Category Archives: Health & Safety

Post-Matthew Update: How To Safely Clean Up Mold After A Flood

Guest Post: CDC

Returning to your home after a flood is a big part of getting your life back to normal. But consumers and small businesses may be facing a new challenge: mold. What can you do to get rid of it? How do you get the mold out of your home or office and stay safe at the same time? CDC has investigated floods, mold, and cleanup, and offers practical tips for homeowners and others on how to safely and efficiently remove mold from the home.

In 2005, thousands of people along the Gulf Coast were faced with cleaning up mold from their homes after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One of our first concerns was to let homeowners and others know how they could clean up mold safely. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we teamed up with other federal agencies to provide practical advice on mold cleanup. This guidance outlines what to do before and after going into a moldy building, how to decide if you can do the cleanup yourself or need to hire someone, and how you can do the cleanup safely.

Prepare To Clean Up

Before you start any cleanup work, call your insurance company and take pictures of the home and your belongings. Throw away, or at least move outside, anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours. Remember, drying your home and removing water-damaged items is the most important step to prevent mold damage.

Protect Yourself

We offer specific recommendations for different groups of people and different cleanup activities. This guidance educates people about the type of protection (think: gloves, goggles, masks) you need for different parts of your mold cleanup. It also identifies groups of people who should and should not be doing cleanup activities.

Be Safe With Bleach

Many people use bleach to clean up mold. If you decide to use bleach, use it safely by wearing gloves, a mask, and goggles to protect yourself. Remember these four tips to stay safe:

  • NEVER mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaning product.
  • ALWAYS open windows and doors when using bleach, to let fumes escape.
  • NEVER use bleach straight from the bottle to clean surfaces. Use no more than 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water when you’re cleaning up mold.  If you are using stronger, professional strength bleach use less than 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • ALWAYS protect your mouth, nose, skin, and eyes against both mold and bleach with an N-95 mask, gloves, and goggles.  You can buy an N-95 mask at home improvement and hardware stores.

You can take steps to keep yourself and others protected while cleaning up mold after a flood. Make sure to follow CDC’s recommendations so you can return home safely.

Resources

Catching All The Candy

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If your little monsters are determined to hunt down some spooky Pokémon on their trick-or-treat route this Halloween, be sure that the fun of finding Ghastly or Haunter doesn’t turn into a deadly distraction.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on Halloween than on any other day of the year.

Excited trick-or-treaters often forget about safety, the American Automobile Association (AAA) warns, so motorists and parents must be even more alert.

The AAA offers these tips to keep young ones safe on Halloween.

Meanwhile, Pokémon GO’s virtual Halloween update is reportedly drawing players back to the mobile app that took the world by storm earlier this summer.

While catching all the candy could be a healthy alternative to eating all the candy, there are also some side effects that could prove hazardous.

Researchers at San Diego State University and UC San Diego found about 113,000 total incidences of a driver, passenger or pedestrian distracted by Pokémon GO in their review of Twitter postings over just a 10-day period (July 10 through July 19, 2016).

There were also 14 unique crashes—1 player drove his car into a tree—attributed to Pokémon GO in news reports during the same period.

The researchers noted that by rewarding movement Pokémon GO incentivizes physical activity.

“However, if players use their cars to search for Pokémon they negate any health benefit and incur serious risk.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The good news is that injuries and property damage resulting from distracted Pokémon GO users are for the most part covered by insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

In its smart road tips for Halloween safety, Consumer Reports advises the public not to use a cell phone or other mobile device while driving and to pull over safely to check voice messages or texts.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on highway safety and distracted driving here.

Wishing all our readers a safe and happy Halloween!

Zika and Business Interruption Insurance

As the Zika virus continues its rapid spread and amid travel warnings, including one advising pregnant women not to travel to popular tourist destination Miami Beach as well as advice to postpone non-essential travel to Florida’s Miami-Dade County, questions on business interruption insurance are bound to arise.

So this is perhaps a good time to review what a business interruption insurance policy covers.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reminds us that business interruption coverage, sometimes known as business income insurance, covers financial losses resulting from a business’s inability to operate because of property damage due to an insured event.

Generally, business interruption insurance will cover:

•Revenue lost due to the closure.

•Fixed expenses, such as rent and utility costs.

•Expenses of operating from a temporary location.

But there must be direct physical damage to the property from a covered event for a business to be reimbursed under the policy.

A good example of a covered event would be a fire or windstorm that might damage property thereby causing a business to lose income.

A mosquito-borne infectious disease does not appear to meet the threshold for property damage under a traditional business interruption policy therefore.

In addition, while businesses may lose income due to fewer customers and tourists visiting an area because of fear over the Zika outbreak and in response to travel warnings, legal experts say there are several reasons why traditional business interruption insurance policies are unlikely to respond.

Some businesses may have an extension to their property insurance policy that could provide some business interruption coverage for non-damage scenarios (i.e. where there is no physical damage to an insured’s property), but limitations and exceptions to this coverage may apply.

Recently, the World Economic Forum (WEF) observed that beyond direct health impacts, infectious diseases can impose significant additional economic costs through a response called “aversion behavior”.

Aversion behavior includes actions taken by individuals to avoid any exposure to the illness, as well as actions taken by investors as they anticipate those individual decisions.

Even individuals with no direct contact with the disease will take a range of actions to avoid any risk of contracting the disease, the WEF says:

“As shown by the recent Ebola outbreak, these reactions can be rational or they can dramatically overestimate risk, leading to a wide variety of factors that can negatively impact the economy, from stress to labour and supply scarcity, financial market instability, and price increases.”

The economic impact of aversion behavior may be significantly greater than the direct economic impact from sickness and death, the WEF said.

For example in 2015 the World Bank estimated a potential loss in GDP of more than US$1.6 billion in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as a result of the Ebola epidemic, and more than US$500 million across the rest of the continent. This was based on an erosion in consumer and investor confidence and disruptions to travel and cross-border trade.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on mortality risk here.

Zika virus resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are available online.

According to the CDC, as of August 17, there were 2,260 cases of Zika in the U.S.

Below is the CDC map of Zika cases reported in the U.S.:

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Environmental Pollution and Liabilities: Renewed Concerns

Environmental pollution stories seem to be dominating the headlines and with this comes renewed awareness of potential environmental liabilities among companies, municipalities and their (re)insurers.

An ongoing gas leak at the Southern California Gas Co Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near the Porter Ranch suburb of Los Angeles, has forced thousands of residents to evacuate, many of whom have been experiencing health problems.

The Los Angeles Times reports that so far, the gas company has spent more than $50 million to combat the methane leak that began October 23, and more than 25 lawsuits have been filed against the utility.

A securities filing last week stated that the cost of defending the lawsuits, and any damages, if awarded, could be significant.

As the LA Times reports:

The utility has told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had “at least four types of insurance policies that it believes will cover many of the current and expected claims, losses and litigation…associated with the natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon.”

Those insurance policies are understood to have a combined available limit in excess of $1 billion, though legal experts suggest the ultimate costs could run much higher.

Meanwhile, officials in Flint, Michigan, made a cost-saving decision to switch the source of their drinking water to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014, a move  that has exposed thousands of children to dangerous levels of lead.

While the city has since switched back to Lake Huron water, and started distributing water filters and bottled water to the city’s residents, The New York Times reports that many have called for state money to replace Flint’s aging pipe infrastructure (at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion) and a fund to address any developmental impact on children.

Last week Michigan governor Rick Snyder declared the city to be in a state of emergency just as federal officials opened an investigation into the water contamination.

Other environmental pollution stories in the news include one lawyer’s fight against DuPont’s decades-long history of chemical pollution and further away the recent Samarco dam burst in Brazil–described as the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history.

In a recent note AIG Environmental Insurance said that environmental pollution continues to be a major source of concern for the (re)insurance market.

AIG noted that the potential environmental liability impact of the Samarco dam burst remains the unknown factor, with market sources putting the overall insured coverage at in excess of $600 million.

Taken together with the property and business interruption elements of the cover, the (re)insurance market is facing a potential overall loss that could be in excess of $1 billion.”

Digital Deadwalker Risks Are Growing

This is a good one for the holiday season–and ahead of your commute home.

A majority (78 percent) of U.S. adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue, but only 29 percent see themselves as the culprit.

The new study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)  found that many (46 percent) feel distracted walking is a danger, yet 31 percent admit it is something they are likely to do.

In the words of Alan Hilibrand, MD, AAOS spokesperson:

Today, the dangers of the ‘digital deadwalker’ are growing with more and more pedestrians falling down stairs, tripping over curbs, bumping into other walkers, or stepping into traffic causing a rising number of injuries–from scrapes and bruises to sprains and fractures.”

The AAOS cited a 2013 study that showed a doubling in emergency department hospital visits for injuries involving distracted pedestrians on cell phones between 2004 and 2010 (see our earlier post on that study  here).

So how common is distracted walking?

According to the AAOS, nearly four out of 10 Americans say they have witnessed a distracted walking incident, and just over one quarter (26 percent) say they have been in an incident themselves.

One of the challenges in combating distracted walking may be that people are overly confident in their ability to multitask, the AAOS found.

When asked why they walk distracted, 48 percent of respondents say they just don’t think about it, while 28 percent feel they can walk and do other things, and 22 percent say they are busy and want to use their time productively.

The AAOS  survey which was conducted by polling  firm IPSOS  involved more than 2,000 respondents nationally and another 4,000 total in select urban areas.

Here’s the infographic:

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A Happy—and Safe—Halloween

As we put the finishing touches to our Halloween costumes we’ve rounded up some of the not-so-spooky posts from around the insurance blogosphere to keep the ghouls and ghosts away.

First up is Erie Insurance with its post 4 Lesser-Known Halloween Safety Tips. Read all the way to the end and you’ll learn of the dangers of glow sticks. As a parent to two young children who gravitate towards anything that glows, I appreciate the tip that glow sticks cause an increase in poisoning on Halloween. Make sure to tell your kids to keep them away from their mouths.

Next up is Zillow and HomeInsurance.com with an excellent post on how Halloween carries potential financial risk for homeowners. Whether it’s Halloween-related fires leading to property damage or liability claims from trick-or-treaters injured on your property, some practical safety steps and a homeowners or renters insurance policy can help protect your most valuable assets.

Do you have a secure place to park your car? In this Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) post (from 2013)  we learn  that vehicle vandalism peaks on Halloween with nearly twice as many insurance claims on October 31 as on an average day. Such claims include things like slashed tires and smashed windows. Hence the importance of comprehensive auto insurance coverage.

And for the insurance fans  among you, last but not least is a post on WillisWire, reflecting not on make-believe monsters, but on the scariest real risks faced by their clients during the year. Which one keeps you up at night? Have your say and take their poll.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy Halloween!

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Early Warning On Heat Health Risk

As many parts of the United States enter another day of high heat and humidity, we’re reading about the first ever heatwave warning guidelines issued by the United Nations earlier this month.

The guidelines are intended to alert the general public, health services and government agencies via the development of so-called heatwave early warning systems that should ultimately lead to actions that reduce the effects of hot weather extremes on health.

As the foreword to the publication states:

Heatwaves are a dangerous natural hazard, and one that requires increased attention. They lack the spectacular and sudden violence of other hazards, such as tropical cyclones or flash floods, but the consequences can be severe.”

In their joint guidance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) note that heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense as a result of climate change.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves will likely increase over most land areas during this century.

Recent world heatwave events come to mind:

Both India and Pakistan were hit by deadly heatwaves in the first half of 2015, leading to 3,600 fatalities, according to Munich Re. Temperatures were exceptional, climbing as high as 47 °C and accompanied by high humidity which compounded the effect.

European heatwaves in the summer of 2003 led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, as did the Russian heatwaves, forest fires and associated air pollution in 2010. In fact, the Russian heatwave of 2010 still ranks among the top 10 deadliest world catastrophes 1970-2014.

The UN guidance makes the case that one way to manage the risk of heat-related health effects is through the development of a Heat Health Warning System (HHWS) as part of a broader Heat Health Action Plan (HHAP).

Of primary concern in an HHWS, it notes, is how to assess the level of heat stress associated with the meteorological or climate forecast, translate this into an estimate of a likely health outcome and identify a critical heat-stress threshold for a graded plan of action.

Typically, HHWSs are composed of a number of elements, including:

  • Weather forecasts of high temperatures that may also include humidity;
  • A method for assessing how future weather patterns may evolve in terms of a range of health outcomes;
  • The determination of heat-stress thresholds for action;
  • A system of graded alerts/actions for communication to the general population or specific target groups about an impending period of heat and its intensity and to government agencies about the possible severity of health impacts.

A number of cities and countries around the world have developed these early warning systems, including Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Australia.

The first HHWS was actually implemented in the city of Philadelphia in the United States in 1995. In this system, local city staff work with the National Weather Service (NWS) to determine when a heatwave is imminent.

After an alert is issued, the Philadelphia Health Department contacts news organizations with tips on how vulnerable individuals can protect themselves. People without air conditioning are advised to seek relief from the heat in shopping malls, senior centers and other cool spaces.

Friends, relatives, neighbors and other volunteers are also encouraged to make daily visits to elderly people during the hot weather, ensuring the most susceptible individuals have sufficient fluids, proper ventilation and other amenities to cope with the weather.

After the success of Philadelphia, similar tailor-made systems are being implemented for the 50-60 cities in the U.S. with a population of more than 500,000 and a local meteorological office, the guidance notes.

The NWS reports that heat is typically the leading cause of weather-related fatalities each year.

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Check out Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) facts and statistics on drought and heatwaves here.

Fourth of July Celebrations Spark Pet Injuries

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While Fourth of July is a time of celebration for Americans, man’s best friend may be at increased risk for injury and illness over the holiday.

Veterinary Pet Insurance Co shares the most common Fourth of July related pet injuries based on its database of more than 525,000 insured pets.

Pets are at risk for a number of firework-related injuries. Common injuries include: burns; strangulation from getting a collar caught on a fence or jumping a fence due to the loud noise of fireworks; and laceration from breaking through a glass window or fence. Average costs for treatment run upward from $355.

Other common holiday-related injuries/illness include heat stroke, drowning after falling in a pool and poisoning from eating chocolate or table scraps and ingesting alcohol.

VPI suggests pet owners plan ahead with the following tips to keep our furry friends safe during the holiday weekend:

  1. Set up a safe zone for your pet and never leave your pet unattended or tied up in the back yard.
  2. Leave out extra water bowls to ensure your pet stays hydrated and be aware of foods that could be toxic to your dog.
  3. Be mindful of your dog around a pool and if they are allowed to swim, make sure they’re a comfortable swimmer and know how to get out of the pool.

The American Kennel Club makes the point that it’s safer to keep your pets at home during Fourth of July celebrations instead of bringing them to your neighbor’s party. Keeping your pet in a safe room where he/she is comfortable can reduce stress from the noise of fireworks.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Dog Bite Claims, By The Numbers

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is coming up… Here are some numbers to consider:

  • – Dog bites caused more than 33 percent of all homeowners insurance liability claims in 2014, costing in excess of $530 million
  • – The average cost per claim has increased more than 67 percent from 2003 to 2014
  • – The number of dog-bite claims actually decreased by 4.7 percent  but the average cost per claim increased 15 percent  from $27,862 in 2013 to $32,072 in 2014
  • – California (1,867), Ohio (1,009) and New York (965) had the highest number of claims in 2014
  • – New York had the highest average cost per claim in the country: a whopping $56,628

Costs per claims have risen due to a variety of factors including increased medical costs and jury awards.   In addition to dog bites, some claims are due to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, which can result in fractures and other injuries. All these factors impact the potential severity of losses.

Contact @LWorters for more information.

Unbuckled and Unprotected

I.I.I.’s Jim Lynch brings us a timely reminder on why it’s important to buckle up:

I hate to write this: CBS newsman Bob Simon, who died February 11 in a Manhattan auto accident, was not wearing a seat belt, according to The New York Times.

Simon lately filled an elder statesman role on 60 Minutes, but his reporting career was one of globetrotting daredevilry. He covered America’s urban riots in 1968. He reported for six years from Vietnam and rode one of the last U.S. helicopters that left Saigon before the city fell in 1975. He was captured by Iraqi troops at the outset of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and was held prisoner for 40 days.

Simon died when the limousine in which he rode sideswiped a Mercedes in Manhattan, then hit a lane barrier.

Every death is a tragedy, an accidental death doubly so. Sadder still that a person who survived so much danger might well have survived this accident had he been wearing a seat belt. His driver had buckled up and survived; both of his legs were broken, as was an arm. The Mercedes driver was uninjured.

I.I.I.’s Facts and Statistics on highway safety points out that seatbelts saved more than 12,000 lives in 2012 and could have saved another 3,031, had everyone used them.

I ride in cabs and black cars fairly often and know it feels awkward to buckle up. The action seems to be a referendum against the driver, as if my action says I question the driver’s competence. And I feel weirdly invulnerable when I travel, as if tragedy can’t find me in the back seat.

Still, I always strap myself into the harness, and I wish Bob Simon had done so as well.

In 2011, 65 percent of New York taxi riders failed to buckle up, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission statistics reported in USA Today, vs. about 10 percent in private passenger vehicles. New York is one of 22 states that do not require cab riders to buckle up.