Risk Insider: Robert Rheel

Those Darn Tenant Losses: Causes

By: | May 27, 2015 • 3 min read

Robert Rheel has more than 30 years of insurance industry experience. He was appointed president of Aspen U.S. Insurance in August 2015, prior to which he served as head of U.S. property & casualty insurance and programs and head of customer, distribution and marketing.

If you are a landlord, insure habitational risks, or have the responsibility for placement of insurance, then you know there are many possible scenarios that can cost you money, but the number one loss driver is fire caused by tenants.

There is a long laundry list of crazy and preventable causes for these fires and certainly some scary statistics, especially for those of us with families to protect. But when warnings on everything from space heaters to candles and power cords fail to prevent accidental fires, what can be done to help protect landlords and tenants from potentially severe losses?

This is Part One of a two part series. First, let’s look at some common fire causes on tenant properties. In the next article, I will focus on what we, as an insurance community, can be doing to provide a solution for these inevitable issues.

Candles can be romantic, set the mood or simply just be the cheapest way to provide light, but they are also a common cause of fires by tenants. Tenants frequently forget about their lit candles and leave them unattended.

When warnings on everything from space heaters to candles and power cords fail to prevent accidental fires, what can be done to help protect landlords and tenants from potentially severe losses?

These forgetful tendencies can lead to a very unromantic turn of events when you find yourself standing outside your building with your neighbors watching firemen extinguish a fire that spread through the entire building including your home.

Smoking is another major cause of fires. Many fires are created by tenants who smoke in units that have oxygen tanks or fall asleep with a cigarette still burning. Both of these examples are extremely dangerous and well-publicized, yet remain a leading cause of fires.

Heating and electrical issues are also primary causes of fires by tenants. Every winter, there are tenants who forget to turn off their portable space heaters, both electrical and fuel-based, creating vulnerability to possible dangerous outcomes. And then, unfortunately, some tenants forget to turn off the stove before leaving their unit.

Children playing with fire are yet another obvious, yet quite common, source of dangerous problems. We all hear stories of kids playing with matches or a lighter, without fully comprehending the risks, which can lead to very serious accidents.

The most outlandish story that I have heard is of a tenant setting a cat on fire that ran around the apartment, creating a full-unit fire. Wow.

Clearly, the list of causes for tenant fires can go on and on, from the common causes to the more unconventional. And it seems most of these fires can or should be prevented, controlled, or managed better.

However, it has yet to be determined or made clear who exactly is responsible for these fires. It’s hard to manage a fire (and the losses they cause) without determining who is culpable and pursuing actions to mitigate and prevent future instances.

With all of these fire drivers and losses, what are the landlords and their insurers to do? Stay tuned for Part Two with a proposed solution.

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]