Risk Insider: Joe Boren

When Hurricane Waters Recede, Pollution Remains

By: | October 5, 2017 • 2 min read
Joseph L. Boren is Chairman of the Environmental product line at Ironshore Holdings (U.S.) Inc., Executive Vice President of Ironshore Insurance Services, LLC, President of U.S. Field Operations and Director of Strategic Relations. He has experience in every segment of the environmental market; a regulator, practitioner, and insurer. Joe can be reached at [email protected]

During a business trip to Houston last week, I read that Harris County, Texas, was going to file a lawsuit against Arkema Chemical. We should all remember Arkema Chemical as they seemed to be on the news just about every evening after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas.

After losing power — and refrigeration — the chemicals in the Arkema plant started a fire. According to the Houston Chronicle, the subsequent explosion sickened first responders and exposed the surrounding area to untold amounts of contamination. I am not about to litigate the facts of this case, but it did get me thinking about the environmental consequences of storms like Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Let me make this point — the contamination issue pales in comparison to the loss of life, loss of your home and all of your possessions, living without power, being unable to feed your family and/or having no access to the simplest things like clean drinking water. Nevertheless, the issue of environmental contamination is incredibly serious.

It wasn’t just that tanks were crushed or that fuel oil and gasoline were everywhere; more dire was that sewage treatment plants were overrun and drums of chemicals were crushed open, leaking unknown chemicals in the flood waters.

To understand the gravity of our latest trifecta of superstorms, let me first return to an earlier time in my career, before I was in the insurance business.

Back then, I operated an environmental remediation company with a large customer base in the state of Florida. It was then and there where I met a Hurricane named Andrew. On August 24th, 1992, Andrew made landfall in Homestead, Fla. The damage was staggering – 25,000 homes destroyed, another 100,000 homes damaged and worst of all, lives were lost.

From Homestead to Kendall, Fla. — devastation was everywhere. As my company had remediation contracts with a number of major energy producers, we were asked to respond.

It wasn’t just that tanks were crushed or that fuel oil and gasoline were everywhere; more dire was that sewage treatment plants were overrun and drums of chemicals were crushed open, leaking unknown chemicals in the flood waters. It seemed that everything was contaminated — with what, we weren’t exactly sure. That story was repeated during Katrina as it now is with Harvey, Irma and Maria.

So what should we expect after the power returns, the waters recede, homes are repaired and a semblance of life is restored for our fellow citizens in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and many places in between?

Serious pollution issues.

One government official said that “superfund sites” in and around Houston were intact. I have spent more than 40 years in the environmental industry, and I simply don’t understand how anyone could make such a statement. We have absolutely no idea of the reality and gravity of the situations just yet.

What we can be sure of is that America’s resiliency will win out, and the pollution will be eventually cleaned up.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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