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The Beirut blast: a warning to employers


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In August 2020 an explosion, caused by 2 750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, decimated the Port of Beirut. Damage to the city ran into billions of dollars, of which only a fraction was insured.


                        The aftermath of the Beirut port explosion.

The aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. (Image: UN Women Arab States)


By Claudia Lemon
Head of Underwriting & Operations, Hollard Insure Accident & Health

More than 2-million people living in the Lebanon capital, Beirut, survived one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions mankind has ever experienced. The entire world, already grappling with the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic – reeled at the news. Two hundred people died, 7 000 were injured and 300 000 were left homeless.

Amid a serious economic and political crisis, little relief was immediately available not only to the injured, their families, dependants of the deceased, and their employers. People were forced to turn to their employers to access emergency funds for medical treatment.

The 4 000 victims needing immediate emergency medical care suffered from severe burns, complex fractures and amputations, as well as thousands of major and minor injuries caused by shattered glass.

This tragic event, while comparatively rare in terms of its scale, is not unique. There have been many such accidental explosions over the years, the 2015 blast in the Port of Tianjin, China , being one of them.

Beirut has, like Tianjin, underlines issues around the accumulation of goods in ports. The ammonium nitrate in this case had languished in a warehouse for six years. Organisations should therefore be poised to respond, irrespective of whether the event is catastrophic or involves a single employee. It has also highlighted the value of Accident & Health (A&H) insurance to businesses when their employees are faced with a severe crisis.

For organisations that have personal accident programmes in place, funds for medical expenses, loss of income, disability and death would be made available to alleviate the financial burden a catastrophe such as this would place on the employer, its employees and their family members.

In the aftermath of such a terrible event, there are invariably lessons to be learned from an insurance perspective. For businesses to ensure they are prepared and protected in case of such an event or other catastrophic loss, here are a few key factors to look at when considering A&H.

The fine print

Despite speculation as to whether the Beirut explosion was an act of war, an act of terrorism or simply a tragic accident, a specialist A&H insurer will offer the widest possible cover.

Cover and benefits

While personal accident cover is primarily seen as insurance for the benefit of the employee, it also caters to the financial protection of the employer, which is often impacted by the loss of or injury to its employee. Elements such as rehabilitation benefits and replacement-of-staff benefits are designed to ensure minimal financial impact on the employer, allowing the organisation to continue functioning.

Bespoke solutions

A personal accident programme is designed to help businesses prepare for various scenarios and react more effectively during an employee-related crisis. Personal accident programmes can complement or dovetail with other related employee programmes such as group life assurance, pension and provident funds, to ensure minimal gaps in cover to the employee, plus ensuring an array of benefits to the employer.

Appetite for risk

From first responders, such as the Beirut fire and emergency personnel to office-bound employees, a specialist A&H insurer will work with the broker in formulating a programme that includes all occupational activities, and delivers a product that offers relevant and meaningful cover to both employee and employer.

The most valuable asset to any organisation is its people. Ensuring that they are properly supported in times of crisis – be it following a huge disaster such as the Beirut blast, or simply a road accident – can be the difference between surviving and closing up shop.


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