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Weathering Winter Storms

Insurance pros share risk-management tips for businesses and homeowners

By Cydney Baron | January 15, 2021

Winter can be messy. The season is ripe with potential for injury and property damage, from snowstorms, icy conditions and traffic accidents, among other causes. And that poses a unique, and sometimes treacherous, set of problems for businesses and home owners.

“2020 was a tough year not only because of COVID and the economy, but also due to weather damage,” said Brad Billingsley, Risk Management Practice Leader for BOK Financial Insurance. “We had the most active hurricane season on record and one of the most costly ever.”

Winter-related damages have caused more than $2 billion in damages, with the number climbing each year; 2020 is said to be the fifth-costliest year for the insurance industry since 1970.

Some of the most common winter-related claims for both businesses and homes include frozen pipes, hail damage, wind damage and tree collapses, as well as fires caused by space heaters. Here are some tips from the insurance professionals to make your winter a little less slippery.

Protecting your business

Billingsley said we are in what insurance professionals call a “hard market,” a time marked by higher premiums and reduced capacity caused by economic downturn or natural disaster.

“The reality is severe weather can happen all year, but there are things that property owners can do from an insurance perspective to protect their business.”

Billingsley offered three easy tips to prepare for the winter weather season.

  1. Inspect boilers and furnaces before there’s an issue.
  2. Wrap and insulate pipes—countless claims come from broken pipes.
  3. Clean your gutters so there’s no water trapped there to freeze and cause issues.

The next step is to reduce the risk of a worker’s compensation claim.

“Some of the most severe injury claims we see come from people with head, knee, back or shoulder injuries from slipping on ice,” he said. “Make sure you’re putting ice melt on loading docks, sidewalks, employee parking areas and the like.”

When contracting with snow removal companies, Billingsley recommends that business owners get certificates of insurance from the contractors and, if possible, be named as an additional insured.

Another key area for review is trucking and transportation. “For those getting in and out of tall rigs on a frequent basis, for example, make sure there’s proper training, boots with traction, and other safety procedures in place,” he said.

Billingsley said employers should provide winter driving safety training for all employees especially fleet and delivery drivers. “This needs to happen from the leadership down, making training for winter driving a top priority.”

It is also important to share what steps you’re taking to alleviate risk with your insurance underwriter, he advised.

“It may sound mundane—wrapping pipes and winter driving training—but share this with your insurance company and underwriters,” he said. “Especially in this hard insurance market, when every company is trying to get quotes because rates are going up. The more you can highlight how you are taking these steps around winter weather, hurricanes and safety of employees, the better the results.”

Billingsley suggests that businesses that have adapted their business model to include delivery services as a result of the pandemic should check with their insurance broker in advance to make sure they have the right policies in place.

Partner with your broker to thoroughly understand what’s covered and what’s not, and determine what the risks are and ways to address them—before they arise, he cautioned.

Protecting your home

Many of the same tips apply to protecting your personal property, said Jenny Broomhall, Operations Manager – Risk Management at BOK Financial Insurance.

“One large, impactful claim is water losses from pipes freezing and bursting,” said Broomhall. “If you’re going to be away from the home for a while, turn off water to the house or have someone come in to check on things. Also, have adequate heating to your pipes.”

Broomhall said it’s important to protect vehicles as well. “Be sure that you have the appropriate snow tires if you live somewhere that gets significant snow…bald tires and snow aren’t a winning combination.” Every home should be stocked with functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, she advised.

Additionally, keep your gutters clean and perform regular roof maintenance and repair.

“If an emergency does take place, take any steps you can to mitigate loss,” Broomhall said. “For instance, if a tree falls into your house and leaves a hole in the roof, do what you can to patch it while waiting for an adjustor to come out rather than leaving your home exposed during the wait.”

“Make sure you have a great insurance agent who is very consultative,” she said. “Having this relationship will make sure there are no gaps or misunderstandings in your coverage.”