Justin Donald Leader

Benefits Professional
  • The Illusion of Safety

    Apr 23, 2015

by Justin Leader


I wear my seat belt. I get in my car every day and habitually pull that strap across my chest and listen for that click that tells me that I am secure. If I happen to forget, there is a system in place that reminds me by incessantly beeping till I do so. This simple act raises my probability of surviving a car crash by as much as 60%. How often do we take a moment and think about this fact? A better question is, how often do we stop and think about the other safety measures we can take before we walk out that door on a daily basis? My guess is, not very often and typically my point is proven in the conversations I have with employers.

We have all gotten the call. You know that call which is unexpected. A tragedy, could it be involving a friend, loved one or perhaps it’s someone we know in our community. In our industry, typically it’s an employee or a client making that call regarding a claim. How prepared are we for when that call comes in? Perhaps it is something unexpected and horrific which has occurred. There was an accident, a medical event, loss of life, a kidnapping, civil unrest or perhaps a Black Swan event. (A Black Swan event which was termed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb states that there are events that will occur that are highly improbable and typically come as a surprise. A few that come to mind most recently would be 9/11, the Tsunami that decimated parts of Japan, the most recent outbreak of Ebola or Malaysia Flight 17 carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members which was shot down by Ukraine Separatists.)

Individuals and corporations typically state that in hindsight they could have done more to prepare for such events. In terms of litigation and the fallout that comes post incident, we find that 9 times out of 10, Employers are found guilty of not only ill-preparing their employees but also protecting them during situations when they occur. I think that the perspective of most needs to change from taking solely reactionary measures to more proactive measures regarding how they approach the protection of human capital. Most employers feel they are providing adequate resources to mitigate these risks while I see that most live under a mere illusion of safety.

I recently had a phone conversation with a corporation that has quite a bit of multinational travel and often times some pretty dangerous and violent countries. While they did have a grasp regarding what insurance and travel assistance coverages they should be offering to their employees, they did not have what I see as a common underlying issue. They had no idea where their employees were traveling to, nor what countries they were in at any given time. That to me spells trouble, especially as they also had no formal training in place to educate the employees before stepping on a plane to another country. A solid travel risk management program should at the very least contain an education and communication strategy as well as an element to track where these people are. These programs can be built organically from within, or outsourced to a qualified provider.

This raises another common misconception. Most people feel that travel outside the country possesses the greatest danger, however domestic work and travel can be just as dangerous. Think about the city in which you currently live, the place you are most familiar. For me residing in the York/Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area I have always felt and continue to feel relatively safe. Little did I know that over the past few years both of these cities were in the top 30 most violent places in the country per capita. You see it is natural for us to feel safe as we learn pretty quickly where the safe parts of town are and those which we should avoid. However, for someone not familiar with the lay of the land in our respective cities, they could end up in a pretty sticky situation should they end up on the “wrong” side of town. We can look at our internal travel risk management program in the same light. Have we become too familiar?

It would be unrealistic to think that we as brokers, consultants and employers can protect every employee from falling into danger. We can only do our absolute best from a corporate duty of care standpoint. What needs to happen is a re-evaluation of the safety measures that are currently in place as well as have the ability to be dynamic enough to expand those programs as the needs of the company and the demands of the world change. Accidents and loss of life unfortunately are going to happen. There will always be the human element that makes mistakes as well as unpredictable catastrophic events. In my role, I hope to be that buzzer that consistently reminds you to make sure the safety belt protecting your employees from harm is securely fastened. This is the best way to increase the probability of protection from financial loss, loss of reputation, potential litigation or at the very worst, loss of an irreplaceable resource; people.