Hailstorms Grow Less Predictable and More Expensive
Hailstorms increased in frequency and severity over the last 20 years, largely a result of climate change and more extreme weather conditions. Insurance costs are spiking as a result, too.
Hail causes about $1 billion in damage to crops and property in the United States every year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In 2015, NOAA’s Severe Storms database recorded 5,411 major hailstorms. The worst affected area was Texas, with 783 hailstorms.
“The hardest part for some customers has been that there have been successive hailstorms.” — Jill Dalton, managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting
This year, hailstorms in late March and April are expected to result in total losses to vehicles, homes and businesses in north San Antonio and Bexar County of more than $2 billion, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.
San Antonio’s first hailstorm on April 12 became the costliest hailstorm in Texas history, the council said.
Between 2000 and 2013, U.S. insurers paid out almost $54 billion in claims from hail losses, and 70 percent of the losses occurred in just the last six years, said a report by Verisk Insurance Solutions.
The average claim severity was also 65 percent higher during that period, than from 2000 to 2007, the report said. Most losses were from broken windows and roof damage.
Added to that, hailstorms are increasingly harder to forecast and are occurring in unlikely places, with reports of hail this year in warmer climates such as South Florida.
Trying to Better Understand How Hail is Produced
Now, insurers and scientists are trying to better understand how hail is produced and take steps to mitigate damage.
“The hardest part for some customers has been that there have been successive hailstorms,” Jill Dalton, managing director at Aon Global Risk Consulting.
“When it happens over such a short period of time, as in the case of the recent Texas hailstorms, it’s hard to deduce what was damage from the first storm versus the third or fourth storm.”
Steve Bowen, director at Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting team, said that the location and intensity of the hailstorm were the most important factors in determining the magnitude of hail damage.
For example, if a hailstorm hits a more densely populated area it is likely to cause more damage.
“It is really important to emphasize that the total number of hail reports does not necessarily correlate to either higher or lower level of losses,” he said.
He said that, overall, insurable damage resulting from severe convective storms in the United States increased by 6.5 percent above the rate of inflation annually since 1980, most of which was attributed to hailstorms.
“The research done will also enable us to characterize the event in order to forecast future storms more effectively.” — Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist, IBHS Research Center
The Insurance Institute of Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a consortium of insurers, has been working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., to find ways to strengthen homes and businesses against hail damage.
“Overall hail losses are going up and a lot of it is to do with that fact that we are simply putting a lot more stuff in the path of storms nowadays,” said Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist at the IBHS Research Center.
“So, moving forward now, risk mitigation strategies are going to become much more important and that can be achieved with improved product and testing to ensure that they are properly hail resistant.
“The research done will also enable us to characterize the event in order to forecast future storms more effectively.”
Take Steps to Reduce Losses
Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, said that given the difference in quality of roofing materials in terms of impact resistance, it was paramount to invest in the proper type of covering.
Others steps include making sure that the roof is fully secured.
The insurance industry has an Underwriters Laboratory standard for roofing material with four classes of impact level. Class 4 is the most resistant. In some cases, insurers will provide a discount for roofs made with hail resistant materials.
After the event, it is important to assess any damage and protect property against further damage by covering broken windows and plugging holes in the roof.
Most property insurance policies will cover against hail damage, as will comprehensive auto coverage.
“A hailstorm is a typically covered loss included as a named peril,” said Dalton.
She added that usually there are no policy limits on hail and most coverage is subject to a deductible.
In hail prone areas, such as Texas and South Carolina, the deductible is higher than for other perils. However, both states have a fund to provide hail coverage in areas where it is not available in the private market.
After the event, it is important to assess any damage and protect property against further damage by covering broken windows and plugging holes in the roof.
It is also key to file claims as soon as possible and to keep any receipts for purchases made for immediate repairs and to then submit them to your insurer.
Their emergence has been hailed as a “game changer” and “the biggest discussion topic in insurance.” Inspired by developments in the consumer marketplace, connected personal protection equipment, or “wearables,” can track a variety of employee risk factors and generate data so powerful that many believe it will revolutionize workplace safety procedures and risk modeling.
Health-related wearables such as the FitBit are taking the consumer market by storm, but far more powerful technology is being developed and implemented in commercial settings, from heavy industry to aviation, logistics and manufacturing.
Mining giant Rio Tinto is an early adopter of wearables, providing its workers with a “SmartCap” that measures brainwaves to detect fatigue. Honeywell and Intel recently released a prototype of their “Connected Worker” solution for industrial workers and first responders, which uses a hub of sensors to track workers’ location, vital signs, motion and exposure to hazardous gases.
Whether in the form of vests, caps, glasses or materials, it is now possible to generate valuable data that brings risk managers and insurers closer to workplace risk than ever before. It is hoped these insights should in turn help safety supervisors improve workplace design and procedure, foster safer worker behaviors and reduce workers’ compensation claims.
Having observed several pilot studies closely, David Bassi, former head of innovation and risk consulting, casualty for AIG, said safety wearables could reduce losses by up to 50 percent in some situations.
“The test cases are so compelling, it’s just a matter of scalability,” he said.
“The explosion will come pretty quickly. Virtually everyone I know in a safety role at a big company is interested in participating in a pilot or thinking about how to incorporate this kind of technology into their workplace.”
With demand strong, supply growing and costs coming down, the final piece of the puzzle is the insurance market, which insureds hope will begin to offer responsive pricing, customized products and client incentives once wearables’ benefits begin to be realized.
“In an age when data is becoming ever more critical for the insurance industry, this is huge,” said Michael Sillat, CEO of WKFC Underwriting Managers (part of Ryan Specialty Group). “A lot of the technology being developed is only being spoken about and is not available in the marketplace, but it has certainly grabbed my attention and that of many of my peers,” he said.
“Connected devices are going to have profound implications for the commercial property casualty insurance world, and wearables in particular are going to be very important in improving worker safety,” said Lex Baugh, president of casualty at AIG, which recently invested in wearable tech firm Human Condition Safety.
Nigel Walsh, vice president of CapGemini, expects more partnerships of this ilk, and heralds the ability to interact and advise on a daily, hourly or real-time basis as “game changing” for insurers.
“Insurers will no longer be claims paying companies — they will become better risk managers. When you provide value-added service and insight driven out of IoT, rather than just changing the price, you create real engagement and real value,” he said.
However, insurers don’t make knee-jerk adjustments to their terms or pricing, so for now organizations will need to take something of a leap of faith, and invest in wearables knowing it may take a number of years for improved loss experience to yield premium reductions.
The costs associated with implementing wearables into the workplace vary hugely, from a few dollars for the most rudimentary device up to millions for enterprise solutions including real-time feedback loops, network operation centers and the latest wearable technology. While the cost of equipment and data capacity continues to slowly decline, companies will need to think carefully before investing.
Rachel Michael, senior consultant in Aon Global Risk Consulting’s ergonomics practice group, said there are “no excuses” for not knowing the location and well-being of workers in hazardous jobs like firefighting or mining, for whom even expensive investments will be worthwhile, but she pointed out that companies should be sure they have done all they can to improve workplace ergonomics prior to investing.
“If an employer is palletizing 30-lb. boxes at ground level, do they really need a wearable spinal loading measurement system to determine whether this is bad?
You could save lots of time and money if you fix your line first,” she said.
Data management is also a concern — both in coping with the sheer volume of data (which Bassi said runs on some pilots into exabytes per week) and also avoiding what Michael terms “death by data” — having reams of information at your disposal but no clear plan of action.
Before a wearable technology is even considered, Michael said a planning discussion including the risk manager, HR, IT and possibly several other departments must take place. “You need to understand how much and what type of data is to be collected, how it is to be used, and what changes can be driven with the outcomes,” she said.
And companies should be prepared in case data raises uncomfortable truths, she added.
“If you hook all your workers up to smart caps and find that they are all suffering fatigue, are you willing to shut down your operations?” Michael asked, noting that this would be all but impossible in industries such as health care, firefighting or aviation.
Wearables are faced with various other challenges — from unions raising objections over potential worker discomfort or invasion of privacy, to workers becoming over-reliant on or overconfident because of the technology, or even the potential health risks associated with prolonged proximity to sensors and WiFi.
Then there are the questions around liability. If a worker with known heart issues has a heart attack on the job, could an employer tracking the vital signs be deemed negligent for not acting on warning signs? Would companies use wearables to offload responsibility for unsafe practices and workplace injury on their staff?
Ultimately, this highly promising technology should offer a win-win for insureds and insurers alike, but it can only be successful if the data is used effectively and risk managers enforce best practices through training, education and procedures.
“If all we do is sit back at the end of the week and look at the data, we’ve missed the opportunity,” said Michael.
Electronic Waste Risks Piling Up
The latest electronic devices today may be obsolete by tomorrow. Outdated electronics pose a rapidly growing problem for risk managers. Telecommunications equipment, computers, printers, copiers, mobile devices and other electronics often contain toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Improper disposal of this electronic waste not only harms the environment, it can lead to heavy fines and reputation-damaging publicity.
Federal and state regulators are increasingly concerned about e-waste. Settlements in improper disposal cases have reached into the millions of dollars. Fines aren’t the only risk. Sensitive data inadvertently left on discarded equipment can lead to data breaches.
To avoid potentially serious claims and legal action, risk managers need to understand the risks of e-waste and to develop a strategy for recycling and disposal that complies with local, state and federal regulations.
The Risks Are Rising
E-waste has been piling up at a rate that’s two to three times faster than any other waste stream, according to U.S Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Any product that contains electronic circuitry can eventually become e-waste, and the range of products with embedded electronics grows every day. Because of the toxic materials involved, special care must be taken in disposing of unwanted equipment. Broken devices can leach hazardous materials into the ground and water, creating health risks on the site and neighboring properties.
Despite the environmental dangers, much of our outdated electronics still end up in landfills. Only about 40 percent of consumer electronics were recycled in 2013, according to the EPA. Yet for every million cellphones that are recycled, the EPA estimates that about 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
While consumers may bring unwanted electronics to local collection sites, corporations must comply with stringent guidelines. The waste must be disposed of properly using vendors with the requisite expertise, certifications and permits. The risk doesn’t end when e-waste is turned over to a disposal vendor. Liabilities for contamination can extend back from the disposal site to the company that discarded the equipment.
Reuse and Recycle
To cut down on e-waste, more companies are seeking to adapt older equipment for reuse. New products feature designs that make it easier to recycle materials and to remove heavy metals for reuse. These strategies conserve valuable resources, reduce the amount of waste and lessen the amount of new equipment that must be purchased.
Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels.
For equipment that cannot be reused, companies should work with a disposal vendor that can make sure that their data is protected and that all the applicable environmental regulations are met. Vendors should present evidence of the required permits and certifications. Companies seeking disposal vendors may want to look for two voluntary certifications: the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard, and the e-Stewards certification.
The U.S. EPA also provides guidance and technical support for firms seeking to implement best practices for e-waste. Under EPA rules for the disposal of items such as batteries, mercury-containing equipment and lamps, e-waste waste typically falls under the category of “universal waste.”
About half the states have enacted their own e-waste laws, and companies that do business in multiple states may have to comply with varying regulations that cover a wider list of materials. Some materials may require handling as hazardous waste according to federal, state and local requirements. U.S. businesses may also be subject to international treaties.
Developing E-Waste Strategies
Companies of all sizes and in all industries should implement e-waste strategies. Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels. That’s a complex task that requires understanding which laws and treaties apply to a particular type of waste, keeping proper records and meeting permitting requirements. As part of their insurance program, companies may want to work with an insurer that offers auditing, training and other risk management services tailored for e-waste.
Insurance is an essential part of e-waste risk management. Premises pollution liability policies can provide coverage for environmental risks on a particular site, including remediation when necessary, as well as for exposures arising from transportation of e-waste and disposal at third-party sites. Companies may want to consider policies that provide coverage for their entire business operations, whether on their own premises or at third-party locations. Firms involved in e-waste management may want to consider contractor’s pollution liability coverage for environmental risks at project sites owned by other entities.
The growing challenges of managing e-waste are not only financial but also reputational. Companies that operate in a sustainable manner lower the risks of pollution and associated liabilities, avoid negative publicity stemming from missteps, while building reputations as responsible environmental stewards. Effective electronic waste management strategies help to protect the environment and the company.
This article is an annotated version of the new Chubb advisory, “Electronic Waste: Managing the Environmental and Regulatory Challenges.” To learn more about how to manage and prioritize e-waste risks, download the full advisory on the Chubb website.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Chubb. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.