Why Workers’ Comp Claims Spike in the Summer

Construction Site

Workplace injury rates rise during the summer months. When summer rolls around, companies in many sectors, including agriculture and construction, significantly increase production.

Increased road construction raises risks for workers and drivers. Many of the newly hired workers are young and inexperienced, creating a high potential for workplace injuries.

Toiling in the sun is also a leading cause of weather-related injuries, including heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat illnesses occur when the body overheats to the point it cannot cool off, even with profuse sweating.

Young workers

Too often, young workers enter the workforce with little or no on-the-job safety training, heightening safety risks.

Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released a report showing that teens are twice as likely to be hurt on the job as adults.

In Washington state, a total of 547 youths aged 17 and under were injured in the workplace in 2014, up nearly 14.7% over the previous year. Of the total, 173 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 80, was reported in both the retail trades and agriculture.

Falls to the floor increased 77%, to 55 cases, as the chief cause of injury.

Young workers, aged 14 to 24, have more accidents because they lack the knowledge, training, and experience to prevent them. Some common issues employers encounter with young workers are:

  • They do not understand what can go wrong.
  • They do not always follow the rules.
  • They fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or use it incorrectly.
  • They horse around on the equipment.
  • They do not ask questions.
  • They think they are infallible.

It’s also important for supervisors to recognize the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental differences between young and adult workers. It takes extra effort to train and supervise seasonal employees on working safely.

Here are some training suggestions:

  • Repeatedly demonstrate job procedures and safety precautions. Don’t overlook the basics, such as starting and stopping equipment.
  • The step-by-step instructions for any task must include the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Take the time to clearly explain the risks of not following the proper steps. Use examples.
  • Explain when and how to use PPE, as well as where to get it, how to inspect it, and how to remove and store it properly.
  • Train one-to-one with young workers and observe them performing tasks.
  • Encourage them to report problems and to ask questions.
  • Assign specific clean-up tasks and emphasize the importance of a clean, clutter-free worksite.
  • Control the hours worked. Many popular summer jobs, such as construction workers, landscapers, and jobs in hospitality and food industries, require long hours of work in the heat that can lead to fatigue, inattention, and stress, increasing the likelihood of injury.
  • Provide a mentor.
  • Demonstrate that safety is a priority at your facility. Words aren’t enough. New workers also need to see actions that reinforce the message: clean worksite, properly labeled hazardous substances and readily accessible safety data sheets, workers wearing required PPE and who are concerned about workplace safety and show it, and so on.

Heat illness dangers

While there are many excellent resources on dealing with heat, it’s important for employers to recognize that there are individual differences among workers and those who are struggling may be hesitant to complain.

The American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites because the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

Workers new to outdoor jobs are particularly vulnerable. Implementing an acclimatization program, providing adequate water and frequent breaks are all critical, but the best way for employers to prevent heat illnesses is to consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling and provide current information on weather conditions.

Also, using apps, such as OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, is a good way for workers to monitor their risk levels.

Is Your Business Prepared for Recreational Marijuana Use?

cannabis marijuana work

Companies in states that have legalized marijuana are wrestling with how to deal with employees that use, particularly if they did so the night before and are still feeling the effects the following day.

A new survey found that one-third of business owners are not prepared for managing the effects of legalized marijuana in the workplace. The biggest issue facing employers is ensuring that workers don’t come to work under the influence, or that they don’t sneak off for a few puffs during their lunch breaks.

The problem is that it’s difficult to see if someone is under the influence if they have smoked a little bit and are slightly “buzzed.” On-the-spot drug tests won’t work because marijuana can stay in the system for 30 days or more, making it impossible to know when they used it last.

With no clear guidance, some employers have responded by relaxing their drug policies to allow for employee consumption outside the confines of the workplace, while others have kept the zero-tolerance rules in place to thwart employees who may try to use cannabis during the workday.

Employer concerns

The biggest concern for employers is workplace safety, as well as the safety of customers and even the general public if a driving employee is using while on the clock.

When someone is under the influence their judgment is impaired and their reaction time is slowed. That could lead to workplace accidents and worker injuries. That, in turn, can result in fines by OSHA as well as higher workers’ comp rates, in addition to lost time by key employees.

If an impaired worker is operating equipment in a retail establishment and injures a customer or a vendor, you could be facing a substantial liability lawsuit.

If you have an impaired driver who causes an accident and injures or kills a third party, and/or destroys a third party’s property, you could also face a liability suit.

What you can do

First, you have to decide your business’s level of tolerance for employee marijuana use. Obviously, for workers using heavy machinery, or in other safety-sensitive jobs like drivers, it would be wise to have a no-tolerance policy in place that includes drug testing.

Whether pot is legal in your state or not, you are still free to ban marijuana use on the job, just as you can alcohol – and you can fire someone for using it on the job.

It’s important that whatever policy you put in place, it is communicated to employees through a staff meeting as well as in your employee handbook. You should inform them of the consequences of violating that policy.

For the sake of workplace safety and your overall liability exposure, you should consider restricting marijuana use to the extent permitted by law.

At the very least, you should prohibit marijuana use in the workplace, as well as marijuana impairment during work hours or in the workplace.

Your approach will depend on which state your business is located in. For example, California provides a constitutional right to privacy which restricts employers from monitoring off-duty conduct.

That said, pre-employment drug-testing is generally permitted, as long as it is conducted in a fair and consistent manner and administered to all applicants for a position within a specific job class.

After employees start working, they have a higher expectation of privacy. That means you should restrict any drug-testing to suspicion-based inquiries, like someone who appears under the influence. Random testing is highly restricted in California and should be reserved for certain safety-sensitive positions.

Remember though: There are exceptions for medical marijuana use. Most workers must be allowed to take medical pot, just as they would any other legal drug.

Conduct Diversity Training to Head Off Potential Lawsuits

Happy diverse people together

After R&B star SZA said she had security called on her while shopping at a Zefora store in California, the chain closed all of its U.S. stores for an hour to conduct “inclusion workshops” for its 16,000 employees.

Zefora understood the swift backlash that can hit a company that has acted inappropriately towards a customer, particularly if they are a minority. Unfortunately, Zefora is not the only company that has made the spotlight in recent years thanks to rogue employees that cross the line and harass or discriminate against a customer, co-worker, vendor or partner.

And in the age of people video-recording these encounters, a rogue employee could sink your company if the target decides to take legal action.

The second threat is the potential backlash of customers shunning your company once the word spreads on social media. This was the case with two Oregonians who ended up closing their bakery after the public backlash that followed their decision to not bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

The best way for an organization to set a tone of tolerance is through diversity or inclusion training to guide them in their day-to-day interactions with co-workers, customers, partners, vendors and others. While this type of training is not mandated by any state or federal agency, it is recommended whether or not you have a diverse workforce or client base.

Implementing a diversity training program is also an important step in helping to reduce the risk of workplace discrimination and harassment claims. In settling discrimination cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission often requires companies to educate employees on the importance of diversity in hiring and promotion, and how to avoid stereotypes.

A proactive employer that wants to avoid problems from the get-go would take that step without being required to.

More important than ever

Our country is becoming more diverse with each passing year. It’s not only different races and religions, but also sexual orientation and alternative lifestyles.

The norms that dictated behavior a half-century ago are transforming. To minimize the risk that employees, supervisors or managers step out of line in this new era, employers must develop an awareness of diversity within their business through appropriate training.

Diversity in the workplace is apparent in everything from our names to the types of food we eat, and long-taboo subjects are now discussed freely. People with disabilities often work alongside openly gay co-workers, and a variety of languages are spoken by employees and customers alike.

Elements of a strong training program

For diversity training to succeed, managers must find ways to integrate the training into daily tasks. It must go beyond a once-a-year training session. Here are some ideas:

Draw the line – Make it clear that intolerance is not acceptable, and that those demonstrating prejudice have no place in your organization.

Get management buy-in – Ingrain in your managers and supervisors the importance of diversity to both boost worker satisfaction and as a risk management tool to avoid lawsuits. Managers understand the personnel dynamics among the staff they manage, as well as interactions with customers.

Treat everyone with respect – Employees should be told that if they prejudge a customer or co-worker and treat them as a lesser individual, they can face be reprimanded and, if the offense is serious enough, fired.

System for handling complaints – Create procedures that all managers must follow if they receive a complaint about harassment or discriminatory behavior, or if an employee witnesses another employee treating a co-worker, customer, vendor or another person in a demeaning way.

Hold a seminar for all employees – Review what is acceptable and not acceptable, and cover all of the above. Try to focus on positives and give employees the opportunity to ask questions.

If Your Firm Is Sued for Discrimination, Act Fast to Check EEOC Complaint

discrimination-EEOC

Employers that are hit with a discrimination complaint must act fast to compare the allegations in the lawsuit to the earlier complaint the worker filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If the employer can find that the allegations in the complaint filed with the EEOC do not match those in the subsequent lawsuit filed by the worker, it can quickly move to have the case dismissed, but if it waits too long, it loses the chance. That’s according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2019.

Under procedural rules, employees filing suit under Title VII Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first file a complaint with the EEOC.

The decision that paved the way for this new procedural rule was a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Fort Bend County vs. Lois M. Davis.

The ruling means that employers that are sued for discrimination under Title VII have a limited amount of time to challenge the lawsuit if the allegations differ in any way from the original EEOC complaint. If they act fast, then they stand a good chance of convincing the court to throw out the complaint.

However, if an employer dawdles and waits too long to challenge the case if they find a discrepancy, they may lose the opportunity.

If the employer in this case had acted quickly, it would never have gone to the Supreme Court, legal experts say.

The case details

An IT worker in Texas had reported that her director was sexually harassing her, and after an investigation he was fired. But after that, her supervisors began retaliating by cutting back on her work responsibilities. She filed a charge with the EEOC and, while the charge was pending, she was told to report to work on a Sunday. She refused and went to church instead.

She tried to supplement her allegations and wrote the word “religion” by hand on her EEOC intake questionnaire, but she didn’t change her formal charge document by adding that word.

The case went to trial and was appealed, and then it was sent back to the local U.S. District Court to decide the remaining charge of religious discrimination. The case had been in the courts for three years at that point.

That’s when her former employer asserted that the District Court didn’t have jurisdiction of the case because she had failed to state the claim in her EEOC charge papers. That issue was taken all the way to the Supreme court, which wrote in its decision that an objection to a charge because of a discrepancy may be forfeited “if the party asserting the rule waited too long to raise the point.”

The takeaway

If your organization is the target of a discrimination lawsuit, make sure to check the original EEOC charge for any discrepancies. If there are any, you can consult with your lawyers about filing a motion to have the complaint dismissed.

Why Your Business May Need Pollution Insurance

pollution

Many businesses that produce some type of pollutant throughout the course of daily business operations don’t know they are doing so.

Others know they are producing pollutants and have processes and safeguards in place to reduce their release into the environment. A business can be held liable for some very costly damages when these byproducts pollute another property or harm another individual.

Pollution liability clauses were once part of general liability policies, but the extensive asbestos problems in the 1970s spurred most insurers to remove pollution protection from their general liability policies.

Today, pollution liability coverage is obtained through a separate pollution insurance policy. Pollution insurance policies are written for businesses of all sizes, shapes, and forms – from pig farms and printers to apartment complexes, salons, and dry-cleaning businesses.

Why pollution insurance?

Many businesses run the risk of creating pollution during normal daily operations.

There’s also a risk from any existing pollution already on a business’s site of operation. In either case, a business could be held liable if its pollution ends up on a third party’s property, causes damage to the property or harms an individual.

Without insurance, the business would be on the hook for paying for those damages out of pocket.

What do policies cover?

The basic premise of a pollution policy is that an insured party gets a claim related to damages caused by pollution it caused.

This insurance will protect your financial interests in the event a clean-up becomes necessary. Buying pollution liability insurance will cover your interests against lawsuits where a third party could be injured by a toxic substance produced as a result of your work.

Like most types of insurance, the specifics of a pollution policy can vary somewhat from insurer to insurer.

Depending on the insurer, a pollution policy will typically cover

  • Damage to properties and individuals
  • The cost of cleaning up pollution on a third party’s property
  • Pollution incidents that occurred after the policy was
  • Investigative, legal, and court costs should the claim enter the legal system.

Who needs coverage?

Businesses that have risks related to the handling of pollutants and hazardous materials, design professionals who work with projects where there are environmental issues, as well as those who own and occupy premises that have environmental issues, need pollution liability insurance.

This includes:

  • Property owners and tenants whose buildings and land have a history of having pollutants on the property or premises. This would include a building on land that had an underground storage tank that leaked fuel oil before it was removed, contaminating the soil.
  • Contractors such as roofers who handle pollutants like tar as a part of their operations need contractors pollution liability insurance to cover damage resulting from a pollution incident.
  • Architects and engineers who are involved in projects that have issues related to pollutants need to add pollution liability to their errors and omissions insurance policy to manage the risk of making a mistake regarding the presence or absence of pollution issues as they plan and execute a project.

The takeaway

Don’t overlook pollution insurance as an important element of risk management. Should any questions or concerns about pollution insurance and insurance requirements arise, call us.

How to Prepare for Possible PG&E Power Shutdowns

Business Interruption power outage

PG&E has warned California residents and businesses that it may shut down the power grid for as long as five days for large portions of the state when there are high-wind conditions during the dry fire season.

That’s because PG&E’s infrastructure was found to be the cause of several recent California wildfires.

PG&E has sent letters to residents and business in the Central Valley, Bay Area, Sacramento area, Foothills, Northern counties and beyond informing them that “if extreme fire danger conditions threaten a portion of the electric system serving your community, it will be necessary for us to turn off electricity in the interest of public safety.”

With the specter of multiple-day power outages, all businesses need to be prepared for keeping their operations going and preventing losses that may not be covered by insurance. For almost any business today, a loss of power for an extended period of time could destroy its ability to conduct operations.

Just think how difficult it would be if you lost access to your computers, which are the nervous system of any business today. If you have no power, your operations could be shuttered for all intents and purposes.

There a number of steps you can take to make sure your businesses is resilient and can keep functioning during power outages, especially if they last a few days:

Identify business processes that will be significantly affected

Since you have the luxury of knowing in advance that there could be a long-lasting power outage, you can take steps now to identify business processes that will be greatly inconvenienced by the power outage. These processes will differ from business to business, but once you put them all down on paper, it will be easier for you to make a plan to keep those functions going. 

Create a continuity plan

Once you’ve identified those processes, you should brainstorm on how you can keep them going without your typically reliable power supply.

In order to get back to normal operations swiftly, employees should know how to respond to the power outage.

Create a step-by-step list of things, with proper designation to employees in the event of an outage. Set up emergency numbers in sight for employees to call, including your electricity supplier to get an estimate on when power may be restored.

Set up a back-up power system

To make sure you can continue operating, you should consider investing in a back-up generator. With a generator, you can continue to run critical aspects of a small business during a power outage, but they must be operated safely.

Generators need to be used with adequate ventilation to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never plug generators directly into power outlets, as this can injure utility workers. Never use a generator under wet conditions, and always let them cool off before refueling.

Cloud storage and MiFi

If you have not done so, you should secure a means of paperless document and file storage on the cloud. If there is a power outage and an accompanying surge, you could quickly lose your data. Plan ahead with a cloud server.

You should also prepare a system of personal wireless hotspots, or MiFi devices, so that even when the internet goes down, you can finish important tasks requiring web access, such as setting up an e-mail auto-response.

Make a survival kit

Creating an inventory of supplies for times when the power is out can help protect your employees and operations. Consider having on hand:

  • Cash
  • Medical supplies
  • Extra gas
  • Portable phone batteries for devices
  • Water
  • Canned food
  • Flashlights
  • Rope and other basic items.

The kit should be kept in an easy-to-reach place, and employees should be trained on where it is and how to use it.

And invest in business insurance

The best way to minimize the financial blow is to have the proper insurance in place. A multiple-day power outage could really crimp your income stream and, if you lose money due to your inability to operate, the typical business owner’s policy won’t cover lost revenue.

But, a business interruption policy would. These policies will reimburse you for lost revenues due to a number of events, including “service interruption” due to power outages and other utility services interruptions.

The important caveat is that the interruption was not caused by any of your own faulty equipment or wiring. But if the power company is shutting down power, any losses you incur should be a valid claim.

Business Growth Can Lead to Increased Risk

Business Growth

As the economy continues expanding, companies need to be careful about properly managing their risk, according to a report by Advisen Inc., an insurance research and data firm.

Increased activity typically means proportionally additional losses. For example, more trucks driving more miles will inevitably result in more accidents. However, there are other kinds of risk that can actually increase more than the jump in business activity. We look at three such areas here.

Workplace safety

Workplace injuries can increase as firms hire workers that have less experience. Typically, when employers expand their workforce to meet the growing demand for their products and services, the number of workers’ compensation claims tended to rise disproportionately.

New employees with less experience typically are more likely to sustain a workplace injury. At the same time, experienced staff may look for new job opportunities as compensation begins to take priority over job security.

What you can do: One option is to hire a temporary-staffing firm to fill positions. In these relationships, the client company is not responsible for covering temporary workers.

But you should be aware that OSHA requires what is known as the “dual employer doctrine”, under which temps are considered employees of both the agency and the company using them. And you are also not off the hook for providing them with a safe work environment and safety training specific to their job.

And remember: Check to make sure the temp agency has workers’ comp insurance.

Litigation increases

The risk of being sued rises as employees make mistakes due to pressure on existing staff to increase production, and again when less experienced workers are added to the payroll.

Your workers may be putting in extra hours. But fatigued workers make mistakes. For example, some of the worst industrial disasters have been in part the result of tired workers. Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill all involved decisions made late at night or extremely early in the morning by people working long hours.

In addition, inexperienced employees are more like contribute to incidents where outsiders are hurt.

What you can do: Conduct thorough interviews, check references and carry out background investigations when appropriate to avoid hiring people with known problems. You are responsible for the actions of your employees.

Also, make sure that you are not overworking your staff. Provide proper breaks so they can rest, especially in jobs that require attention and strength.

Labor law violations

Trends in litigation and regulation make it more likely that companies will be charged with labor law violations. Employees are braver now about filing complaints, thinking they have a good chance of landing a new job if they are fired.

In addition, the federal and many state governments have cracked down on wage and hour law violations.

As well, some companies may try to add to their worker pool by using more independent contractors, in order to avoid hiring new workers. But the federal government has mounted a serious crackdown on companies that inappropriately classify employees as independent contractors.

What you can do: Pay close attention to your payment systems and audit your systems to make sure you comply with wage and hour laws as well as meal and rest break laws.

The takeaway

The lesson is to increase your vigilance in managing your risk and review your existing risk management strategies for gaps due to business growth.

You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of increased claims:

  • Maintain high standards when hiring new employees, such as conducting thorough interviews, checking references and, where appropriate, investigating backgrounds;
  • Properly train and supervise new employees during a growth phase;
  • Consider your current policies on temporary workers, and weigh the benefits of a flexible workforce against liability issues that temporary workers pose;
  • Revisit your policies about independent contractors, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to ferret out misclassification;
  • Pay attention to overtime rules to ensure compliance with the law; and
  • Keep shareholders informed as much as possible about any mergers or acquisitions, including terms of the transaction.

Property Coverage for Businesses with Changing Needs

Some businesses have very stable property insurance needs as the value of their non-building assets, equipment and inventory doesn’t vary much during the year.

Other types of business experience wide variations in the value of their property. Florists tend to carry more stock around Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day than they do on most days of the year. Many retailers earn most of their profits during the holiday shopping season, so they keep larger amounts of stock on hand during that period.

Warehouses and manufacturers may have variable amounts of product on their premises with vastly different values. Depending on the flow of orders, the value of their stock may change greatly from month to month, or even more frequently.

A traditional property insurance policy will not meet the needs of businesses like these. To secure enough coverage, they would have to buy an amount large enough to cover those times when values are at their peak. But, for much of the year that would leave them paying for more insurance than they need.

Businesses in this situation may want to consider two coverage options:

Peak season coverage – This coverage is appropriate for firms that can predict those periods when their values will increase. Examples are florists, toy, electronics and clothing retailers during the holiday season, school supply stores in late summer, and costume shops in October.

The coverage form states the location and type of the property, the amount of additional insurance, and the period during which the higher amount applies. For example, it might show that insurance on goods for sale will increase by $100,000 from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. This gives the business plenty of coverage for the busy time, but saves it from having to pay for all that coverage the rest of the year.

Value-reporting coverage – This coverage is for those firms with asset and inventory values that fluctuate all year long. It requires the business to buy an amount of insurance large enough to take care of the peak periods.

But, the insurance company will charge a lower initial premium than that amount would ordinarily require. The firm then must make periodic reports of its values to the insurer. Depending on the option chosen, this will mean sending reports monthly, quarterly or once per year.

Again, depending on the chosen option, the reports can show values as of the end of each business day, week, month, quarter or year. After the firm has submitted all of its reports for the policy period, the insurance company determines the business’s average values and calculates the final premium.

Firms that choose value-reporting coverage must take care to submit the required reports on time and accurately. The form gives the insurance company the right to reduce claim payments for losses to the property when reports are late.

The insurer can also reduce a loss payment if it finds that the policyholder underreported its values. The limit of insurance does not automatically increase if the reports show values higher than the limit; the firm must request an increase in coverage.

The takeaway

Any company with variable property values would be wise to consider purchasing one of these types of coverage. With some careful planning, a business can limit its insurance costs while still getting the coverage it needs. Call us if you have questions about this type of coverage or to discuss whether it’s appropriate for your operations.

Don’t Overlook Equipment Breakdown Insurance

Imagine it’s a typical July day. You own a 30,000-square-foot office building that is 85% occupied. And the air conditioning and ventilation systems stop working. The outside temperature is in the 90’s and the humidity is high. It doesn’t take long before the tenants start to complain.

The contractor you summon determines that an electrical arc fried the circuit board that controls the systems.

The board must be replaced, but it will take up to five business days for it to arrive. In the meantime, the building is unfit for people to work in, and the leases oblige you to credit tenants’ rents for periods when the building in uninhabitable for more than a day. In short, you face thousands of dollars in repairs and much more in lost rents.

While your property insurance policy will cover the resulting property damage from fires or explosions, it will not cover the equipment or lost income from the downtime during repairs.

But equipment breakdown insurance will.

Equipment breakdown insurance

This form of insurance is not a substitute for other property coverage. It will not pay for damage caused by fire, lightning, explosions from sources other than pressure vessels, floods, earthquakes, vandalism, and other causes of loss covered elsewhere.

Equipment breakdown policies are designed to fill in the gaps left by other policies, not to replace them. Also, they do not cover mechanical breakdowns that result from normal wear and tear as a device ages.

A number of events can trigger a claim for equipment, such as:

  • Mechanical breakdown in equipment that generates, transmits or uses energy, including telephone and computer systems.
  • Electrical surges that damage appliances, devices or wiring.
  • Boiler explosions, ruptures or bursts.
  • Events inside steam boilers and pipes or hot water heaters and similar equipment that damages them.

Business owners often overlook equipment breakdown coverage. Bur, virtually all of them have some need for this insurance.

What equipment breakdown insurance covers:

  • The cost of repairing or replacing the equipment.
  • Lost business income from a covered event.
  • Extra expenses you incur due to a covered event.
  • Limited coverage for losses like food spoilage in freezers that break down.

Most businesses rely heavily on machines in their daily operations, from computers to refrigeration equipment and elevators to manufacturing equipment.

For some, the cost of repairs to this equipment and resulting downtime can have a serious impact. Such businesses should seriously consider buying equipment breakdown insurance.
Call us if you would like to discuss this crucial form of coverage.

Commercial Auto Rates Face New Headwinds

Trucks, Route 66, California, USA

More accidents attributed to smartphone use while driving, coupled with much higher costs of repairs, have led to double-digit increases in commercial auto insurance rates over the past few years.

Distracted driving is just one of many factors that have converged on commercial auto insurance claims, resulting in sustained premium increases. Now there are new factors that are coming into play that will ensure that rates continue climbing, at least in the near term.

Commercial auto rates are increasing for companies with large fleets as well as for businesses with just a few vehicles and drivers. Here’s what’s at play and what you need to be aware of in the future.

Continuing factors

Distracted driving – This is the biggie. Starting a few years after the advent of smartphones in 2009, the steady decline in vehicle accidents and claims costs started to reverse when vehicular deaths started increasing for the first time in decades. The culprit, say many transportation safety experts, is distracted driving.

Repair costs – The cost of repairing vehicles has skyrocketed as cars have become more technologically advanced. A 2018 research paper by AAA found that vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) can cost twice as much to repair following a collision, due to expensive sensors and calibration requirements.

AAA cited the cost of repairing a car with windshield damage if it has an ADAS. The system uses cameras that are installed behind the windshield. These cameras need to be recalibrated after a windshield is replaced. This has increased the cost replacing such windshields to about $1,500, compared to $500 for a standard windshield.

Medical costs – Health insurance premiums and medical costs have been rising at a steady clip. Those increases carry over into the costs auto insurance companies incur when drivers and passengers are injured in an accident.

More miles driven – According to AAA, Americans are spending more time on the road. Driving more miles increases motorists’ likelihood of having an accident.

New and future risks

Weather-related property claims – A recent report in the insurance publication National Underwriter noted that commercial auto insurers say that the increasing frequency of large hurricanes, floods, hailstorms and wildfires are leading to higher auto physical damage claims. The number of property claims has been steadily increasing in the past decade as both the frequency and severity of major weather events grow.

Lack of experienced drivers< – As the economy expands, it’s become more difficult to find experienced drivers. Many experienced commercial drivers are retiring, and there are not enough job candidates with the skills and expertise needed to drive commercial vehicles.
The American Trucking Associations estimates that the industry is understaffed by more than 50,000 drivers, and this could increase more than threefold within eight years if current trends continue.

Security with onboard systems – As more vehicle functions become automated, new risks could surface from system failures that may result in accidents. There are number of technologies that come into play in new vehicles and a highly automated vehicle will rely on array of devices, including radar, light detection and ranging, cameras, graphics-processing units and central processing units.