The Ebola Epidemic is a Reminder to Take Workplace Safety Seriously

One of the benefits of working as an employee benefit professional in a small to mid-size company is that your job duties are broad. In addition to administering health and retirement plans, a benefits pro may manage the workers' compensation, safety and security programs. In larger organizations multiple individuals in multiple departments such as human resources, risk management and security perform these tasks.

If you are a benefits pro who assumes risk management duties such as safety and security, you need a whole other skill set from your basic health insurance and retirement plans. These skills include but are not limited to:
  • Handling workplace emergencies
  • Identifying and removing hazards
  • First aid
  • Facility inspections, and
  • Safety procedures
You also need to know what is going on in the wider community and in the world and how it may impact your workplace. For example, the flu pandemic (swine flu) of 2009 meant that employers had to do more than offer their standard workplace flu shot programs. Employee benefit professionals responsible for health and safety had to educate workers about the pandemic and provide information and guidance on how to stay healthy.

There are several similarities between the last flu pandemic and the current Ebola epidemic. And you cannot help but wonder about the risk and safety training and information the nurses and intake staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital-Dallas received. Through their union representatives the nurses at Texas Health-Dallas claimed they had inadequate training and equipment and that there were no pre-established protocols for handling patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Hospital management denies claims of inadequate training.

So who is telling the truth about the state of risk and safety management at Texas Health-Dallas? Probably, no one.

Texas Health-Dallas, like most large organizations has a safety program and likely provides mandatory training that is job specific and universal. Employees likely view the training as something that they have to do versus something that is important to know. Few workers think that they will encounter a major safety issue at work. Or they assume that if an issue comes up, their knowledge and experience will kick in and they will know what to do. This is what likely happened at Texas Health-Dallas. Unfortunately for the entire organization, the price they will pay for being at the epicenter of one of the worse workplace risk and safety failures in modern times is a huge dent to their reputation. Not to mention a person died because the effectiveness of their risk management procedures is not anywhere near where it needs to be.


Benefit professionals responsible for risk and safety management need to provide continuous and timely training on safety issues. It is not enough to know the common hazards of the workplace and address only those issues. Risk managers must also be aware of the hazards in the larger community that can impact the workplace. In addition, risk managers must also address resistance employees may have to risk and safety training and following safety procedures.
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