Open Offices and Holidays: A Parade of Risks

‘Tis the season for many businesses to stay open through the holidays and for some to take part in the tradition of partying or watching a parade warmly from behind office windows. That’s why businesses located near public events should inform employees of how their offices will be impacted during the holiday season.

Parades pose various operational risks to property owners and businesses, both inside and outside their buildings. On Nov. 23 alone, at least five large parades will inch their way through the streets of major cities like Chicago and Detroit. Macy’s anticipates 3.5 million spectators to pack New York City’s streets for its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. That means 2.5 miles of barriers and street closings in the “frozen zone” between 77th and 34th streets, and businesses in the country’s most congested city should prepare for some disruption.

Theresa Morzello, the managing director for asset services for CBRE in New York City, has advised many companies who stay open or host events coinciding with parades and holidays. She said the first steps in mitigating disruption involve communicating with the event organizers and disseminating that information to tenants.

“This way they’ll know, for example, if one of their building’s entrances will close because of a parade,” Morzello said. “We also make sure that employees and their guests know the protocol for providing documentation for entering and exiting. That is usually handled in advance and lists are provided to security. And there are protocols for what to do when someone doesn’t have it. These are all things we do on a daily basis, but amped up a few levels because of the holidays.”

Morzello also said that property managers often try to utilize vacant office space because there is less potential for damage or disruption there. Wherever the gathering takes place within CBRE’s properties, she advises tenants to consider the following:

Hire elevator operators to help keep guests on their assigned floors.

  • Obtain a temporary alcohol license, if necessary.
  • Confirm that outside caterers are insured.
  • Address if the windows are operable and ensure they are kept closed.

But parades and crowded events are not relegated to big cities, as many major retailers take part in the festivities. Acadia Realty Trust manages hundreds of retail and office properties in the U.S. and Kellie Shapiro, vice president of risk management said clearing a physical path is the first step to mitigate safety risks during a high-traffic season.

“We issue a moratorium on any work during the holiday season. We email tenants reminding them to get everything done before Thanksgiving,” she said. “From then until New Year’s is not the time to have scaffolding and things like that.” She added that capital improvements are suspended across most of Acadia’s portfolio to avoid interfering with tenants’ operations during their busiest season.

Businesses can easily lose track of who’s coming and going during the busy holiday season, Shapiro noted. Acadia’s focus is on knowing its vendors, and she reminds tenants to be diligent about vetting third-party contractors for the sake of safety and reputation.

“You can protect your company by being diligent about who you bring in to your site. You should know who your contractors are – you don’t want to let some criminal just walk right in because you handed over the keys to your building,” Shapiro said. “You would hope tenants, if they saw something suspicious, would pick up the phone. We’d all like to secure something 100% but you have to know your limitations.”

Public safety in the U.S. has been headline news, considering the recent high-profile violence involving weapons and automobiles in just the last two months in Las Vegas, California, Texas and Manhattan. In a recent interview with Risk Management Monitor, Rezwan Ali, risk solutions group head of security at Falck Global Assistance, discussed how businesses and employees should review their emergency plans during high-volume times. He maintained, however, that the odds of being impacted by a terror attack is very low.

“When participating in larger events, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, people tend to focus only on the parade and their phones taking pictures and posting on social media,” said Ali. “However, it is important to stay alert and aware of one’s surroundings. Not just to be prepared for terror, but also to prevent being a victim of crime. It is recommended to download apps either provided by the authorities or by media outlets that generate alerts allowing you to get direct notifications should anything happen in your vicinity.”

Is Fear of Terrorism Grounding Your Business Travel?

Paris

The recent acts of terrorism in Paris stunned the world, when 150 were killed and more than 300 were wounded. But the collateral damage went far beyond buildings being ripped apart and one of the most popular cities in the world being virtually shut down.

Business Travel Coalition, a U.S.-based lobby group, recently released a survey of 84 corporate, university and government travel and risk managers from 17 countries on their attitudes of trips to France following the bombings. Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they were very or somewhat likely to cancel travel to France for “some period of time,” and 20% were somewhat likely to cancel travel to and within Europe. A large majority said they’d probably allow employees to decide whether they were prepared to head to France. One in five corporate travel managers is likely to cancel trips to Paris “for some period of time.” These are not surprising statistics.

Terrorism has been defined as “The use of violence to instill a state of fear,” and that effect is far-reaching; a bomb explodes in Paris and it’s likely that 5,600 miles away in California some corporate risk manager for a Fortune 500 company is seriously considering cancelling a business trip to Europe—a visceral reaction that could cost his company untold sums of money. Mission accomplished.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I fully realize that the fire that fuels business owners is the desire to overcome any obstacles perceived to hinder the bottom-line. But there’s no way a sane person can watch the news today and not wonder, “What is the risk of undertaking a business trip overseas? Will I fall victim to a terrorist act?” I contend that the answer to this question is to put your risk in perspective.

Although it’s a sad state of affairs that there will most likely be another terrorist attack in Europe sometime in 2016, it doesn’t mean that a high degree of risk involved for you, personally. According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. In other words, your odds are greater to be killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drown in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or be struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) than to perish in a terrorist attack (one in 20 million).

It is important that we don’t allow acts of terrorism to knock the wheels off our economy. Business travel is a key element in making us what we are, so it’s imperative that we mitigate that risk whenever possible.

The first thing is to make sure you are not so focused on terrorism that you fall victim to the common risks swirling around us every day. For instance, when traveling overseas don’t be so obsessed with where you think an incident might happen (no matter how statistically unlikely) that you select an alternate route that takes you through the last place on earth where you’d want to get a flat tire in the middle of the night.

Second, minimize the risks you have control over. Stay up-to-date on the State Department’s list of global hot spots, and have your business travel professional plan each step, down to the slightest detail (air, hotels, ground and communication).

Detailed planning is paramount because with any type of business travel in these uncertain and even downright scary times, it is all about controlling the risk. And that can start with the simple act of driving carefully on the way to the airport. That way the most likely risk you’ll ever face on your trip is already behind you before you even board the plane.

Marijuana’s Cost to Employers

With the adoption of more state laws to legalize marijuana, employers will face challenges to protect their employees from injury and to comply with federal requirements to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Employers also face potentially costly litigation as case law surrounding legal marijuana develops, according to the Quest Diagnostics whitepaper “What Will ‘Legal’ Marijuana Cost Employers?”

Marijuana-workplace

Quest reports that medical marijuana legalization brought forth a new phenomenon: the production of marijuana-infused foods and gadgets, which presents a special problem for employers. Today, nearly half of marijuana users in states where it is legal consume marijuana by eating it rather than smoking it. In addition, vape pens, which are like e-cigarettes but contain capsules of concentrated marijuana oils, leave no marijuana smell and are impossible to tell apart from e-cigarettes. These two modes of consumption will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for employers to tell when employees are using marijuana on the job.

As marijuana use increases, so will workplace injuries, accidents, mistakes, and employee illnesses, escalating the costs of companies’ liability, workers’ compensation and health insurance.

Questions companies should ask include:

  • Will employers have to accommodate marijuana use in their workplaces? A closely watched case. Before the Colorado Supreme Court will establish, at least in Colorado, whether employees can use marijuana off the clock even if they may be impaired the next day.
  • Must employers pay for employees’ medical marijuana if they are injured on the job? By allowing a court of appeals decision to stand, the New Mexico Supreme Court finds that the answer is yes.
  • Must employers pay unemployment compensation to employees fired for failing a marijuana drug test?
  • What does increased adolescent marijuana use portend for the future workforce? Research shows that compared to nonusers, teens who smoke marijuana on weekends over a two-year period are six times more likely to drop out of high school, three times less likely to enter college, and four times less likely to earn a college degree?
  • How can employers meet federal requirements to maintain a drug-free workplace if states require proof of impairment rather than the presence of marijuana in the body when no level of impairment has been scientifically established and no noninvasive test to denote impairment has been developed?
  • If courts hold that drug testing is no longer a valid indicator of impairment, how can employers whose businesses involve driving or other safety-sensitive positions protect their workers and the public from injuries and deaths cause by stoned drivers?
  • What if courts hold that failing a pre-employment drug test is no longer a valid reason to deny employment to applicants?

There are, however, steps employers can take to protect themselves:

1) Stay up-to-date with the changing legal landscape and adjust workplace policies accordingly.

2) Remember that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

3) Join other employers to monitor state legislation and take action with legislators to ensure workplace protections are included in any marijuana laws.

4) Educate your workforce about the dangers marijuana poses to children, families and the workplace.

5) Challenge the notion that marijuana is medicine, or risk paying for it in your health insurance program. No marijuana medicines being sold in states that legalized them have been approved by FDA as pure, safe, or effective. Doctors cannot prescribe them and pharmacies cannot sell them.

Frigid Weather Heightens Ice Hazards

Freezing weather now sweeping across much of the U.S. brings a greater risk of ice storms and underlines the need for careful planning and heightened safety measures.

In fact, it does not take much ice to create disaster conditions. Even a thin coat of ice can create dangerous conditions on roads. Add strong winds and you have a recipe for downed trees and power lines, bringing outages that can last for days.

According to The Weather Channel:

  • Ice can increase the weight of branches by 30 times.
  • A 1/2-inch accumulation on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight.
  • An ice storm in 2009 centered from northern Arkansas to the Ohio Valley knocked out power to 1.3 million.
  • In 1998, an ice storm in northern New York and northern New England damaged millions of trees and caused $1.4 billion in damage. Accumulations were as much as three inches thick.

The Weather Channel also categorizes ice storms as nuisance, disruptive or crippling. A nuisance event is usually one of less than a 1/4 inch of ice. While these lighter accumulations are considered a nuisance, travel can still be extremely dangerous. A disruptive ice storm typically has 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice accumulation, with ice starting to damage trees and power lines. Crippling ice storms, which have widespread accumulations of more than 1/2 inch, can cause severe tree damage resulting in power outages. The most devastating storms contain ice accumulation of an inch or more.

A special hazard to drivers is black ice, caused when moisture in the air freezes when it comes in contact with a much colder roadway, or when a sudden drop in temperature causes an already wet roadway to quickly freeze.

Fleet group ARI cautions against driving on black ice, which it said is most commonly found on overpasses and on roads that wind around bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.

ARI offers these tips for drivers:

  1. Drive slowly – The best way to avoid skidding out of control is to operate your vehicle at a slower speed. A slower speed will even give you more time to react to the effects of black ice
  2. Don’t slam the brakes – While it may be a natural instinct to slam on your brakes, this will only cause your car to lose control and slide even more. Tap the brake pedal lightly instead of pushing down hard on it.
  3. Maintain a safe following distance – In situations like this, you need to extend you following distance to ensure you will have ample time to react to the motorist ahead especially if they begin to lose control.
  4. Look for trouble spots ahead – If you have an idea that there may be black ice ahead (if you see cars ahead of you sliding, for example), downshift to a lower gear before you come onto the black ice. The lower gear will force you to drive more slowly and it will give you better control of your car.
  5. As soon as your car begins to slide on black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal – In fact, the last thing you want to do is give your vehicle more gas. It is very important to slow down when you are driving on black ice or in any other winter road conditions.