Crisis Management

Ebola Sends Employers Wake-Up Call

The threat of Ebola is a good time for employers to revisit emergency strategies for their mobile workforce.
By: | October 13, 2014 • 4 min read

Finally, it happened. The United State is experiencing its first cases of Ebola. A Liberian national living in Dallas died after being diagnosed with the virus, and now two of his treating nurses have now come down with the disease.

While the nation’s Ebola threat remains relatively minor right now, that’s hardly the case, of course, in the West African countries of Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

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With the media reports as a backdrop, experts stress that recent Ebola media coverage on domestic shores is the perfect lynchpin for employers to review their emergency contingency plans already in place and update them, if necessary.

“The Ebola virus in Africa and the chikungunya virus in the Caribbean both demonstrate the need for employers and their employees to think about personal safety while traveling outside the United States,” said Dominick Zenzola, vice president and employee benefits manager for Chubb Accident & Health in Chicago.

“Employers have a duty of care to their employees who travel. Some prudent companies even have relocated business meetings and events to alternative destinations.” — Dominick Zenzola, vice president and employee benefits manager for Chubb Accident & Health

“Employers have a duty of care to their employees who travel. Some prudent companies even have relocated business meetings and events to alternative destinations,” he said.

Chicago-based Ed Hannibal, global leader of Mercer’s Mobility Practice, said that as more and more companies push deeper into global markets, safety and emergency planning for mobile employees has become an even more serious issue — from the executive on a single business trip to someone who locates to a country on a permanent basis.

Hannibal said employers should ensure their people systems are “linked up,” so they know where their employees are at all times, and where they have been or may be going.

Robert Quigley, U.S. medical director and senior vice president of medical assistance for International SOS, a Trevose, Pa.-based global medical and travel security risk services company, said employers have a “duty of care” to all their employees, but especially those who may need to work in high-risk countries or regions.

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“The recent unfortunate Ebola outbreak should serve as a wake-up call for employers, to ensure they are doing the right thing,” Quigley said.

“Companies are reaching out to us, wondering if they are doing enough, or what is the benchmark in their industry segment. We have more than 10,000 clients, and many have a footprint in West Africa.”

Quigley also said it may be surprising that the companies with business in West Africa represent a wide spectrum of industry segments.

“Many of them want to know what everyone is doing in their segment, or what is [a] best practice for their industry,” he said.  “One of our jobs is to help educate them, but depending on the sector, they will have a different risk tolerance.”

For example, a nongovernmental organization would have higher risk tolerance because their work typically takes them into some of the world’s most dangerous places.

Different clients have decisions to make, but the one thing they can’t do is make them on the fly, Quigley said.

Many plans, he added, are still based on the last pandemic with influenza, so it makes sense for employers to take a look at their current plan. For others who may not have any solution, they need to have something in place even if it’s somewhat generic and can be customized to meet special situations like Ebola.

“It’s not a decision to be made on the run and it must involve many levels of decision makers, from the C-suite down,” he said. “It requires systemic ownership and involvement.” — Robert Quigley, U.S. medical director and senior vice president of medical assistance, International SOS

“It’s not a decision to be made on the run and it must involve many levels of decision makers, from the C-suite down,” he said. “It requires systemic ownership and involvement.

“Having a pandemic plan on the shelf is not good [enough],” Quigley said, adding that employers should create a specific task force responsible for making sure such protocols and procedures are constantly updated.

Quigley compares the situation to company fire drills, which most employers conduct two or three times a year.

“You don’t want to [have to] invent protocol when there actually is a fire,” he said. “Call it whatever you want, but it needs to be planned and rehearsed. Having an updated plan is also a good morale builder, because it lets those employees know they mean something to the company because it is being proactive and taking measures to protect them.”

Mercer’s Hannibal emphasizes the importance of communications. He said plans must be very clear when sending employees out around the globe, noting that different locations will mean different levels of communication.

“For example, they should know that Ebola is not an easy virus to contract; they need to make sure they have briefed employees about the specifics for any potential risk,” he said.

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At a basic level, Chubb’s Zenzola said, employers need to remind global travelers to check the list of travel alerts and warnings from the U.S. Department of State — which now includes Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Thailand, Egypt and Mexico — and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they book their trips and pack their bags.

“Right now, Ebola is the flavor of the month, but before it there was Mad Cow, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), bird flu, West Nile. There will always be something,” said SOS’ Quigley.

“The Ebola outbreak must remind employers to ensure they have updated, effective emergency procedures and protocols in place.”

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]