Health & Safety

Many dog owners do not consider the possibility that their friendly Fido could bite a friend, relative, or even a stranger. But dog bites do happen and irresponsible dog owners endanger others and their assets, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)

For example, State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S., paid out more than $109 million as a result of its nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011.

The I.I.I. reports that dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2011, costing nearly $479 million.

An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost paid out to dog bite claims was $29,396 in 2011, up 12.3 percent from $26,166 in 2010. In fact, from 2003 to 2011, the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 53.4 percent.

These increases can be attributed to higher medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which have risen well above the rate of inflation in recent years, according to the I.I.I.

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide policyholders with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in dog bite liability coverage. If the claim exceeds those limits, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses.

Most insurers will cover homeowners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, your insurance company may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage.

Of course, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place.

Check out this I.I.I. video for tips on preventing dog bites:

Next week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week so now is a good time to review tips on how to be a responsible dog owner.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has much to say on the obesity epidemic in the United States and the urgent need to strengthen prevention efforts.

“Left unchecked, obesity’s effects on health, health care costs, and our productivity as a nation could become catastrophic,” the report said.

This infographic sums up the IOM’s key findings:

Earlier research from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that insurers and reinsurers are just one of many industries affected by the obesity issue.


How would you feel about conducting a business meeting while walking on a treadmill?

According to an article in the New York Times Sunday Business, “walking meetings” are becoming more common as companies look to keep their employees active and healthy during the work day.

Sitting for long periods is hazardous to your health, increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers.

While many employers already offer on-site gyms, or subsidized gym memberships, the NYT reports:

Now some employers are going a step further by aligning the ‘move while you work’ mandate with the corporate culture. They hope to improve their employees’ health and to lower medical costs in the process.”

The idea of taking shorter exercise breaks during the work day is not only practical but also effective.

The NYT cites a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2007 that monitored the activities of 18 employees over a six month period. The employees were given access to treadmill desks and wireless headsets to promote walking while conducting meetings.

The study found the employees as a group lost more than 150 pounds and lowered their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

You may be laughing, as many of the employees did when exercise was first introduced into their work day, but for those quoted in the NYT it appears the changes have led to better health and more energy at work.

Check out I.I.I. information on health insurance.

As the Lady Gagas and Harry Potters come out Monday night, your standard auto and homeowners policies should have you covered in case you receive more tricks than treats.

The I.I.I. gives several examples of how insurance can protect you from Halloween-related losses. For instance, if your home is damaged in a Halloween prank your homeowners or renters policy provides coverage for vandalism, after the deductible is met.

Similarly, if your car is damaged by mischievous trick-or-treaters, there is coverage under the optional comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.

If you expect to be handing out candy or throwing a Halloween party, again you would be covered if a trick-or-treater or guest is accidentally injured in your house or apartment, the I.I.I. says. The liability portion of your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers you in the event you are sued by the injured party.

While it’s reassuring to have these insurance policies in place, it’s also important to follow some basic safety steps, such as:

- Ensure there’s a clear path to your front door by removing all objects that could cause children to trip or fall.

- Turn your outside lights on if you welcome trick-or-treaters.

- Take caution when using candles, jack-o-lanterns, matches and lighters and keep them out of reach of children and away from flammable materials.

- Have a plan for your pet especially if they are easily spooked by guests or doorbells.

- Motorists need to be extra cautious and watch for children, especially after dark.

Once again food safety is in the news. This time it’s cantaloupe.

The current outbreak of listeria infection linked to cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms in Colorado, so far has caused at least 13 deaths and left 72 people ill.

According to reports, this makes it the deadliest foodborne outbreak in the United States in more than a decade. And the number of illnesses and deaths are expected to rise, officials say.

It comes just months after a deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier issued a press release announcing that Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes after being linked to a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

CDC also notes that some 3 or 4 outbreaks of listeria-associated foodborne illness are diagnosed each year in the U.S. The foods that typically cause these outbreaks have been deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk.

Produce is not often identified as a source, but sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009 and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.

Listeria, along with other pathogens such as salmonella, toxoplasma, and norovirus are the leading cause of foodborne deaths, according to CDC statistics (see chart via CDC website below).

Meanwhile, check out this Q+A at Businessweek about listeria in fruit.

A report from Aon last year noted that the increasing frequency and severity of food contamination incidents is prompting greater awareness among food system, agribusiness and beverage companies to insure against such events.


As mom to a 14-month old, Thursday’s New York Times article questioning whether a playground can be too safe made for a compelling read.

The article charts the transformation of playgrounds from places of adventure – think seesaws, tall slides and merry-go-rounds – to today’s  safety-first playgrounds.

According to the NYT, some researchers are questioning the value of safety-first playgrounds, even if children suffer fewer injuries.

The NYT reports:

“Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries – and the evidence for that is debatable – the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.”

The NYT cites one researcher who after observing children on the playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough and tumble play, and wandering alone away from adult supervision.

Apparently, the most common was climbing heights.

The gist of the NYT piece (the original article is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology) is that by gradually exposing themselves to more hazards in the  playground, children develop the techniques needed to master their fears and phobias over the longer-term.

Something worth bearing in mind as we encounter the challenges of  raising children.

Perhaps the most important takeaway, from a risk management standpoint, in the NYT article is that the threat of litigation caused the removal of slides and seesaws from New York City  playgrounds.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on recreation.

With stories about the E. coli outbreak in Europe dominating the news, this is a good time to reflect on food safety and contamination risks.

The New York Times reports that the cause of the outbreak of a rare strain of E. coli known as 0104:H4 may have been sprouts grown on a farm in Germany.

What is being described as one of the most catastrophic food-borne illnesses in years, so far has left 22 dead and 2,153 people ill, more than 600 of them in intensive care, according to the NYT article.

Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing regular updates and monitoring the ongoing outbreak in Germany.

Meanwhile, TIME’s Ecocentric blog ponders the question of whether we’d do any better if a similar major foodborne illness outbreak occurred in the U.S. given passage of the landmark Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) last year.

It notes that America has struggled to control recent problems with contaminated food, including salmonella outbreaks that led to the recall of half a billion eggs last year.

Not until the passage of the Food Safety Bill did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the ability to order a mandatory recall of contaminated food, it says.

Ecocentric also notes that the cost of foodborne illness in the U.S. is severe, with 48 million people becoming ill annually and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.

According to a report from Aon published last year (and discussed in a blog post here), the increasing frequency and severity of food recalls is prompting greater awareness among food system, agribusiness and beverage companies to insure against such events.

As well as insurance, Aon said pre-event planning and crisis management planning were among the best strategies to improve an organization’s chances of recovery from a major contamination or recall incident.

The health risks associated with silicosis have been well documented since the early 20th century, so it’s with interest that we read that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon propose a comprehensive silica health standard.

A report in Occupational Health and Safety Magazine cites OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels telling attendees at the recent American Industrial Hygiene conference that the proposal will be issued in the next few months.

According to OSHA, crystalline silica exposure remains a serious threat to nearly 2 million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high risk jobs such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling.

OSHA states:

Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal.”

In the early years of the 21st century, a sharp increase in silica injury claims led many to question whether silica was the next asbestos.

However, in a 2009 report RAND observed that the litigation collapsed soon after the discovery of numerous abuses in the procedures used to diagnose injuries.

This spurred the introduction of medical criteria to determine the validity of claims as well as legal reforms in a number of states.

Preparing for hurricane season? Or for an invasion of zombies? Either way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has you covered.

In a blog post earlier this week, the CDC did what many emergency preparedness messages fail to do – it got our attention:

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The CDC went on to advise us to have an emergency kit on hand at home:

This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored).”

Once you’ve made your emergency kit, the CDC wisely suggests you sit down with your family and come up with an emergency plan. This includes where you would go and who you would call if zombies started appearing outside your door step. You can also implement this plan if there is a flood, earthquake, or other emergency.

While the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) may not have tips for managing zombie risk, we do recommend you have an up-to-date home inventory to be prepared for any disaster. To help you create this inventory, check out our free online home inventory tool Know Your Stuff.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

One month after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, another strong aftershock today briefly set off a tsunami warning and knocked out cooling at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for almost an hour, the New York Times reports.

The United States Geological Society (USGS) reported the aftershock at magnitude 6.6.

Earlier in the day the Japanese government had said it was preparing to expand the evacuation zone around the nuclear facility to address concerns over long-term exposure to radiation.

An article in the New York Times over the weekend discusses how Japanese workers risk hazardous conditions and lax safety practices for a temporary job.

A recent blog post by Juliana Olsson on noted that many Japanese workers accept the conditions and risks because of the pay. Olsson wrote:

It is troubling that there are no unions and no workers’ compensation in place for many nuclear power plant laborers. At the same time, some think that regardless of the legal rights of the workers, people should not be put in such extreme situations.”

In the United States federal workers at nuclear plants may be covered under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). The program, which started in 2001, provides compensation and health benefits to eligible department of energy nuclear weapons workers (including employees, former employees, contractors and subcontractors). There is also the state-based workers’ compensation system.

Check out the I.I.I. primer to find out more about how insurance coverage for nuclear accidents works in the United States.

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