When staff fall ill you'll need cover, but who'll cover the cost? Colin Toppin looks at the many benefits of accident and health insurance

Your clients own a small company and are in the process of bidding for a deal that will secure the future of the business. The person charged with delivering the proposal suffers an accident and is signed off work for two weeks just days before the presentation and there is no replacement. What do they do?

Many businesses think that sustaining an injury in an accident tends to happen in exceptional circumstances. This couldn't be further from the truth. Accidents can happen at any time to anyone regardless of the business size or activity and, while it's impossible to prevent them from happening, the financial impact on the business can be reduced with some careful planning.

Ask any company director what the most valuable asset to his business is and the likely answer will be the employees. However, while many recognise this, how many actually factor in the effect on the business if just one employee becomes injured at work or at home?

Last year, 35 million working days were lost due to workplace injuries and ill health, costing employers in the region of £7.8bn. However, the cost of hiring temporary staff, the impact on service levels, sick pay, compensation and sick leave cover can all be offset with a group personal accident policy.

Sometimes likened to a form of human business interruption, a group personal accident policy not only protects the income and assets of a business but that of the employees too - thus providing a valuable staff benefit.

Clients insure buildings because they can see them and often others have a financial interest in them. Certain legal liabilities are insured because they have to be and business interruption cover is purchased because clients need to protect the income and future viability of their businesses.

However, what of their employees? Losing an employee creates an element of business interruption, so shouldn't employers insure against that too?

In a competitive market, employers need to retain quality staff and to attract new staff. Benefits such as pensions, shares and discounts are now a threshold value and employers need truly valued employee benefits, such as accident and health cover.

If a member of staff is unable to work due to injury following an accident this will not only put a strain on the employer but the employee too, as he or she will have resultant financial worries.

For example, if the sales manager of a small computing firm were to be seriously injured in a road accident and unable to work for 18 months, his family finances would suffer as well as the firm's income and future viability.

A group personal accident policy could provide the following cover, for example:

It's important to remember that it's not just accidents that can have an impact. People may have difficulty coping with the pressures and strains of life, whether at home or in the workplace.

Issues such as debt problems, marital and relationship difficulties, stress or bereavement are all potential problems that could impact on your client's business. The result could be time off work, reduced work output or conflict with other employees - all could be proactively managed with the provision of a specialist counselling service provided through an accident and health policy. Employers who are seen to be proactively managing the welfare of their staff will be sending a positive message to the workforce.

Of course, business is not just restricted to the UK anymore. We live in a fast changing world and if disaster strikes on an important business trip, your client needs to be reassured that his company's interests and the welfare of his employees are covered.

This can mean anything from sending replacement personnel to attend a vital meeting to clinch a deal, to bringing an employee home following a serious accident.

Most policies' cover will include a pre-travel helpline and a 24-hour assistance helpline while abroad. Loss of passport, credit cards and travel documents are also covered.

Another important benefit of a group personal accident policy is that if an accident does occur in the workplace it can offer non-fault payments in the event of accidental injury and have no link to negligence.

The money is paid at an early stage, meaning that your client can then exercise discretion in how that money is best put to use. It could be partly retained to fund overtime and a drop in sales or it could be passed on to the employee early in the process, once again demonstrating a swift and positive attitude and indicating to the wider workforce that it's a good place to work.

In essence, the benefits of putting accident and health cover in place are too great to be ignored. Your client would be embracing some important financial needs while helping to ensure the welfare of his employees at the same time. For employers there is a duty of care issue, particularly in the business travel area.

As the boss of a small business, your client's time is taken up with the day-to-day running of the business - meeting deadlines, winning orders and generating new business - it's all too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, including general health and safety. And with the accident and health market worth an estimated £550m, is this something you can afford to ignore?

' Colin Toppin is Allianz Cornhill Commercial accident and health manager

Benefits of a group personal accident policy

Employee benefit:

  • A benefit of £500 per week, which the firm passes on after contractual sick pay ends
  • Less financial strain on employee and family
  • Ability to pay mortgage and stay in the family home.
  • Human business interruption:

  • Claim monies partly retained to fund overtime and drop in sales
  • Some benefits passed to employee and awareness created in workforce regarding "a good place to work" - a valued benefit
  • Payment of £150k benefit if the injured employee became permanently totally disabled from their job.