Editor’s Note: This article, previously published in 2012, offers evergreen tips on staying safe while adjusting catastrophe losses.
Displaced rats, contaminated flood waters, downed electrical wires and unstable flooring are just some of the dangers encountered by workers assessing Sandy damage.
Stephen Figlin, a public adjuster with Young Adjustment Co. who has handled cat claims since 1966, has seen a wide array of weather-related losses and makes a mental checklist each time he’s assigned to a new loss.
Ron Schaible, a certified safety professional and professional engineer with Robson Forensic, has taught seminars on disaster site safety. Both he and Figlin offered general safety tips for adjusters to keep in mind while visiting storm-damaged sites.
“Adjusters don’t always think about their own personal safety,” Figlin said. “You can’t rely on the stuff you would wear to walk down the street.”
According to Figlin, cat adjusters should consider wearing durable work boots. He wears boots with steel shanks as a result of stepping on a nail that went right through his shoe. Equally important to have on hand is a pair of rubber slush boots for wading through floodwaters that might contain shorted out electrical wires.
Schaible recommended adjusters make sure the electricity is off in a flooded building, indicating that an adjuster might have to work with the utility company to arrange to power down a house or building.
“Be observant. If it looks like it isn’t safe to go in there – don’t do it,” Schaible said.
Rubber boots are also helpful in case flood waters are contaminated with E.coli and raw sewage, said Schaible, who added that adjusters should make sure they have proper inoculations.
“Floodwater is usually very contaminated. By the time it settles enough to allow people to walk through it, the water has picked up sewage, debris, dead animals and dangerous objects,” wrote Annamarie Gibbs, senior vice president and manager of Risk Control Services for Lockton.
Every adjuster should carry a hardhat, safety goggles, rubber gloves and working flashlights, the Robson Forensic safety expert said. While it’s important to have the flashlights on hand while working claims where there are power outages, he said adjusters should avoid working past daylight hours due to the safety risk.
Figlin carries a toolbox in his car which contains a pry bar, hammer and pliers in case there’s something that needs to be move out of the way or opened. He’s had to pry open a file cabinet to assist an insured in removing important papers.
Since many weather-related disasters occur in warm weather and handling cat claims is strenuous work, both Figlin and Schaible emphasized staying hydrated.
“You have to keep yourself hydrated. You don’t realize how strenuous working a flood or cat area can be,” Figlin said.
If Figlin is staying at a hotel while handling a cat loss, he will fill the ice bucket with ice and place it in his car cooler to keep bottled water cool. Once the ice is melted and his bottled water reserve is gone, he can use it for additional drinking water or to wash his hands.
On one cat loss assignment Figlin brought bottled water and a week’s worth of food (MRE’s). Schaible agreed, adding that it’s important to be self-sustaining and always have an emergency medical kit and extra batteries on hand.
Dust masks are useful to have on hand too, Figlin said, citing the havoc Superstorm Sandy caused when sand was dredged up. He said the sand may have caused electrical issues with his vehicle.
He’s found that GPS and satellite phones have come in handy and suggested adjusters listen to news reports to determine their necessity.
Much like the residents of New Jersey and New York, Figlin encountered difficulty filling up his gas tank. He said he often carries extra gas.
Both he and Schaible emphasized the need to keep in touch. Schaible recommended adjusters check in with local government personnel before heading out to a cat scene.
“Check in with the local police, fire, EMS people there before you go to the site. They can tell you where it is safe and not safe to go,” said Schaible.
Even if local officials have deemed an area safe to enter, Schaible said adjusters need to be cognizant that floors, stairs and handrails may not be in good condition.
Both recommended adjusters be wary of stray animals.
“Catastrophes are bad enough on humans…Domestic or stray – don’t trust either. They can be displaced just like people,” said Schaible.
OSHA is a good safety practice resource, Schaible said. In fact, OSHA has published a Hurricane Sandy cleanup and recovery webpage (http://www.osha.gov/sandy/index.html) that provides resources on the common hazards associated with hurricane recovery work.
The government safety agency noted that the most common hazards associated with the storm include “downed electrical wires, carbon monoxide and electrical hazards from portable generators, fall and “struck-by” hazards from working at heights, being caught in unprotected excavations or confined spaces, burns, lacerations, musculoskeletal injuries, being struck by traffic or heavy equipment, toxic chemical exposure and drowning from being caught in moving water or while removing water from flooded structures.”
Schaible said that NIOSH and the National Safety Council are also good resources for safety tips.
“If you’re going to investigate a catastrophe – just try not to become a part of it,” Schaible added.
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