Water Crisis

Water Crisis Damages Flint Businesses

Flint businesses are seeing a loss of revenues and continue to face reputational damage.
By: | March 11, 2016 • 3 min read

Early this year, President Obama declared a state of emergency due to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., making the city and its residents eligible for federal disaster aid.

Officials eventually took action to make Flint’s water supply safer, but businesses still face reputational damage, loss of revenue and for the most part, no insurance coverage due to pollution exclusions.

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In April 2014, Flint switched from using Detroit’s water system to draw its own drinking water from the Flint River. Since then, the river’s acidic water corroded lead pipes, leaking lead into the city’s drinking water.

While residents began complaining in 2015 about the odd smell, taste, and discoloration of the water, public officials insisted it was safe to drink. That was until a September 2015 study by the Hurley Medical Center found that the number of children with above-average levels of lead in their blood nearly doubled after the city changed its water source.

Flint officials acknowledged the problem and the city started getting water from Detroit again the following month.

But the damage had already been done, not just to the thousands of residents who were exposed to high levels of lead, but to homes and businesses with lead plumbing that began to corrode from the acidity.

While a safer source of water is now in place, the physical and economic damages could mount for years.

Businesses in the city are “significantly impacted,” said George Wilkinson, group vice president of the Flint and Genese Chamber of Commerce.

The event is not only a public health crisis but an economic crisis that is resulting in a loss of sales and a halting of business operations, he said. It has been especially problematic for restaurants, hotels and those in the hospitality industry.

“They’re seeing a significant decline in [revenue]. There’s also an increase in expenses because they’re buying bottled water and having to install filtration systems,” Wilkinson said.

Flint’s restaurants now regularly test their water and some installed filtration systems that can cost up to $2,000 each.

While business owners can act to ensure their water is lead-free, the real problem is the reputational damage that the city faces, he said.

“They can be cleared by the Health Department but the real problem is the negative perception. The media is portraying Flint as a war zone,” Wilkinson said.

Flint business owners are largely left exposed because business interruption insurance has stringent pollution exclusions, said Micha Knapp, a producer at the Graham Co. in Philadelphia.

Most general liability and property policies preclude any business interruption or property damage arguments a customer could make, he said. In addition, commercial general liability policies do not cover risks associated with polluted water as they often contain an Absolute Pollution Exclusion or a Total Pollution Exclusion specific to lead.

“From a liability and property perspective, there’s often a suite of pollution exclusions that will remove any coverage for a pollutant or containment like lead. It can leave a company susceptible,” Knapp said.

Dave Walker, president of Hartland Insurance Agency in Hartland, Mich., said few businesses in Flint have the specialized insurance necessary to cover businesses losses.

“They would have to have expected this to have that kind of coverage in place. It’s not something most businesses carry,” he said. “Most will have to [cover losses] out of pocket.”

Knapp said it’s important for Flint businesses to continue to effectively test the water for environmental hazards that could impact customers’ health. He recommended they also consider eventually removing and replacing lead pipes on their properties.

Companies can also consider a Pollution Legal Liability insurance policy, which is geared specifically to the restaurant, hospitality and real estate sectors. Such coverage will also protect companies against liability and property damage associated with Legionella.

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“Most don’t have it but there are markets out there that will pick up that coverage,” Knapp said.

Flint’s water crisis could be a glimpse into a mounting national problem, according to experts.

Fitch Ratings said in early-March that there are more than 6 million lead water service lines in existence around the country, most of which are located in the Northeast and Midwest.

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of an advisory board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Committee, said in an article for the Detroit Free Press that many of the nation’s pipes can not be located or tested.

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He 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]