensive preparedness was a missing piece of your company’s organizational resilience and crisis readiness strategy during the pandemic, we are offering crisis management planning and response
consultation and training online, structured to focus on your organization’s specific requirements going forward.
Communicating with the media has also undergone a sea change during the coronavirus pandemic. Most reporters are now conducting interviews utilizing video-conferencing tools, and we believe this trend is here to stay. All of our media skills
, presentation skills
, and crisis communication
is available online. Additionally, our new media skills for remote interviews and other fully customizable skills building sessions will help your company’s managers to successfully develop and deliver stakeholder messages in this new interview format.
Bottom line: New ways of operating and communicating that are continually emerging during COVID-19 may very well be a permanent fixture in our post-pandemic business world. Whether you have discovered gaps in crisis readiness or communication preparedness during this time, C4CS® is ready to help your company thrive in this new world by providing consulting and training in ways that best suit you and your organization. The new normal for business as usual now resides in a virtual realm. As has always been the case, organizations either adapt or disappear.
This article was written by C4CS® Vice President Anne Linaberger and C4CS® Senior Strategist Cynthia Cavendish-Carey.
C4CS® provides crisis management and strategic communication consulting, training, and executive coaching to corporate, government, and nonprofit client partners in need of advice as they navigate COVID-19.
If you have questions for us, or should you be interested in receiving additional information and assistance, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
Food For Thought
“Our research shows that trust is very much in flux
at this moment. Some organizations are improving
their levels of trust with employees, while others
are losing ground. Organizations that are delivering
accurate, transparent communications at a reasonable
frequency that address the questions on employees’
minds will come out of this crisis ahead.
Mike Kuczkowski, CEO of Orangefiery