Category Archives: Health & Safety

London fire renews focus on prevention and safety

Fire safety officials around the world are reinforcing prevention and evacuation guidance to high-rise residents following the deadly 24-story apartment building fire at Grenfell Tower in West London.

So far, at least 17 people are confirmed dead in the fire, while close to 80 are hospitalized. UK prime minister Theresa May has ordered a public inquiry into the blaze. Insurance will play a role in the recovery.

Officials say that while catastrophic fires on the scale of Grenfell Tower are statistically rare, awareness is key.

GlobalNews.ca reports here, NJ.com here, and the Manchester Evening News reports here. USA Today lists the worst high-rise fires in history here.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the fire death per 1,000 fires and the average loss per fire are generally lower in high-rise buildings than in other buildings of the same property use.

“A major reason why risks are lower is probably the much greater use of fire protection systems and features in high-rise buildings as compared to shorter buildings.”

High-rise buildings are more likely to have fire detection, sprinklers and to be built of fire-resistive construction and are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin than fires in shorter buildings, the NFPA says.

From 2009 to 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year.

Five property types account for three-quarters (73 percent) of high-rise fires: apartments or other multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories or dormitory type properties; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings.

NFPA adds that high-rise buildings present several unique challenges not found in traditional low-rise buildings, including longer egress times and distance, evacuation strategies, fire department accessibility, smoke movement and fire control.

The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism: the fires and collapse of the twin towers after two planes flew into the World Trade Center, New York City on September 11, 2001, and the April 19, 2005 truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City.

I.I.I. fire statistics are here.

Now is the time to invest in pandemic preparedness

Despite progress made since the Zika and Ebola crises, most countries are not adequately prepared for a pandemic and are still investing too little to strengthen preparedness.

A report by the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness (IWG), established by the World Bank, finds that the investment case for financing pandemic preparedness is compelling.

“Failing to invest in preparedness is especially short-sighted given the low cost of preparedness relative to the devastating impact of a pandemic.”

In low- and middle-income countries that have calculated the cost of financing preparedness, the investment required is just $1 per person per year, the IWG says.

Meanwhile, a severe pandemic could result in millions of deaths and cost trillions of dollars, while even smaller outbreaks can cost thousands of lives and immense economic damage.

“The most conservative estimates suggest that pandemics destroy 0.1 to 1.0 percent of global GDP, on par with other global threats such as climate change. Recent economic work suggests that the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7 percent of global income.”

The report lays out 12 recommendations to ensure the adequate financing of the capabilities and infrastructure required to prevent, identify, contain, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Many countries chronically underinvest in critical public health functions like disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories, and emergency operations centers, which enable the early identification and containment of outbreaks, according to the IWG.

Bike to work with insurance

In honor of National Bike To Work Day here are some key facts for our two-wheeled transportation enthusiasts:

  • The number of cyclists commuting by bike increased by 64 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • An estimated 900,000 U.S. workers rode a bike to work in 2015, up from 730,000 in 2010, Census data reveals
  • Bicyclists accounted for 2 percent of all traffic deaths and 2 percent of all crash-related injuries in 2014. Bicyclist deaths occurred most often in urban areas (71 percent)
  • If your bike is stolen or damaged it will be covered under the personal property section of your homeowners or renters insurance policies
  • If you own a particularly expensive bicycle, you may want to consider getting an endorsement that will provide additional coverage, advises the I.I.I.
  • If you injure someone in a bicycle accident and you get sued, there is liability protection under your homeowners or renters insurance policy that will cover you up to the limits of your policy
  • Your homeowners or renters insurance also includes no-fault medical coverage in the event you injure someone

Check out additional I.I.I. information on bicycle safety and insurance here.

And for those living in NYC, Curbed NY has a handy guide to the city’s five best neighborhoods for cyclists.

The Cost Of A Dog Bite

When dogs bite homeowners insurers pay out an average of $33,230 per claim.

In fact, dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2016, costing in excess of $600 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

The average cost per claim paid out by insurers actually decreased by more than 10 percent in 2016, but the average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 70 percent from 2003 to 2016 (see chart).

This is due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, the I.I.I. reports.

Costs vary widely by state.

The state with the highest average cost per claim was New York, at a whopping $55,671 per claim.

For more state-specific information, go to the I.I.I.’s interactive map.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week® (April 9-15, 2017), is an annual event designed to provide consumers with information on how to be responsible pet owners while increasing awareness of a serious public health issue.

Watch this I.I.I. video for tips on preventing dog bites:

Legal Fallout From Oakland Warehouse Tragedy

Filing of the first lawsuits in connection with the December 2 Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36, underscores the importance of managing legal risks that arise from disaster.

The fire was the deadliest in the United States since a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100.

Civil complaints were filed Friday on behalf of families of two students who died in the blaze against a number of people, including the building’s owner and those who transformed the space into an artist community that was home to 20 people but not permitted for residential use, promoters and those involved with the event.

Separate claims were also filed against employees of Oakland city and Alameda County departments.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the city of Oakland has come under increasing scrutiny since the Dec. 2 fire for failing to prevent the blaze. City officials have said no building inspector had been in the warehouse for the past three decades even though complaints had been made for years.

Although state law provides a broad liability shield for local governments for failing to conduct building inspections, the immunity is “not insurmountable,” according to the lawyer representing families.

Criminal charges may also follow.

Among the lawsuits’ allegations, according to CNN:

—“The interior of the approximately 10,000-square-foot Ghost Ship was a death trap, which contained a maze of makeshift rooms, alcoves and partitions. It was cluttered with carvings, mannequins, paintings, artwork, scraps of wood, pianos, furniture, tapestries and at least one recreational vehicle trailer, which were kindling for the fire.”

and

—The building contained insufficient smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinklers, exit signs and emergency lighting.

The Insuring California blog post Can cities and artists work together to create safe spaces for venues? explores some of the other factors contributing to the deadly blaze.

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 1,210 fires in warehouse properties per year (excluding refrigerated or cold storage), which represents less than 1% of all structure fires, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports.

These fires caused an annual average of $155 million in direct property damage, three civilian deaths, and 19 civilian injuries.

Fires that were intentionally set and fires caused by electrical distribution and lighting equipment are the leading causes of warehouse fires, according to the NFPA (below).

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NFPA notes:

“Warehouses present special challenges for fire protection because their contents and layouts are conducive to fire spread and present obstacles to manual fire suppression efforts.”

More on structure fires available in the Insurance Information Institute’s facts and statistics on fire.

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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