GOOD NEIGHBOR GUIDE: How to harmonize your industrial activities with the environment and communities

5. Neighborhood tensions: scenarios and treatment of specific cases

The CPEQ Good Neighbor Guide is primarily a prevention tool, aimed at fostering harmony between companies and their neighboring communities. Despite the preventive measures a company has put in place, neighborhood tensions can still arise.

Although they may result from accidental or unforeseeable circumstances, neighborhood tensions always generate high anxiety, especially for people who have never been exposed to such a situation. The way the company deals with these tensions will have a determining influence on its future. 

This section of the Good Neighbor Guide discusses various scenarios likely to arise in the presence of neighborhood tensions. These scenarios are distinguished from the complaint resolution problem presented earlier in this Guide. 

First of all, it is important to produce a document that will allow neighborhood tensions to be properly managed. It is also important to react quickly, by knowing how to recognize the errors committed and by adopting the appropriate measures to take the required corrective actions. A clear response for the public must also be prepared even while the situation is being dealt with. Finally, the company will have to ensure that it minimizes the internal and external impacts.

There is no one way of resolving neighborhood tensions, but the guidelines proposed by the CPEQ in the previous sections will make it easier to get through these difficult stages. In all cases, however, a quick reaction is preferable to a slow and passive one, which could lead to a higher degree of public dissatisfaction.

Examples of specific cases of neighborhood tensions

The following list presents some examples of specific cases likely to generate neighborhood tensions. Each case is analyzed in the following pages:

  • Residents are dissatisfied with neighborhood disturbances they suffer on a regular basis;
  • Residents are hypersensitive and dissatisfied with the neighborhood disturbances they suffer;
  • Residents are dissatisfied after an incident;
  • Residents are averse to the company’s presence in their neighborhood;
  • Non-residents are averse to the company’s presence in the region.

5.1 Residents Dissatisfied with the Neighborhood Disturbances they Suffer on a Regular Basis

Gathering the facts:
  • Meet the residents to better understand the issue in question;
  • Assess the property damage suffered by the residents.
Analyzing the situation:
  • Call a meeting of the Executive Committee to identify the source internally, evaluate the possibility of reducing and, if possible, eliminating the source, discuss the issue raised by the residents, the damages suffered and how to compensate the residents, if applicable;
  • Gather the teams and the subcontractors involved to make them aware of the need to reduce or eliminate the source of the nuisance;
  • If the cause of the residents’ dissatisfaction is due to negligence, meet the employees involved;
  • If the cause of dissatisfaction is instead the result of the process, develop a scenario to find a solution that would make it possible to solve the problem and prevent it from recurring.
Communicating the solution:
  • Present to the residents the nuisances resulting from the company’s activities, the list of actions taken and, more specifically, the improvements made to the process; 
  • Inform the residents about the applicable compensation procedure, as the case may be;
  • Meet the residents to inform them about the chosen scenario and indicate when the next follow-up will take place;
  • Obtain the employees’ comments and emphasize the increased role they must play as ambassadors to the neighborhood;
  • Obtain assistance from the municipality and other stakeholders, if applicable.
Post mortem:
  • Once the corrective scenario is put in place, meet the residents to obtain their comments on the improvements obtained, if applicable;
  • If a solution has not been found, assess the degree of tolerance of the residents in question and, if applicable, ask for the stakeholders’ assistance in obtaining a delay that will allow modification of the process to solve the problem permanently; 
  • Focus on the partnerships and relationships created in the community; the company’s involvement in its community will be useful at this stage.

5.2 Hypersensitive Residents Dissatisfied with the Neighborhood Disturbances they Suffer

  • Hypersensitive individuals have extreme sensitivity and only represent a very small percentage of the population. For example, some people (less than 1% of the population) can detect certain odorous substances at a concentration of 100 to 1000 times below the average. A hypersensitive person may thus complain of an odor when it normally would be acceptable or undetectable for the general public. 
Gathering the facts:
  • In a case of hypersensitivity, the number of complainants should be extremely limited. Furthermore, it will be appropriate to meet these residents to assess their level of hypersensitivity and the situations that pose a problem. 
Analyzing the situation: 
  • The analysis will include an assessment of the specific cases to determine whether or not there is a solution that could improve the individual’s well-being. The complaint resolution approach is the same as the one applicable in Scenario 1; 
  • Usually, when a group of residents complains about a repetitive nuisance, the cause should be easy to identify. However, for hypersensitive individuals, a meeting is necessary and special attention should be paid to understand the problem they are experiencing. It is also important to determine whether the solutions identified for the general public are satisfactory. In the affirmative, it will be appropriate to evaluate how they should be adapted. In the negative, the limits of the solution or the absence of economically viable solutions should be explained ; 
  • On the other hand, for hypersensitive people, it is often beneficial to the company to agree to an acceptable solution directly with the individuals concerned.

5.3 Residents Dissatisfied After an Incident

The incidents likely to occur in a company are generally covered by the emergency response plan. In this case, the procedure dictated by the emergency response plan should be followed. However, since an emergency response plan cannot anticipate all possible scenarios, here is the way to deal with this type of situation with the public.

Gathering the facts:
  • Assess the damages caused.
Analyzing the situation:
  • Identify the risk management measures to be taken to protect employee safety and the environment;
  • Establish a crisis unit, if applicable;
  • Meet the company’s legal advisors to assess the risk of lawsuits;
  • In the affirmative, meet the company’s public relations advisors to ensure uniform messages;
  • If the incident is attributable to negligence, meet the employees involved;
  • If the incident results from the process, develop a scenario to solve the problem.
Communicating the solution:
  • Alert all the stakeholders identified in the emergency response plan, if applicable;
  • Notify the government authorities;
  • Call a meeting of all employees and subcontractors to convey a uniform message;
  • Call the local media and, if necessary, the national media, to convey a uniform message;
  • Hold a public meeting and add the relevant information onto the corporate website for the public and the media;
  • Inform the public about the applicable compensation procedure, as the case may be;
  • Meet the residents to inform them about the chosen scenario and indicate when the next follow-up will take place.
Post mortem:
  • Write an incident report to determine the source of the incident and forward this report to the government authorities to whom the company is legally obliged to send it; 
  • Once the corrective scenario is put in place, meet the residents to collect their comments on the improvements obtained, if applicable; 
  • If a solution has not been found, assess the degree of tolerance of the residents in question and, if applicable, ask for the stakeholders’ help in obtaining a delay that will allow modification of the process to solve the problem permanently.

5.4 Residents Averse to the Company’s Presence in the Neighborhood

Analysis of the situation:
  • These residents are treated in the same way as the residents dissatisfied with the neighborhood disturbances they suffer on a regular basis. However, it is clear that the stakeholders and the employees will have to be more involved in dealing with this category of individual. This group’s degree of tolerance will also be very limited, and any additional delay in implementing a permanent solution to solve the problem will be poorly perceived and poorly received by this group.

5.5 Non-Residents Averse to the Company’s Presence in the Region

In such a situation, the CPEQ believes it is important to limit the debate to the local level. The company has nothing to gain in nationalizing such an issue, because it is the local residents who are affected and not the residents of the entire province. The local residents’ issues may be different from those of other regions in Quebec.

Gathering the facts:
  • Whenever possible, individual and/or public meetings should give the individuals the opportunity to establish the nature of their complaints and distinguish a local problem from a regional or even global problem. Knowing the complainants can make it easier to see the difference.
Analyzing the situation:
  • In the case of individuals who do not live in the company’s zone of influence, the solutions will be very different and a more regional (or even national) analysis may be appropriate. 
Communicating the solution:
  • A company should explain the issues to the public and the local authorities, and even resort to the media to clarify the situation; 
  • In this specific case, the company’s involvement in the community will help gain more support from the local communities; 
  • Since the applicable solutions are very different, the company will have to show the extent of its contribution to the reduction of a more regional (or even global) issue, and refer these individuals to the responsible regional entity.

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