Companies must act quickly during ‘golden hour’ after a reported incident

Businesses are being reminded to take prompt action following a reported act of wrongdoing in the workplace or a breach of company policy.

HR practitioners are being urged to review their whistleblowing procedures to ensure policies are fit for purpose and have a robust reporting and investigative process.

Safecall, a whistleblowing hotline provider to businesses and organisations around the world, has stressed the importance of positive action in the period following a reported crime or breach of company policy.

Tim Smith, director at Safecall, said: “There is a ‘golden hour’ after a reported incident or offence takes place. This is when material is abundant and readily available, along with the recall of any witnesses.

“There is a powerful case for companies and organisations to make a speedy response to a reported incident, because there is an optimum time to recover and collect data and potential evidence from the scene.

“In addition, prompt action and a professional investigative approach builds credibility in your procedures, which strengthens trust among employees. Staff should know that complaints of wrongdoing will be dealt with in an efficient, reliable, and impartial manner.”

Investigators at Safecall are former senior police officers with significant operational experience (including police, social care and HR and health professionals). Depending on the requirements, clients are allocated individuals with the appropriate skill set to match the specific nature of the work. Smith added: “Using an external provider demonstrates a commitment to impartiality and competence and helps your whistleblowing policy be even more robust.”

Dennis Shotton, a retired detective superintendent at Northumbria Police and consultant to Safecall, is responsible for providing blended classroom and online training to senior managers and practitioners within client organisations.

Much of this training has been taken and developed from best practice and 30 years of policing. This is where the ‘golden hour’ concept comes from following an incident.

“The ‘golden hour’ is a metaphor and not to be taken literally. It’s a concept to highlight the need to take immediate action following a serious allegation or wrongdoing. Material can quickly disappear so it’s important to act when a company receives a serious allegation or complaint.”

During his training courses, he explains a ‘forensic process’ needs to be developed and implemented. Several actions require an immediate response by the person initially contacted about an incident.

He explained, if a company is investigating a health and safety incident, assault, or damage to property, there is usually a scene or multiple scenes where the event took place.

Although every incident / reported case differs, the following actions are recommended:

Visit and preserve the scene to restrict access and enable the gathering of forensic evidence, which may also become part of an external agency investigation depending on the severity of the offenceDraw a sketch plan of the sceneTake photographs or video the sceneEnsure the seizure and securing of any relevant documents, computer and telecoms dataEstablish who had access at the timeSecure any incident reports, duty rosters or CCTV.

To ensure and maintain the integrity of the investigation actions the following should be considered:

Restricting staff members access to IT systemsRestricting staff members access to buildings / officesRelocating staff membersSuspending staff members.

Shotton added: “Knowing that a report will be investigated thoroughly and with expertise could encourage reports being made. If an employee feels that investigations may be conducted with a vested interest by an internal party, their confidence in the whistleblowing policy could be diminished.

“Whether the investigation is internal or external, it is vital that action is taken following a reported incident. You need to act quickly; if you don’t, you’re at risk of looking unprofessional and you potentially lose important material. You only get one chance to do this right,” he added.

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