Safe Places for Risky Outdoor Play
Children inevitably suffer cuts, scrapes and other “boo-boos” in the course of swinging, sliding and climbing, but many of the 200,000 annual emergency room visits from playground accidents are preventable, according to insurance and playground experts.
Many factors contribute to eliminating known hazards so children can stretch their wings as safely as possible.
Best practices include ensuring good sight lines for supervisors, isolating bigger kids from toddlers to avoid collisions, soft surfacing under equipment, sound S-hook connectors on swings, the elimination of head and torso entrapments, coatings to seal splinters, signage to alert caregivers to remove the strings from hoodies that can result in strangulation … the list goes on.
Even with the most vigilant design and maintenance, though, “we can’t and shouldn’t eliminate all hazards,” said Bill Hooker, risk manager and training program supervisor, Park District Risk Management Agency in Chicago.
“Even if we could, no child would ever want to play in a risk-free playground.”
A playground cleansed of hazards — no moving parts or heights to fall from, for example — may be so boring that resourceful children will use the equipment in a manner the manufacturer never intended, said James D. Smith, director, risk control services, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
“Children make up their own games on equipment, and then you have new dangers you can’t plan against.”
This creativity calls for close supervision, Smith said.
The way a community regards its playgrounds, the kind of apparatus it provides and the diligence with which it inspects and maintains them, awakens philosophical questions, said Kenneth Kutska, executive director, International Playground Safety Institute LLC.
“We ask, ‘What is our goal?’ That starts a discussion about what risk is acceptable.” On the one hand, he said, play teaches critical developmental skills, with the risk of injuries along the way.
“If we take the risk out of playgrounds, we also take out the challenge and learning opportunities. When our primary goal is to meet financial goals, we fail our children.”
Minimal Legal Oversight
Communities benefit from the multitude of programs and standards that eliminate known hazards, said Timothy L. McCarty, risk control manager for Trident Public Risk Solutions.
These include the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s “Public Playground Safety Handbook,” which gives guidance on safety features such as shock-absorbent surfacing materials and safe arrangement of equipment; the American Society for Testing and Materials’ voluntary consensus standards on age-appropriate equipment, fencing, sight lines and recommended outerwear, among many other hazards; and The National Recreation and Park Association’s Playground Safety Inspector Certification.
While these programs offer “great guidance,” said McCarty, they are not law. Only 15 states regulate playgrounds. Only California, with the most robust oversight, mandates inspections. “It’s not illegal in most places to have uninspected playgrounds,” said McCarty, which puts children and communities at risk.
We can’t and shouldn’t eliminate all hazards. Even if we could, no child would ever want to play in a risk-free playground. — Bill Hooker, risk manager and training program supervisor, Park District Risk Management Agency.
Maintenance failures are the single greatest risk of loss and credibility, said Kutska, contributing to 40 percent of injuries. The other major contributors are noncompliant surfacing, failure to train or hire trained inspectors, failure to document inspections and corrections, and inadequate supervision.
Municipal and school district liability varies from state to state, said Thom Rickert, vice president, head of marketing, Trident Risk Solutions, and some states have immunity laws for owner-operators of recreational spaces. New York City has municipal regulations that require adults to be accompanied by a child to keep predators away. “Liability depends on the venue,” he said.
Heavy Wear and Tear
About 75 percent of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most of those occur at schools and daycare centers — which have far fewer certified playground inspectors on staff than municipal parks, said AJG’s Smith.
School playgrounds get a disproportionate share of wear and tear, said Greg Hennecke, risk management representative, Hylant Administrative Services, and spokesperson for the National Recreation and Park Association as well as one of its certified playground safety inspector instructors.
They’re used hard for the three-odd hours of recess on the 180 days per year school is in session, then do double duty after school and on weekends, especially in communities where municipal parks are scarce.
“That puts more pressure on school districts to maintain them,” he said.
How much use a playground gets is one of many factors driving the frequency of inspections, Hennecke said. The insurer also considers whether the state has sovereign immunity laws. Exception clauses to the laws, which may strip immunity in the presence of physical defects, should put yet more emphasis on maintenance programs.
Current design standards are much different, and much safer, than they were 15 to 20 years ago, when wood parks with elevated ramps and turrets were the style, but they splintered and cracked as they aged. “Most installers know and adhere to the standards we inspect against,” said Smith.
Layout is also important, such as allowing sufficient room between the shoot of a slide or a swing and the next piece of apparatus or a fence. In addition, the composite material from which most equipment is now built stands up to weather and very hard wear better than the wood and metals of yore.
To minimize injuries and liability, Hooker recommended a “diamond of care” — four interrelated steps that together identify and minimize safety hazards:
1) Knowledge of standards and best practices.
2) Inspections by trained inspectors.
3) Corrections, including routine and preventive repairs, and if necessary, removal of hazardous equipment.
4) Documentation of action taken.
Surfacing Materials Matter
Falls onto hard surfaces account for about half of the injuries serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit, according to the CDC, but a serious injury doesn’t necessarily call for removal of the apparatus from which the child fell, Smith said.
Although removing the apparatus will remove its risk and liability, he said, the better option is more and better absorbing material, such as wood chips, gravel, sand, rubber pads, bark mulch or engineered wood fiber. In several cases, families claim “spinning disc” rides threw their toddlers to the ground, which wasn’t buffered by absorbing material.
“Insufficient surfacing material is the direct reason we have more serious injuries,” said Kenny Smith, risk control manager, OneBeacon Government Risks. He often sees “big divots” scooped out under swings.
Many entities, such as the Richland (Washington) School District, are removing swings from playgrounds on the advice of their insurance carriers but also because they use space inefficiently.
Experts said large modular play structures, or even a “return to nature,” installing big rocks with absorbent materials as flooring, are more efficient yet fun uses of playground space. &
Helping the Helpers
From civilian war casualties to masses displaced by natural catastrophes to the survivors of devastating events, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have long provided aid to people in crisis. But NGOs still are working on how to better protect their own workers, supplies and assets from the same perils — and others — that aid recipients face.
Indeed, over just the past half-decade, smaller international aid organizations — which make up the bulk of the NGO community — have significantly formalized and beefed up their risk management programs.
Part of that is serendipitous, as the insurance market generally has softened for NGOs, and technological advancements have improved these organizations’ ability to keep their workers safe, experts say. But court cases also have had an impact.
Shifting Legal Landscape
“There were some organizations that just weren’t appropriately sensitive to the exposures [faced by workers],” said Scott R. Konrad, a New York-based senior vice president and the not-for-profit business practice leader for HUB International Northeast Ltd.
Konrad says their “wake-up call” was the lawsuit that aid volunteer Flavia Wagner filed against NGO Samaritan’s Purse following her abduction and 105-day captivity in Sudan in 2010.
Wagner alleged the organization neither adequately trained her nor promptly paid her kidnappers’ ransom demands. Without admitting liability, the NGO settled, although it said it had trained Wagner and she had signed a hold-harmless agreement elucidating the risks she faced.
Two years after Wagner’s ordeal, four Norwegian Refugee Council staff members in Kenya were kidnapped for four days. Another was shot and injured during the abduction. A Norwegian court in 2015 ruled the NRC was grossly negligent in how it handled the incident.
“Key to the ruling was the court’s verdict that they ‘cannot see that there is a basis for applying a more lenient standard of due care for employers within the aid sector than that for other employers,’ ” said Matthew Smith, a London-based associate managing consultant for risk consultant NYA International Ltd.
“Although this was just a Norwegian verdict, this and other incidents have given the international NGO industry impetus to examine their security risk management procedures with a view to ensuring duty of care.”
Those workers’ experiences were not unique. From 2004 through 2014, the last year for which data is available, the number of major attacks against aid operations worldwide and the resulting number of aid worker victims climbed dramatically, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. The AWSD is a project of London-based Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research and policy advisory organization.
In 2014, there were 329 attacks and 190 victims, compared to 125 attacks and 63 victims in 2004. In 2013, the number of attacks and victims reached record levels: 474 and 264, respectively.
NGOs’ Insurance Portfolio
NGOs and their workers also face numerous additional risks, which the organizations are insuring as well.
Besides being injured or kidnapped while on assignment, workers also can be injured traveling to and from assignments, and they can suffer a work- or non-work-related illness, disease or injury in a foreign land. All of those incidents could necessitate medical attention and evacuation.
If the NGO is large enough, it also might send supplies and assets, such as vehicles, to a country. Indeed, vehicle fleets usually are the second-highest expense after employee compensation for those NGOs, according to Washington, D.C.-based specialty broker Clements Worldwide.
NGOs also face foreign general liability risk and professional liability risk.
“The international aid organization insurance portfolio, in terms of breadth of coverages, is looking a lot more like a commercial portfolio these days,” said Bruce Cohen, a Washington, D.C.-based managing director in the multinational client services unit at Marsh LLC.
“I definitely think [risk management] has evolved” at NGOs, said Meghan Smith, a Philadelphia-based senior account executive in the commercial markets unit at Zurich North America.
NGOs today are better informed about not only “coverages and what they should be looking for,” but also about local insurance requirements overseas regarding admitted coverage and minimum limits, she said.
While there is plenty of insurance market competition for their risks, NGOs need to be circumspect about what they purchase, brokers advise.
For example, coverage often excludes war and terrorism, said Scott Lockman, director of commercial insurance for Clements.
In some cases, war risk is excluded and terrorism is not, but the lines between those two risks “can be blurred,” said Joseph Weiss, a New York-based vice president of underwriting and the segment leader for corporate accident and sickness business at Chubb.
Sometimes, insurers do not extend coverage to certain countries or for endemic diseases, Marsh’s Cohen said.
NGOs can buy back those coverages, however.
Lockman noted that Clements and Lloyd’s of London syndicates have developed a block of coverages for NGOs that include war and terrorism coverage. Only some of the larger NGOs historically have purchased kidnap and ransom coverage.
But Christopher Arehart, a Chicago-based senior vice president and product manager at Chubb, has “seen an uptick in the K&R product from aid organizations,” including some interest from smaller organizations.
Smaller NGOs are realizing their workers might not be covered by the K&R insurance purchased by an umbrella organization that has contracted for the smaller groups’ services, he said.
“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection.” — Laura Schauble, vice president of risk management, ACDI/VOCA
Budgets, however, continue to affect NGOs’ purchase decisions.
“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection,” said Laura Schauble, the Washington, D.C.-based vice president of risk management at NGO ACDI/VOCA.
For example, ACDI/VOCA, which promotes economic growth in emerging democracies, insures its fleets overseas for the most common losses: collision damage and theft.
But it typically does not buy terrorism coverage, since the NGO does not operate in war zones, Schauble said.
Many brokers and insurers team with risk consultants to help NGOs mitigate risk.
“But not everybody [among NGOs] is aware of that,” said John Warren, a vice president and client executive for Marsh in Washington D.C.
“They think they have to go out to consultants, but it’s already paid for.”
In any case, experts see NGOs paying closer attention to their duty of care.
George Taylor, the Annapolis, Md.-based vice president of global operations at risk management consultant iJet International, finds that NGOs are conducting far more research on the regions they will be operating in.
NGOs also are more engaged in assessing how workers will move about the area they will be working in, where workers will lodge or camp, and other worker vulnerabilities, risk consultants said.
NGOs are taking steps to mitigate the risks to workers by, for example, establishing check-in, in-country travel and lodging protocols, Taylor said. Many NGOs also are embedding a full-time security adviser in their field teams, rather than directing a senior project leader to assume those added duties, he said.
Advances in technology are enabling NGOs to keep better track of their workers, risk management experts said.
For example, volunteers have smartphone and notebook travel apps that provide intelligence, updates and emergency alerts about the areas where they are working.
To ensure workers do not miss critical information, the apps can be set to chime when information arrives. Other apps provide GPS tracking information on workers to their organizations’ security contractors.
And more NGOs are outfitting workers with satellite phones in case a region’s cell phone or Wi-Fi service is interrupted, iJet’s Taylor said.
To reduce the kidnapping risk, some NGOs working in the Eastern Hemisphere are setting up local affiliates that are overseen by Westerners but tap field workers largely from local regions, Chubb’s Arehart said.
Especially significant, before workers head out on assignment, more NGOs now rehearse crisis plans with project managers, group leaders and volunteers, risk advisers said.
“You can never rehearse enough,” Taylor said. “People need to know their part of the plan” for staying safe and responding when safety and health conditions deteriorate.
“It’s all about education,” Clements’ Lockman said.
At ACDI/VOCA, that education process includes detailing the risk management program’s limitations, Schauble said. For example, medical evacuations are run out of commercial airports, not remote locations. Ensuring that workers fully understand how a risk management program is designed is critical to getting their buy-in of the program, Schauble said.
“So what I see now is more of an organizational effort and individual commitment” to risk management, Taylor said. To him, improved NGO risk management comes down to four elements:
• Staying informed.
• Maintaining situational awareness.
• Having a communication plan.
“NGOs can no longer simply accept security risks in the same way they did previously, given the multiplicity of threats to their personnel and a tightening legal landscape,” NYA International’s Smith said.
However, “there’s room for improvement,” Taylor said. &
Cyber: The Overlooked Environmental Threat
“Cyber breach” conjures fears of lost or ransomed data, denial of service, leaked corporate secrets and phishing scams.
But in a world where so many physical operations are automated and controlled by digital technologies, the consequences of cyber attacks extend far beyond the digital realm to include property damage, bodily injury, and even environmental pollution.
Industrial companies that deal with hazardous materials — like power plants, refineries, factories, water treatment facilities or pipelines — are heavily dependent on automated technology to maximize their efficiency. Other sectors use technology to control HVAC systems, power and utilities, placing their properties at risk as well.
Cyber risks like theft of personally identifiable data have been highly publicized in recent years, but physical risks like pollution sparked by a cyber breach may not be as obvious.
“It’s significant to lose 100,000 customers’ Social Security numbers,” said William Bell, Senior Vice President, Environmental, Liberty International Underwriters, “but can you imagine if a waste treatment facility’s operations get hacked, gates open, and thousands of tons of raw sewage go flowing down a local river?”
In many industrial complexes, a network of sensors gathers and monitors data around machinery efficiency and the flow of the materials being processed. They send that information to computer terminals that interpret the data into commands for the hardware elements like motors, pumps and valves.
This automation technology can control, for example, the flow of pipelines, the level of water or waste held in a reservoir, or the gates that hold in and control the release of vast quantities of sewage and other process materials. Hackers who want to cause catastrophe could hijack that system and unleash damaging pollutants.
And it’s already happened.
In 2000, a hacker caused 800,000 liters of untreated sewage to flood the waterways of Maroochy Shire, Australia. In 2009, an IT contractor, disgruntled because he was not hired full-time, disabled leak detection alarm systems on three off-shore oil rigs near Long Beach, Calif.
Just last year, cyber attackers infiltrated the network of a German steel mill through a phishing scam, eventually hacking into the production control system and manipulating a blast furnace so it could not be shut down. The incident led to significant property damage.
According to a leading industrial security expert and executive director of the International Society of Automation, “Today’s operational technologies—such as sensors, SCADA systems, software and other controls that drive modern industrial processes—are vulnerable to cyber attack. The risk of serious damage or compromise to power and chemical plants, oil and gas facilities, chemical and water installations and other vital critical infrastructure assets is real.”
“The hacks could come from anywhere: a teenager looking for entertainment, a disgruntled worker, or more sophisticated criminals or terrorists,” Bell said. “There are certainly groups out there with political and ideological motivations to wreak that kind of havoc.”
“We are working to bring the cyber component of environmental risk to the forefront. Cyber security is not just an IT issue. Industry executives need to be aware of the real-world risks and danger associated with an industrial cyber attack as well as the critical differences between cyber security and operational technology security.”
— William Bell, Senior Vice President, Environmental, Liberty International Underwriters
The cleanup cost of an environmental disaster can climb into the hundreds of millions, and even if a cyber breach triggered the event, a cyber policy alone will not cover the physical and environmental damage it caused.
The risk is even more pointed now, as resource conservation becomes increasingly important. Weather related catastrophe modeling is changing as both flooding and drought become more severe and frequent in different regions of the U.S. Pollution of major waterways and watersheds could have severe consequences if it affects drinking water sources, agriculture and other industrial applications that depend on this resource.
Managing the Risk
Unfortunately, major industrial corporations sometimes address their environmental exposure with some hubris. They trust in their engineers to remove the risk by designing airtight systems, to make a disaster next to impossible. The prospect of buying environmental insurance, then, would be superfluous, an expression of doubt in their science-backed systems.
Despite the strongest risk management efforts, though, no disaster is 100 percent avoidable.
“We are working to bring the cyber component of environmental risk to the forefront,” Bell said. “Cyber security is not just an IT issue. Industry executives need to be aware of the real-world risks and danger associated with an industrial cyber attack as well as the critical differences between cyber security and operational technology security.”
The focus on network security and data protection has distracted industry leaders from strengthening operational technology security. Energy, manufacturing and other industrial sectors lack best practice standards when it comes to securing their automated processes.
After the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Department of Homeland Security began comprehensive assessments of critical infrastructure’s cyber vulnerability, working with owners and operators to develop solutions. It also offers informational guides for private companies to do the same. The National Institute of Standards and Technology also continues work on its cyber security framework for critical infrastructure. Although this helps to establish some best practices, it does not completely mitigate the risk.
Many businesses don’t see themselves as a target, but they need to look beyond their own operations and property lines. They could be an attractive target due to their proximity to densely populated areas or resources such as waterways and highways, or nationally or historically significant areas. The goal of a cyber terrorist is not always to harm the target itself, but the collateral damage.
The Role of Insurance
“Environmental liability is still by and large viewed as a discretionary purchase,” Bell said, “but the threat of a cyber attack that can manipulate those systems and ultimately lead to a pollution incident is added incentive to buy environmental coverage.”
Liberty International Underwriters’ environmental coverage could respond to many pollution conditions set off by a cyber breach event.
“Property damage, bodily injury and cleanup of any pollution at or emanating from a covered property would likely be taken care of,” Bell said. “The risk is not so much the cyber exposure but the consequence of the attack. The resulting claims and degradation to the environment could be severe, especially if the insured was a target chosen because of their unique position to have a large effect on the local population and environment.”
LIU also offers dedicated Cyber Liability insurance solutions designed to manage and mitigate the cost of responding to a cyber attack and any resultant loss of data and associated liability. Coverage includes proactive data breach response services designed to help organizations comply with regulatory requirements and prevent data breaches.
LIU’s loss control managers are also on hand to conduct assessments of insureds’ properties and facilities to examine potential environmental impacts. They can educate brokers on the importance of enhancing cyber security to prevent an environmental accident in the first place.
“People are relying more and more on their systems, automaton is increasing, and the risk is growing,” Bell said. “We’re all focused on protecting data, but the consequences of a cyber breach can be much farther reaching than data alone.”
To learn more about Liberty International Underwriters’ environmental coverages and services, visit www.LIU-USA.com.
Liberty International Underwriters is the marketing name for the broker-distributed specialty lines business operations of Liberty Mutual Insurance. Certain coverage may be provided by a surplus lines insurer. Surplus lines insurers do not generally participate in state guaranty funds and insureds are therefore not protected by such funds. This literature is a summary only and does not include all terms, conditions, or exclusions of the coverage described. Please refer to the actual policy issued for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.