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Fire walking, binge drinking and bungee jumping don't make most risk management departments' lists of exposures, but they are just a few of the diverse risks faced by university risk managers.
In addition to oddball risks, risk managers at higher education institutions also face a volatile cocktail of everyday risks normally peculiar to specific industries.
As a result of these diverse and special risk concerns, several university risk managers, insurers and brokers are seeking to increase their loss control efforts to minimize liability exposures.
University risk managers often have to face a much wider array of loss control concerns than their peers in industry and commerce, said Ken Hoffman, director of the office of risk management at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"In manufacturing, you make a widget, and you sell it and make a profit. At higher ed institutions, we educate students and promote research. A lot of the infrastructure behind that is very complex and constitutes a lot of people and bricks and mortar, but it does not necessarily create anything," he said.
Risks from standard activities include: travel and driving risks, chemical risks in laboratories, construction, the use of power tools by students, medical and blood handling risks at infirmaries and university hospitals, and the usual slip-and-fall risks that make up the bulk of a university's liability claims, Mr. Hoffman said.
"At universities you have students, and students present a lot of challenges. They are at a point in their life where they think that they are invincible, and they like to do things that are fun," said Andy Roth, contracting/insurance coordinator at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio.
Those activities can include university-sanctioned activities, such as bungee jumping and rock climbing, or non-sanctioned and hazardous activities, he said.
"So you have to try and educate the students to make them aware of the risks," Mr. Roth said.
A major concern for university risk managers is binge drinking, a problem especially in the spotlight after some highly publicized recent binge drinking-related deaths and other incidents at several campuses throughout the country, he said.
"It is an area that institutions are struggling with from a loss control standpoint," Mr. Roth said.
In an effort to deter the problem at Akron, the university is giving students educational talks and literature on the subject, he said.
It also is trying to alleviate the problem by encouraging students to take part in non-drinking related activities, such as sports, Mr. Roth said.
Risk managers should adopt the strategy of changing the behavior of students by persuasion rather than coercion, agreed Edward M. Holinski, vp and vice chair of the global higher education department at J&H Marsh & McLennan of Michigan Inc. in Detroit.
"University risk managers have so many more people to deal with than many other risk managers. . .and it is such a broad group. So you have to try and change behavior rather than take a more authoritative approach," he said.
Loss control efforts have to be targeted at a diverse range of people who are often engaged in activities that are not their usual occupation, such as students driving vans, Mr. Holinski said.
J&H Marsh & McLennan developed a computer-based training program on van driving that it distributes to universities, he said. The interactive 30-minute program runs through safety issues and includes a test.
The University of Pennsylvania and the 14 other members of the Genesis Ltd. association captive are trying to address loss control issues by establishing a list of best practices for the wide range of risk management problems they all face, said Mr. Hoffman.
"We are looking at how each institution is dealing with the problems and trying to see which is the most viable approach," he said.
The best practices will enable the risk managers to obtain loss control advice from one another that is not always freely available from insurers, Mr. Hoffman said.
While highly protected risk insurers can provide excellent property loss control services, liability loss control services vary among insurers, he said.
Often, the universities themselves can provide the best loss control advice, said Tom Tenerowicz, vp at Sedgwick of New England Inc.
"You sometimes find that the universities have people that know more about the subject than the insurance carriers do," he said.
For example, one of Sedgwick's university clients had ergonomics experts who worked with the insurer to implement a program throughout the university to combat the risk of carpal tunnel problems, Mr. Tenerowicz said.
More often, universities are struggling to introduce liability-related loss control measures without much help from insurers and brokers unless they pay for the extra services, said Keith R. Shakespeare, chief operating officer of the Canadian Universities Reciprocal Insurance Exchange in Oakville, Ontario.
Because most universities operate under tight budgetary constraints, many are reluctant to pay for the extra services, he said.
CURIE, which has about 50 members, is increasingly offering loss control advice to members in an effort to improve loss control, Mr. Shakespeare said.
Again, some of the advice is for unusual activities. For example, a student council at one member university planned to have a self-confidence building program that would conclude with a walk across hot coals, he said.
"The university came to us and said this had been suggested and asked us whether we thought it was a good idea. We said it wasn't and discussed the liabilities with them. They then decided it wasn't a good idea either," Mr. Shakespeare said.
Other less exotic but more hazardous loss control problems are frequently presented to CURIE that would not fall within the ambit of most loss control engineers at HPR insurers, he said.
For example, one university Mr. Shakespeare visited had chemistry labs that stored chemicals alphabetically.
"That might make them convenient to find, but it does not take into account the fact that some chemicals stored next to each other might cause an explosion if they are mixed together," he said.
Insurers' loss control engineers usually are not trained to address both property and liability issues, said Mr. Holinski of J&H Marsh & McLennan.
"If you look at something like dormitory safety, an insurer may come in and look at the vulnerability of the dorms from a property standpoint but say that they are not qualified to deal with life safety issues," he said.
Arkwright Mutual Insurance Co. set up a separate education unit in 1995, and its loss control engineers try to look at life safety issues as well as the standard fire protection issues, said Mary Breighner, national director of Arkwright Education in Cincinnati.
"Life safety and property loss control frequently go hand in hand at universities," she said.
For example, the use of Halogen lamps in student dorms present life safety and fire protection issues, Ms. Breighner said.
The lamps are popular with students because they are cheap, convenient and bright, she said. However, the bulbs heat up to much higher temperatures than the bulbs in traditional incandescent lamps, and through misuse, Halogen lamps have created hundreds of fires. Fires have resulted, for example, when students dry clothes over them or drape them with material to create a romantic ambiance at night, she said.
To address the problem, Arkwright has distributed 5,000 leaflets on the dangers of the lamps to students, Ms. Breighner said.
Earlier this month it held a workshop with Northeastern University in Boston for risk managers and safety officials that demonstrated how similar lighting could be obtained from other, safer lamps, she said.