Responding correctly to a guest’s death (natural causes) at an establishment
This is a topic and circumstance we all hope we won’t have to discuss and deal with. However, monitoring the many SATIB24 Crisis Calls and claims made over the festive/ high season alone, has made us feel it will be worthwhile for our clients to know the correct protocol to follow, should the situation ever arise.
It is not a pleasant scenario when a guest is found dead, but it is a situation that requires immediate action, tact, and most importantly, discretion. Knowing the appropriate steps to take ahead of time can make dealing with this easier and enable the manager/ owner and staff to return to some semblance of normality quicker.
The first port of call in the case of a suspected natural death (e.g. Heart Attack), is to notify the local police and coroner.
Deaths from natural causes, or illness, that occur on the premises are typically easier to handle in that they don’t warrant intensive investigation by civil authorities. However, it is imperative to remember that it is not your responsibility to determine the cause or nature of a guest’s death; leave that to the police and coroner.
Responsibility of the staff
The responsibility in this situation is straightforward. Whether it is a housekeeper, security staff, or manager/ owner who discovers a potentially deceased victim, the first responsibility must always be to check the body to determine that the guest is dead and not asleep, suffering a stroke, heart attack, or has lapsed into a state of unconsciousness. Tap the guest on the shoulder and check for a pulse and listen for breathing. If there are no signs of life, notify the switchboard/ front desk/ manager/ owner using a land-line telephone or cell phone. ONLY use a two-way radio if the land-line or cell phone is not working or more than 2 minutes’ walk from the scene, as news of the death will be broadcast over the communications network.
If no definitive signs of death can be found it must be treated as an EMERGENCY, the employee should start CPR as soon as possible, the First Aid team needs to be activated to assist with resuscitation efforts whilst the police, any security staff and SATIB24 are notified. SATIB24 will activate the required emergency medical services and speak to the first responder to guide them through CPR if appropriate.
If it appears that the guest has been expired for a considerable time and revival is impossible, staff must not remain in the guestroom or area, it must be locked and secured to preserve the area and secure the deceased’s valuables. It is critical that no single employee be left alone in the area where the death occurred. Once Management arrives, the employee who discovered the body should explain how and when they found the body, what steps they undertook to ascertain the guest was no longer alive, anything else they noticed, and what items in the guestroom or general area they touched. Have a manager escort the employee to a secure location and wait with them to gather their composure and await questioning by police. Have a member of staff available to meet responding police and escort them to the location of the guest’s body. No employee/ manager/ owner should re-enter the guestroom or area of the body until the police arrive, unless there is an unattended baby or child in the room.
If possible, have staff secure an elevator/ set of stairs/ entrance for exclusive use by police and the coroner. Police and staff should inventory all personal items of the deceased. If the authorities remove the deceased’s property, request a receipt for all items removed. This will protect the establishment from potential theft claims levied by the deceased’s next of kin. If the police or coroner does not remove the guest’s personal property, it is the staff’s responsibility to do so and safeguard it. Do not remove the deceased’s property until the police or coroner approve. Once approval is granted, safeguard the deceased’s property until it can be returned to a person authorized by the next of kin. Items of high value should be placed in a safe or safe deposit box. To avoid incurring any liability, have the property signed for when handing it over.
Once the on scene investigations are completed, the coroner will either have the body moved to a mortuary, or release the body to the family.