Risk Scenario

The Best Intentions

Construction executives let their emotions get the best of them after an onsite death, with dire policy consequences.
By: | November 3, 2014 • 7 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Water Everywhere

Workers with the O’Hanlon Construction Company are used to seeing the white pickup truck with the green municipal seal driven by Yakima County code inspector Ty Davis on the job site. Davis is a 25-year veteran of the position. So when Davis drives up to the site of a municipal tunneling project being run by O’Hanlon, no one is particularly surprised or concerned.

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Affable, fit and seemingly inseparable from his mobile device and a Styrofoam cup of coffee with cream and sugar, Davis made his way from the pickup truck, waving a friendly hello to the foreman on the job, Hector Lopes.

“Hector my man, how are we today?” said Davis, walking up to the where Lopes was overseeing a crew of three that was building the forms to lay an asphalt hiking and biking path on the floor of the tunnel.

“I’d be a lot better if those Seahawks would play some run defense,” said Lopes, pausing from his work to shake Davis’ hand.

“Ahh, they’ll get it together, it’s early yet,” Davis said.

Davis nods to the crew doing the concrete work in the tunnel.

“How’s it goin’ down there?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s goin’,” said Lopes. “The rain ain’t helpin’, but we’re trying to get it done on time.”

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“You mind if I go down and have a look?” said Davis.

“Sure thing,” said Lopes. “It’s break time, anyway.”

“Hey guys!” Lopes called to the crew. “Break. Ty’s comin’ down for a look, too.”

The crew complied, following Lopes up to the food trucks across the street.

Davis walked carefully down the existing bike path to the tunnel floor. Lopes no sooner got to the other side of the street when a horrendous noise shattered the calm of the morning. Lopes sprinted back to the site and couldn’t believe what he saw when he looked down to the tunnel.

“Ty!” Lopes screamed.

A portion of the tunnel wall had given way, burying Ty Davis under two tons of concrete, mud and water.

***

John O’Hanlon, the son of the company founder and a close friend of Ty Davis, was overwhelmed by Davis’ death. Even though the culpability for a faulty soil analysis could lie with many parties, O’Hanlon felt he must formally communicate his grief and his commitment to do the right thing by sending an e-mail to county officials.

“We will do everything in our power to see that Ty Davis’ family is provided for,” the e-mail read, in part.

“Words cannot express my shame and horror that mistakes our company made played a part in the death of my beloved friend,” the distraught e-mail concluded.

The same evening the e-mail is received, the head of the Yakima County Board of County Commissioners was interviewed on television saying that executives with long-time county contractor O’Hanlon Construction Company were devastated at their “failure” and had vowed to do what they could to make things right.

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Excuse Me?

Sharon Holmes, the retail broker with whom O’Hanlon placed their professional liability coverage, was working on a renewal when something she saw in her e-mail inbox caused her to stop. It was a construction risk newsletter that contained news of the latest legal findings, settlements and other developments in the construction risk management world.

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“What?” Holmes said as she clicked on the e-mail, her attention having been caught by the word “O’Hanlon” in the subject line.

“Contractor admits fault in death of county employee …” Holmes said, reading aloud.

“They can’t be serious,” she said out loud, reaching for her phone and hastily dialing a number.

“John, it’s Sharon Holmes,” Holmes said.

“I’m sorry … who?” John O’Hanlon said.

“Sharon Holmes, I’m your professional and general liability insurance broker,” Holmes said after a pause.

“Oh … yeah … what can I do for you, Sharon?” O’Hanlon said.




“What you can do for me …” Holmes began, and then stopped herself from saying something she might regret.

“Ummm …” she said, collecting her thoughts.

“John, I’m looking at an industry newsletter in my inbox that refers to you making a statement to public officials that seems to take responsibility for the death of a code inspector at one of your job sites.”

“Huh? Well, yeah. I had to say something, Ty was my friend. We’ve been working with Yakima County for more than 20 years,” O’Hanlon said.

“John, that may be true, but I wish you had consulted with me before you made any statements,” Holmes said.

“The truth is the truth, he died in our tunnel,” O’Hanlon said.

Holmes again composed herself, seeking the right delivery.

“John. I’m sorry you lost a friend. I’d be upset too if I lost a friend. But I need to meet with you and Billy [O’Hanlon, John’s brother and the company CEO] on this. We need to go over the insurance coverage implications as soon as possible.”

“Well, Ty’s funeral is today, so today is out,” O’Hanlon said.

“Tomorrow then, can you do it tomorrow?” Holmes asked.

“Sure … tomorrow,” O’Hanlon said weakly.

Holmes hung up with O’Hanlon and immediately dialed the Seattle offices of a major national construction risk carrier.

“Hey, Brian, it’s Sharon Holmes.”

“Hey Sharon, I had a feeling I’d be hearing from you this morning,” said Brian Snyder, the regional claims executive for the carrier.

“So you saw it,” said Holmes.

“Yep. Just hit my inbox this morning. I can check the policy … as can you … but I’m pretty sure what it’s going to say,” Snyder said.

“We go four days without being notified of a job site death, I’m pretty sure coverage will be denied,” Snyder said.

“I’ll check the policy,” Holmes said weakly.

“Suit yourself. Sorry about this,” Snyder said in conclusion.

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A Direct Hit

Ty Davis’ widow and children filed a lawsuit against O’Hanlon Construction, Yakima County and three subcontractors alleging that their failure to conduct competent soil testing resulted in the inspector’s death.

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An investigation commissioned by the Davis family concluded that the soil study ordered by O’Hanlon on behalf of the county failed to take into account possible shifts in the water content of the project soil due to variations in rainfall and the municipal water table.

Upon notice of the lawsuit, O’Hanlon’s carrier told the company that it had no plans to provide for the company’s defense. A recorded, broadcast admission of guilt and a failure to notify the broker or the carrier in a timely manner effectively voided the company’s professional liability coverage, said the carriers’ attorneys, in a letter to Sharon Holmes and the O’Hanlons.

“We should sue them! How were we supposed to know?” Billy O’Hanlon said to his brother John, after the grief of Ty Davis’ death faded and they started taking a more pragmatic assessment of their situation.

“Besides, being transparent in our dealings with the county has been a hallmark or our relationship. There’s no value in that?” Billy thundered.

At his older brother Billy’s urging, John O’Hanlon called Sharon Holmes and broached the topic of O’Hanlon disputing the carrier’s refusal to pay for a legal defense.

“I don’t see how you could win, and I think you’d be throwing good money after bad,” Holmes said.

“I strongly advise against it. I’m not trying to be harsh, John, but you should not have said what you said without A, talking to me or B, talking to an attorney,” Holmes said.

O’Hanlon’s attorneys mount a game defense, pointing to the contractor’s long, and nearly blemish-free service record with the county and good documentation of transparency being a hallmark of the company’s business dealings.

All to no avail.

A jury found O’Hanlon, the three subcontractors, and the county liable for the death of Ty Davis to the tune of $8 million in loss of income, pain and suffering.

O’Hanlon, which thought it was doing the right thing by apologizing, and was the only entity to apologize, is the only defendant uncovered by insurance.

O’Hanlon is out of pocket to the tune of $4 million, not including court costs.

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Risk & Insurance® partnered with XL Group to produce this scenario. Below are XL Group’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These “Lessons Learned” are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

1. Contact your broker first: At the first sign of trouble on any project, promptly contact your broker to report the circumstance. Late, or non-reporting of an incident, large or small, can result in your Professional Liability coverage being denied.

2. Be mindful of your actions post-incident: Understand that taking actions to explain, admit fault, mediate, finger point, or recommend fixes or alternatives to a circumstance prior to notifying your broker may also result in your coverage being denied.

3. Have a communication plan: Create a circumstance reporting protocol within your organization to be followed by all employees, including designating a “quarterback” to coordinate external communications.

4. Align your philosophy with your coverage: Ensure your own best practices are not in conflict with the terms of your insurance coverage.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

Workers' Comp

Keeping Workers on Their Feet

Slip and fall prevention programs must interweave all of the factors contributing to the risk.
By: | July 6, 2017 • 11 min read

If you peruse the last decade’s worth of literature from the CDC, NIOSH, or numerous other agencies or organizations, you’re bound to come across the “good news” that slips, trips and falls are largely preventable.

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So it’s frustrating, then, that slip, trip and fall injuries consistently account for more than a quarter of all nonfatal occupational injuries, and at least 65 percent of those injuries happen on same-level walking surfaces. And those figures just don’t budge all that much from year to year.

According to the “2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index,” falls on same level currently rank as the second highest cause of disabling injuries in the U.S., with direct costs of $10.17 billion, accounting for 16.4 percent of the total national injury burden.

“Not only are they still happening often, but they tend to be very significant injuries,” said Mike Lampl, director of research at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

“We’ve seen these trends grow over the years,” said Wayne Maynard, product director, risk control, with Liberty Mutual. “Bottom line is, it’s a real, real big problem.”

So why are preventable falls so hard to prevent? This stubborn status quo, say experts, is that the causes of slips and trips are typically far more complex than they seem. There are nearly always multiple factors in play, from footwear and flooring and the interplay of both, to cleaning procedures, lighting, housekeeping, weather, and workers’ mental or physical conditions as well as overall awareness.

And all of these factors are being exacerbated by the fact that incidents often go unreported.

“Slips, falls — people get up, move on, they don’t report it,” said Maynard.

“When somebody’s injured and files a claim — in the workers’ arena, how many are behind the scenes that may have happened that are not reportable? …. The unreported number is considerable in my opinion.”

The key to making any headway in reducing slips and falls on the same surface, say experts, is to have a comprehensive fall prevention plan that addresses all possible factors. No small task.

Engineering Solutions

Flooring conditions are often the most obvious starting point. Ideally, said Maynard, all the right choices are made at the planning and design stage. But sometimes mistakes are made, and in other cases, a business may be inheriting an older space with floor chosen for a different purpose.

Patricia Showerman, senior loss control consultant, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

So even flooring in good condition may be the wrong type of material and may not have the necessary coefficient of friction (slip resistance) needed for the work being done.

If companies want to drill down into all the details of the surfaces in their facilities, a friction coefficient study is always an option, said Patricia Showerman, senior loss control consultant at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

But if a company doesn’t want to take that step, she said, it may be a simpler matter of saying, “Let’s look at what you’ve got. Let’s look at your floor surfaces and how you’re maintaining them.”

A lot of people want that “shiny grocery store glam look,” she said. “And if you can do it properly, and maintain it properly and keep that coefficient of friction and have the shiny look, that’s great. That’s what everybody wants but how do they get there?”

Certain surfaces may start out with an adequate coefficient of friction when they’re clean and dry. But add even an invisible layer of dust or debris, “and it’s like microscopic little BBs that you slide across,” said Showerman. “So if you have dust on your floor, you are dramatically reducing your slip coefficient.”

For companies that do have flooring surfaces in need of improvement, ripping up the floor and replacing it isn’t typically a feasible option. Fortunately there are more budget-friendly ways to get the maximum slip resistance from existing flooring, such as coatings and etchings.

A coating adds a microscopic layer on top of the flooring that creates a grip surface while maintaining the shine. Showerman likened the effect to the way that Velcro fasteners work.

“You want that hook effect … sharp points are going to microscopically stick into the soles of your shoes, rather than rolling off the top.”

Etching can work in a similar way, chemically altering the existing surface to make it imperceptibly gritty. Etching can also be used to create pores in an existing surface, which is useful for areas such as machine shops, she said.

Be Smart With Surfactants

While keeping floor surfaces clean is one of the best ways to remove slip and fall hazards, cleaning them the wrong way can actually do more harm than good.

Failure to follow appropriate cleaning procedures can severely diminish a surface’s coefficient of friction.

Experts suggest that companies engage with their chemical suppliers, and discuss their flooring as well as the types of dirt or grease removal and disinfectant needs. Detergents – which can contain different types of surfactants — aren’t a one size fits all solution.

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Sometimes purchasers might be inclined to try to cover all their bases by buying the strongest product on the market, but that might mean adding unnecessary surfactants that make surfaces less slip resistant.

“Clearly identify the types of surfaces you’re using it for, the type of oil or dirt or debris you have, and whether or not you need a sanitizing step,” said Showerman.

“You’ve got to find the right balance.”

But that’s only half the battle. A significant problem experts see time and time again is that companies don’t understand how their flooring is being maintained on a day-to-day basis by front-line employees. Failure to follow appropriate cleaning procedures can severely diminish a surface’s coefficient of friction.

“This is where you’re seeing someone with a mop and bucket and they are just re-smearing that grease from one place to another. They put the dirty mop in the dirty bucket, the mop gets full of that emulsified grease and you’re smearing it across the room. In high grease areas, you have to replace with clean water consistently.”

In other cases, a worker without the proper training may grab the first detergent he finds, even if it’s meant for the equipment rather than the floor. Or perhaps he mixes equal parts detergent and water when he was supposed to only use 8 oz. of detergent for every five gallons of water.
Sometimes people will even over-concentrate the detergent on purpose, she added.

Peter Koch, safety management specialist, The MEMIC Group

“I see that in the food industry frequently,” said Showerman. “They find that the more detergent they leave on the floor, the easier it is to clean up next time … but then everyone’s slipping and falling like in a cartoon.”

A company could invest a significant amount in flooring improvements, only to have the benefits undone by improper detergent use or failure to follow recommended rinsing procedures.

It’s incumbent upon safety managers to reinforce that maintaining floor surfaces isn’t just a matter of housekeeping, but a key part of the company’s workplace safety program.

The Human Factor

When you’ve done everything possible to address hazards in the physical work environment, workers themselves remain the wildcard. Most employers routinely include slip and fall hazards in their safety awareness training or toolbox talk programs. But that training should go well beyond a general “watch where you walk” message, say experts.

“One of the most overlooked parts for employee safety is actually employee training,” said Peter Koch, safety management specialist at  The MEMIC Group.

“How do you train an employee to not slip and fall? I think many times that is wrapped in a “you have to be more careful” message, which is valid but nebulous and not very helpful — it means something different to everyone based on your risk tolerance as an individual.”

Koch’s employee training regimen revolves around four elements: surfaces, awareness, footwear and environment (SAFE).

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The first goal of the surface portion is just to get employees to start thinking about the different types of surfaces they walk on and how it can change throughout the work day. Koch said he likes to ask: “How many different types of surfaces did you have to walk on the get to this training room?”

The footwear piece of it is the most straightforward. Are your shoes designed for the work that you’re doing and the surfaces you’re walking on? Are they in good condition? Are the soles worn out?

There is no ASTM standard for measuring the performance of slip-resistant footwear, added Gallagher’s Showerman. So workers should be reminded that wearing the right shoe isn’t a guarantee — it’s just one piece of the solution.

Awareness, said Koch, may be the most challenging piece of the puzzle — helping people to think about their gait, what they’re carrying, what they’re doing, and simply where their heads are at any given moment.

“If you’re thinking about 15 things you have to get done by the end of the day, or you have a particularly challenging employee interaction coming up that day, or you had a fight with your girlfriend last night— or whatever it is — you’re not focused. Then you take that step through the icy patch, and now it relies completely on your athletic ability and luck to stay upright.”

Workers may not necessarily make the connection between personal factors and fall risk. Someone who has an ear infection or is taking certain medications, for example, may not even be aware that their balance might be compromised, putting them at higher risk for a fall.

Employees also should be reminded of how even normal daily stressors can contribute to risk. Everyone is under pressure to deliver more in less time. Everyone is rushing, everyone is stretched to their limits. Add the ever-present cellphone beeping and buzzing and demanding our attention and perhaps it’s a wonder slips and falls don’t happen even more often than they already do.

We’re so conditioned to react when the vibration goes off or the tone chimes in our pockets that we just grab it without thinking, Koch said.

“If you knowingly put yourself at risk by knowingly going quickly through an area with slip and fall exposures, it’s just Russian roulette – at some point you’re going to get broken.” — Peter Koch, safety management specialist, The MEMIC Group.

“Even that, in certain conditions, is going to be enough to put you on the ground.”

Awareness of environmental factors should also be part of the training, Koch said, especially in terms of what workers can’t control, like inclement weather.  He said the main thing he tries to impress upon people is to slow down in a high-risk environment.

“If you knowingly put yourself at risk by knowingly going quickly through an area with slip and fall exposures, it’s just Russian roulette – at some point you’re going to get broken.”

Koch says that getting people to put all of these facets of awareness together is where the training can really click.

The goal is that when they approach an area with a higher-risk surface, employees are thinking “for those few seconds or minutes that I’m going to be walking through it, I need to have a greater sense of awareness, I need to put away the mental [distractions] and focus on what I’m doing – don’t answer your phone, don’t answer your texts.”

Some employers are looking to address the human piece of the slip and fall puzzle by using training that goes far beyond hazard awareness. Active slip-prevention training focuses on body mechanics and teaches workers how to respond when they feel themselves begin to slip.

One such program revolves around the Slip Simulator, technology born of a research partnership between Virginia Tech researchers and UPS. The simulator that creates slippery and hazardous conditions in a controlled environment while participants walk in a harness so they can slip safely. An instructor offers real-time guidance on how to alter their movements to avoid falling.

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After mastering the initial technique, trainees face additional challenges related to their specific work environments, such as walking up ramps or turning wheels. A New Mexico security team practiced drawing firearms while standing on the simulator, which led to a change in how they wear their weapons. Workers at an Ohio refinery practiced stepping over pipes and turning large valves.

Clients of the program are reporting 60 to 80 percent reductions in accident rates.

The Road Ahead

A comprehensive slip and fall prevention plan is a must for employers, experts agreed, with clear, consistent procedures that empower employees to be a part of the solution.

“Employees play a very critical role,” said Liberty Mutual’s Maynard. “If they see a slip risk or a slipperiness issue, they need to be able to report it and they need to be able to get that corrected immediately. They have an important role in maintaining a safe facility and reducing risk themselves — be proactive, don’t walk by, clean it up.

“Any time you can involve the employee in solutions …. the likelihood of success of that intervention is higher.”

Maynard added that the best prevention plans will also be forward-looking.

“Understand where current safety performance is. Then make a roadmap to get better,” he said. “Emphasize where you’re doing well,” then identify opportunities to effect improvement, now and over the next three, four or five years.

“Prevention is too often reactive,” Maynard said. “We’ve got an issue and now what do we do? The goal is for companies to be proactive.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]