Emerging Risk

Mobile Kitchens Serving Up Big Risks

A recent food truck explosion highlights need for tighter safety protocols.
By: | October 1, 2014 • 4 min read

La Parrillada Chapina, one of about 200 food trucks operating in the Philadelphia area, was conducting business as usual on the evening of July 3 when its kitchen turned into an accidental bomb.

Fire from the truck’s cooking grills ignited fumes leaking from a 4-foot propane tank used to power its equipment. The resulting explosion engulfed the entire truck and sent flames shooting across the street and the tank soaring into a nearby backyard.

Eleven people were injured, some critically, including the owner and her daughter as well as several passers-by.

Video: Watch the incredible video from Philadelphia that shows a food truck exploding into a ball of flames.

“Propane is a particularly volatile material,” said Jeff Hallman, vice president, Restaurant Programs of America. “It tends not to disperse into vapor in the same way that gasoline does. Rather, it tends to collect in the lowest lying area and has an extremely low flashpoint, meaning that the smallest spark will ignite it.”

The incident revealed a gap in safety procedures and inspection regarding such tanks.

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Philadelphia health inspectors ensure food trucks’ compliance with health codes, while the Department of Licenses and Inspections issues the necessary commercial business licenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. But no one has clear jurisdiction over inspection of the propane tanks.

“I am not sure what, if any, regulations and inspection protocols are in place for propane powered mobile cooking facilities,” Hallman said. (Hallman is a Risk Insider, whose initial article talks about how an over-reliance on modeling is diminishing the art of underwriting.)

The rapidly rising number of food trucks across the nation only increases the likelihood of tragedy and the need for tighter safety procedures.

La Parrillada Chapina is one of about 200 food trucks operating in the Philadelphia area, up from a mere 12 just three years ago. These mobile restaurants aren’t just doling out hot dogs and cheesesteaks.

They’ve become popular for providing unique cultural dining experiences, cooking up the type of specialty items with quality ingredients usually sought by foodies in niche cafes, all from kitchens the size of closets.

Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told the Inquirer that “street-side food trucks are exempt from federal regulations concerning propane if the tanks are under 220 pounds, or 440 pounds per vehicle.” La Parrillada Chapina had two 100-pound tanks.

A similar explosion occurred in New York City in 2011, when a food truck burst into flame after a car accident. In 2012, a food truck exploded at the Canadian National Exhibition, causing $30,000 in damages but no injuries. Just last year, a propane leak sparked the explosion of a food truck at a high school football game in Fresno, Calif.

No deaths have occurred from these accidents, but the force of these explosions certainly makes that a possibility.

“Accidents like this can actually help to further safety regulations to protect the public and food truck operators,” said Denny Christner, principal of Bay Risk Insurance Brokers and its wholly-owned affiliate, Insure My Food Truck. (See his profile as one of the 2014 Power Broker® winners here.)

“It’s also a good time for food truck owners to closely look at their insurance coverage to protect them personally, to protect their business and to protect their employees,” he said.

Christner outlined a combination of general liability, commercial auto and workers’ comp coverage to cover losses in the event of an explosion. General liability would cover third-party injury and property damage, usually up to a limit of $1 million, he said, after which an umbrella policy would kick in. Commercial auto would cover the truck itself as well as its kitchen modifications and equipment.

Workers’ comp would cover first-party injury — an important piece that owners may not consider since many food trucks are family-run.

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“Many food truck owners think they are exempt because they hire family, but this is not the case unless the family members are owners of the business,” Christner said. “It is very rare that we see food trucks offering health insurance to their staff. All on-the-job injuries would need to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.”

According to Christner, most gourmet food trucks carry general liability policies because the venues they serve usually require at least $1 million of coverage per occurrence. They also carry auto liability because they know they need it to protect their business. However, “because it’s hard to make a decent profit in this business, we find that many food trucks may carry low limits to keep their insurance costs down.”

“It would be a good time,” he said, “for food truck owners to ask their agent or broker, ‘How would my current coverage respond to a loss like the explosion that just occurred?’ and ‘What can I do to increase coverage or add protection should my current coverage not be sufficient?’ ”

(Photo by George Garrigues)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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.

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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.

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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]