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Category Health and Safety
Type Policy
Approved by Vice-Chancellor
Date Policy Took Effect 25 March 2019
Last approved revision 
Sponsor Director, Human Resources
Responsible officer Director, Health, Safety and Wellbeing


To provide a framework for delivering a timely, compassionate and coordinated response to critical incidents that pertain to staff at the University of Otago.

Organisational scope



Staff Critical Incident
A traumatic event which causes serious distress or harm to a staff member.
Staff Critical Incident Response Team
A team of specialist and trained University staff who are the point of contact and oversee a Staff Critical Incident.
Lead Staff Members
PVC/DVC, HOD, HOS, Dean, Manager, College Master, the most appropriate line manager to lead the response within the department or division.


1. General Principles

  1. A Staff Critical Incident is a traumatic event which causes serious distress or harm to a staff member or members at the University, whether:
    1. directly as being the immediate victim(s) of a traumatic event, medical event or event impacting a student or student group (e.g. staff or student death or serious injury),
    2. indirectly, through staff being affected by, but not directly involved in, a traumatic event (e.g. natural disasters, death of a staff member, threat to staff or students).
  2. Where a traumatic event occurs which has impacted on staff, or has the potential to impact upon staff, a determination shall be made as to whether the event is a Staff Critical Incident requiring the response of the team based on:
    1. whether any staff members are directly involved in the traumatic event and to what degree – whether the event has occurred in the context of the University (i.e. in relation to the operations of the University or activities associated with the University such as field trips or events)
    2. Status of Permit to Work
    3. the number of staff indirectly affected by the event
    4. the extent of potential distress for staff indirectly affected by the event, and
    5. the extent of the potential impact on the students and/or staff in the area.
  3. The death of a current staff member whether due to a medical event or the serious injury of a staff member in a University context, shall be considered a Staff Critical Incident.
  4. The University shall seek to respond to a Staff Critical Incident in a coordinated and appropriate manner, taking into account the nature of the incident and the needs of the staff, students, their families, and the University. It is acknowledged that the level of University involvement may vary depending on the circumstances of the incident in question.
  5. Staff Critical Incidents will be managed by the chair of the Staff Critical Incident Response team, who shall convene the Team as required.
  6. Staff may consult with the Chair on any matter arising from a Staff Critical Incident, and must refer any request to disclose personal information to the Chair.
  7. If Worksafe NZ or the Police are involved as part of the incident, injury, death or event, the contact person is the Chair.  In consultation with the Staff Critical Incident Team and/or other staff as relevant, the chair will advise on an appropriate course of action taking into account the principles stated in clauses 1(c) and 1(g).
  8. A significant event on campus may lead the Vice-Chancellor to declare a 'State of Campus Emergency', which invokes the University's Emergency Management Plan. In such cases the provisions of the Emergency Management Plan shall take precedence over the provisions in this Policy; however, the Staff Critical Incident and Student Critical Incident provisions may still be applied as appropriate.
  9. Staff information will be disclosed only in accordance with the Privacy Act 2020, the Health Information Privacy Code and the Privacy Policy.
  10. Members of the Staff Critical Incident Response team shall receive appropriate training to manage and respond to incidents.
  11. The Staff Critical Incident Response Team shall normally comprise:
    1. The Director, Human Resources (Chair)
    2. The Divisional HR Manager for the relevant department/division
    3. The PVC/Dean/Manager/Director/Head of College as appropriate (lead staff member[s])
    4. A member of the occupational health team
    5. the Head of Communications
    6. the Proctor, if applicable.
  12. Other relevant staff may be co-opted onto the Team as required based on the specific circumstances of any particular Staff Critical Incident, such as:
    1. the nature of the Staff Critical Incident (senior management representation may be appropriate for very significant and/or wide-reaching incidents)
    2. the impacted student and staff groups
    3. the relationship of the staff member to impacted groups they may be working with, and/or
    4. any distress a potential Lead Staff Member may be experiencing as a result of the incident which may impact on their ability to act in this role.

2. Notification of a Staff Critical Incident to the University

  1. Potential critical incidents should be reported to the Director, Human Resources, who shall verify that the event in question has taken place (with input from the Proctor if required). If the event is considered a significant event which must be reported to Worksafe NZ , Maritime NZ or Public Health South, the Chair shall ensure the notifications are made by the relevant party.
  2. On determining that an event is to be considered a Staff Critical Incident, the Chair shall:
    1. contact relevant staff and authorities to advise them of the incident, including the members of the Staff Critical Incident Response Team and other key staff as appropriate to the incident and staff in question,
    2. convene the Staff Critical Incident Response Team, and
    3. following any appropriate consultation, contact and enlist further Lead Staff Member(s) as required.
  3. All stages of notification of a Staff Critical Incident shall be carried out in a timely fashion with respect to the specific circumstances of the incident in question; in some cases this will mean communications should be carried out with urgency.

3. University Response to a Staff Critical Incident

  1. The Chair and/or the Staff Critical Incident Response Team shall decide on, coordinate and direct the response to a Staff Critical Incident.
  2. Response activities will vary depending on the nature of the Critical Incident, but may include:
    1. communication with the wider University community (staff and/or students) on the incident
    2. an appropriate Lead Staff Member meeting or otherwise communicating with the staff member and/or their family
    3. appropriate Lead Staff Member(s) meeting or otherwise communicating with relevant staff to ensure they are supported in case of a critical incident and are aware of the support they can offer to affected parties
    4. an appropriate Lead Staff Member meeting or otherwise communicating with those closest to an injured or deceased staff, such as colleagues, students and/or family, and/or
    5. the planning of acknowledgement activities (e.g. the sending of flowers, memorials).
  3. Communications with affected groups may include, as appropriate:
    1. factual information about the Staff Critical Incident including update information to staff and students where a Staff Critical Incident is ongoing (care should be taken to ensure the veracity of any information communicated and that the privacy of those involved is not breached)
    2. information on support services available to staff and students
    3. advice to staff and students on the appropriate use of social media to prevent increased distress to the friends and family of an injured or deceased staff member, and/or the spread of rumours,
    4. the conveying of condolences and sympathy to affected parties, and/or
    5. information on and/or invitation to participate in planned acknowledgement activities.
  4. Staff are encouraged to be available to staff and students who may be distressed following a Staff Critical Incident, subject to staff managing their own emotional wellbeing. However, staff should also be aware of professional support services available for staff.
  5. It may be appropriate to complete additional tasks some weeks or months after a Staff Critical Incident, for example a memorial service as per the University's Campus Memorial Policy.
  6. A review shall be carried out by the Chair, with involved staff, following all Staff Critical Incidents which require the convening of the Staff Critical Incident Response Team. Any issues identified or recommendations for improvements shall be noted.

4. Sources of Support

  1. The Chaplains can assist with pastoral and spiritual support, with the arrangement of memorial services, and with the provision of resources on death and grieving.
  2. The Occupational Health Team
  3. The Employee Assistance Programme can provide counselling support for staff following a Staff Critical Incident.
  4. The Office of Māori Development is available to advise and assist with a blessing if appropriate.

5. Persons Responsible

  1. The Director, Human Resources is responsible for:
    1. in consultation with the relevant Department, the Proctor, and Health, Safety and Wellbeing, determining if an event is to be considered a Staff Critical Incident on all University of Otago campuses
    2. maintaining a Staff Critical Incident Contact List of University staff to be advised in the event of a Staff Critical Incident
    3. ensuring that relevant parties are made aware of a Staff Critical Incident in a timely fashion, subject to privacy and confidentiality restrictions, and
    4. the overall management and coordination of activities related to a Staff Critical Incident, including the appointment of a deputy Chair, Staff Critical Incident Response Team.
  2. The Staff Critical Incident Response Team, which may meet or otherwise liaise at the request of the chair, is responsible for assisting the relevant parties in the planning and carrying out of tasks required in relation to a Staff Critical Incident.
  3. The Director of Communications is responsible for co-ordinating external communications with the media for Staff Critical Incidents on all campuses, and supporting departments as requested to deal with media communications and requests.

Related policies, procedures and forms

Contact for further information

If you have any queries regarding the content of this policy or need further clarification, contact

Director, Health, Safety and Wellbeing

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