February 25, 2014 | rtauberman

Legal Sea Foods Turning a Tragedy into a Cause

Carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by what appears to be a fault in or failure of a flue pipe in a water heater, tragically took the life of Steve Nelson, the manager of a Legal Sea Foods restaurant at a mall in Long Island, NY last Saturday night. The Company responded quickly to the terrible news with postings on its Facebook page and a press release expressing its grief and focusing on the Legal Sea Foods family. CEO Roger Berkowitz traveled to Long Island to personally comfort staff and meet with reporters. As unfortunate as the incident is, it also showed an executive and communication team that was prepared and was on message with their response and having the CEO in the lead.

While the investigation continues, from local officials and the Federal OSHA, media reports are looking at the causes (if not potential blame) and what could have been done to prevent such an incident. The Town of Huntington, where the restaurant was located, has already issued a summons to Legal Sea Foods for defective equipment and the Mall owners have been quick to point out that the Mall was outfitted with carbon monoxide detectors. The Legal Sea Foods did not have a carbon monoxide detector but there are no local regulations requiring them in commercial properties.

Legal Sea Foods and Mr. Berkowitz issued a strongly worded statement on Sunday which led with a condemnation of the regulatory requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in commercial spaces, (surprisingly prior to his expressions of sympathy for the family of Mr. Nelson, praise of the manager and concerns for fellow associates). While one might quibble with the ordering of those paragraphs, Legal Sea Foods has admirably taken a very public stance on the need for carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings with Mr. Berkowitz vowing to be at the forefront or an effort to get stronger safety measure put in place.

From a crisis communications perspective, Legal Sea Foods did much right in getting out quickly in traditional and social media with messages of care and concern. Mr. Berkowitz also was very public in instructing his operations team to conduct an exhaustive safety check at all restaurants to ensure that they not just meet but exceed local codes. While the CEO’s calling out the Town of Huntington for lax building codes could raise tensions as the investigation continues and Legal Sea Foods faces a town summons (if not additional legal action from a number of parties), the action is a strong stake in the ground that will raise the public debate on building safety and likely spur new regulation/code requirements in Long Island and across the country.

In the end, this tragedy, like most crises has shown the brand essence of the company impacted and Legal Sea Foods is further using the incident to champion the cause of building worker safety, a noble effort. It also highlights the importance of having and executing well on a crisis communications plan with the right spokesman and the right message.

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Posted by rtauberman at 10:17 am | Tagged | Comment (0)

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