Planning for Worst-Case Scenarios

Panic won’t set in when a business emergency arises if you have a solid response plan you can turn to
Planning for Worst-Case Scenarios
Anja Smith

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Unless you are naturally pessimistic, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about disaster hitting your business. But the reality is that plumbing is relatively high risk and there is a lot that can go wrong: Employee injury, property damage, equipment damage, flared tempers, customer accusations and more.

Opening this Pandora’s box of risk analysis can cause some serious anxiety and sleepless nights. No wonder insurance costs so much. But whether these risks are already keeping you up at night or you were previously blissfully unaware, it is wise to consider them. Without risk assessment, you can’t create an emergency response plan.

A good emergency policy doesn’t remove the risk, but it does mean that when something happens, you can spring into action without a moment's hesitation. It means that when faced with difficult circumstances and panic, there is a solid game plan to go to that was created by an earlier, more level-headed version of your leadership team who thought about how to best protect your employees, your company, and your reputation.

Here is a list of what-if’s to get you started:

  • What if an employee gets hurt while on a service call? Depending on the type of plumbing you do and the scope of the job, that work may be solo or with a crew around. Who is going to retrieve their work vehicle if they can’t drive themselves? Who is going to finish the job if the work is incomplete? Who is going to call that employee’s emergency contact? Who is responsible for completing and filing the incident report?
  • What if an employee is acting inappropriately on a job site and needs to be removed? How would you handle it if a customer called to complain about a worker while they are working on a job site? What if that worker has a temper and is enraged? How do you plan to safely remove them from the job site, get the work completed, and protect your reputation?
  • What if a customer accuses your employee of theft or sexual harassment? How are you going to handle the conversation with that customer? What about with the employee? Will there be disciplinary action?
  • What if one of your vehicles is involved in an accident? Do your employees know what they are supposed to do? How are you going to cover the work they were on their way to do? What if the vehicle is not drivable? How are the employees going to get back to the shop?
  • What if one of your plumbers accidentally damages a customer's property? Do they know how to document the damage and discuss it with the homeowner? What is the procedure for discussing repairs with the property owner? Do you automatically file an insurance claim or do you try to resolve it on your own?

While you can’t think of every possible scenario that may happen, it is possible to recognize where your biggest areas of risk are. Depending on the type of plumbing work that you focus on and who your customers are, the above questions may change.

Who and What Should Be Considered in the Plan
Rather than trying to come up with very specific, unique scenarios, it is best to write policy that speaks in more general terms about buckets of risk.

A good policy covers the basic steps to protect and control damage of your primary areas of interest:

  • Your company
  • Your employees
  • Your customers
  • Your equipment
  • Your customers’ property

It is important to note that writing a policy for, say, a sexual harassment accusation, is not the same as distrusting your employees. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. How much you trust your plumbers is irrelevant to the question at hand. Don’t be blinded by trust and don’t be naive to the complexities of human interaction.

Don’t Just Plan, Train
Writing up emergency response policy and sticking it in a binder on the shelf is not enough. You must have your employees trained on the policy for it to be effective.

When you can confidently determine how you would ideally like these situations handled, write the reactions down in a step-by-step guide. There should be no ambiguity or confusion over what the employee should do first or how they should proceed. Pay attention to the chain-of-command and make sure that there is more than one person who is available to step in at any given point. You don’t want your entire plan to fall apart because one person is out sick or on vacation.

Once you have documented your plan and presented it in a clear and concise way, it should be drilled into your employees’ heads. They should be aware of what the proper procedure is for each emergency situation. Hopefully your steps are simple and similar enough that this isn’t a difficult task.

Done right, the beauty is that it provides your employees with a clear course of action in the event of an emergency. They know what steps to take to triage the situation, get the proper individuals involved, and mitigate further risk. Oftentimes in an emergency, the first few moments count the most. An emergency response plan means that your employees can act confidently without having to make a judgment call of their own.

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes and not all are life or death. Sometimes it is just a matter of how to handle a bad day. Consider this example:

One of your plumbers is doing a repair in an attic. They slip and accidentally place their foot on an unsupported area of the ceiling and their heel goes through. Going downstairs, they realize that the area they damaged is inside a closet and is unlikely to be noticed any time soon. What do they do?

An untrained employee, who doesn’t know how you want that handled or whether or not they will be in trouble, might be tempted to not say anything and hope no one notices. They might think it is better to wait and see if they get caught than to risk getting themselves or the company in trouble. They are probably embarrassed for making such a simple mistake and reluctant to come forward out of discomfort. With no policy in place, they have implicit permission to do what feels comfortable and ignore the situation.

On the other hand, if there is documentation and training for how to handle harm to a customer's property, the employee feels confident and secure about how to handle the situation. They aren’t panicking that they are going to lose their job or confused about how to talk to the customer. An empowered employee is a proactive one. Policy, procedure, documentation, and training are the path to successfully navigating these tough situations.

When, Not If
Any insurance broker will tell you that it is not if but when a plumbing company will see some sort of bad luck. We are in a high-risk field and water and heavy equipment are unforgiving of bad days. Just remember it is not what happens that defines you, but how you handle it. Your company's reputation, your employees’ faith in you, and your insurance premiums might all reflect how well you react to emergency situations.

Sure, sitting down to think through the worst-case scenarios might seem masochistic, scary, and sickening. But unless your head is in the sand, you are likely at least mildly concerned about these what-if’s already. This solution-focused exercise may be just the ticket to calming those late night fears and letting you rest a bit easier knowing that any situation will get handled properly.

About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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