FRONT OFFICE BY MARY COLLLINS

Mitigating Risks For Reporters In Harm’s Way

Risk insurance experts say companies must have policies to guide decision making in situations that pose risks to their employees and their equipment. And, the stakes are too high for these policies to be pages in a binder on the bookshelf. Measures need to be taken that will help to ensure their employees are aware of these policies and will remember to follow them when it counts.

As I work on this column, The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore has had to interrupt coverage of Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan to find a new hotel outside the evacuation zone. News reporters take a lot of risks to cover dangerous situations affecting their viewers. Of course, the risks aren’t theirs alone.

For this reason, risk insurance experts say companies must have policies to guide decision making in situations that pose risks to their employees and their equipment. And, the stakes are too high for these policies to be pages in a binder on the bookshelf. Measures need to be taken that will help to ensure their employees are aware of these policies and will remember to follow them when it counts.

Here is what two experts, Timothy Ehrhart, a vice president and manager of the entertainment and broadcasting segment for Chubb Commercial Insurance, and Michael Heembrock, a vice president and loss control commercial auto specialist at Chubb, have to say on the topic:

“Media companies who send staff out in vehicles in pursuit of stories, or whose employees operate any vehicles for company purposes, need to assess the risks their people face both in extraordinary and more “ordinary” circumstances. More importantly, the company needs to educate employees about those risks, and the best-practice responses to them, through training and clearly defined policies.”

In an article entitled “Great Policies to Avoid Very Bad Trouble” that appears in the September-October issue of MFM’s member magazine, The Financial Manager (TFM), Ehrhart and Heembrock outline the key ingredients in a risk assurance program for TV stations and other organizations that send their people into potentially hazardous environments.

The experts begin with the recommendation that the policy be designed to address these two key questions:

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  • What should be done in dire situations?
  • How should the company assess risks and avoid the problems as much as possible?

When it comes to formulating a policy that address these two considerations, Ehrhart and Heembrock encourage stations to draw on sources such as emergency management agencies, consultants who specialize in mitigating these kinds of risk and most importantly, their own seasoned staff.

Examples of policies that may flow from these discussions include one that stipulates in the case a tornado has been confirmed within a certain distance, the crew is to leave the area or seek shelter in a building immediately. They should not, as imagined by the authors in an example of a bad decision made by an uninformed crew, hide under a highway underpass.

Another example would be a policy that says in the case of a civil disturbance, a company should insist that its personnel stay at a safe distance from the worst of the troubles. Ehrhart and Heembrock acknowledge, “Defining a ‘safe distance’ is problematic, since violent situations are fluid. But the important thing to impress on vehicle crews is to be aware of their surroundings; to be observant about nearby dangers; and to react to ensure their safety.”

The authors go on to point out that how these types of policies are implemented will fall to the crew. “In the end, no manager is going to be able to tell a crew exactly when to pull out. The crew has to use its judgment. The role of management is to help them have better judgment — through training and policies that emphasize good decision making.”

However an area that will rest squarely with management is fostering a corporate culture that doesn’t emphasize getting the story at all costs. While getting compelling footage can provide a competitive edge, our Chubb experts advise: “No story is worth losing thousands or millions of dollars of equipment, and certainly not the safety and lives of a crew. When a dangerous situation arises, a crew should know that management would support their decision to avoid the danger.”

While it’s easier to visualize the tremendous harm that can arise in news situations such as covering a tornado or hurricane, risk policies also need to address the routine risks personnel encounter every day. These risks increase with the number of vehicles and drivers. As the authors observe, “Large media operations, in particular, may face an array of different dangers, because their fleet can include large production units outfitted with expensive equipment, but also cars and trucks for less complex tasks.”

Company policies need to anticipate those routine risks, which can include such incidents as traffic accidents, mechanical breakdowns, vandalism and other situations that cause injury to employees or someone else and damage to vehicles or equipment.

In fact, having policies and measures in place that address these routine scenarios also helps keep vehicles safe in extraordinary circumstances, according to the experts. Imagine that crew faced by a tornado opted to head for shelter only to have a tire blow out while escaping because their company didn’t require routine tire maintenance.

The experts offer a few suggestions to address routine risks:

  • Driver selection — While media companies are more likely to carefully screen drivers for their production vehicles, the company should have a policy in place to check motor vehicle records with some regularity. A good rule of thumb would be to ban employees from driving for the company if they have more than three minor violations or more than one major violation in a three year period — or if they’ve lost their license. While companies are free to set their own policies based on driving records, state law may require the company to obtain a consent form from each individual being checked.
  • Maintenance — A required weekly inspection checklist for passenger cars used for transporting people or materials between offices or remote locations during normal business hours is an effective tool to ensure that regular inspections of tires, lights, steering, brakes, leaking fluids and the like take place. Other checklists can be used to ensure for more thorough inspections quarterly and may include specific inspections for heavy and large vehicles.
  • Fleet management — Make it one individual’s responsibility to oversee vehicle inspections and information collection. For large fleets, it may be too heavy a load for one person and may make more sense to have individuals who regularly drive a vehicle bear that burden. “They may already file reports about where they took the vehicles and why, so adding a daily walk-around inspection wouldn’t be much of a stretch,” according to the experts. If vehicles do not have regular drivers, “a good rule might be to have whoever is operating the vehicle do an inspection as an integral part of taking responsibility for the vehicle.”
  • Training — In addition to spending money on maintenance, companies will also need to invest in making sure their employees are aware of the risks they might face as drivers or crewmembers. As mentioned above, there are consultants who specialize in helping companies recognize risk and in training their employees to avoid them.

I hesitate to even mention that properly maintaining vehicles and training employees may involve some additional expense. As Ehrhart and Heembrock conclude, “these costs pale in comparison to the expense that may be associated with a preventable accident or catastrophic loss.”

MFM has given its highest form of recommendation, our endorsement, to the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, Ehrhart and Heembrock’s employer, as the preferred provider of property and casualty including professional and management liability insurance for our members As these suggestions from Timothy Ehrhart and Michael Heembrock illustrate, Chubb understands the unique exposures faced by TV stations and our other member companies. In fact, it prepared a comprehensive Risk & Insurance Guideline that is invaluable to all media companies looking to establish and maintain adequate risk and insurance management programs. More importantly, it is always very willing to share its expertise in ways that help media companies to mitigate risks.

In that same spirit, we are happy to share Ehrhart and Heembrock’s recommendations with you. The full text of their article may be found in the electronic copy of the September-October issue of TFM available on our website: www.mediafinance.org for the next few days. Or, contact me and I will be happy to send you a PDF.

As Jim Cantore said in an interview conducted by Advertising Age as he prepared to cover Hurricane Sandy this week: “Safety comes first and I am always nervous for my crew, but you do your job and what needs to be done.” You can bet that The Weather Channel has sound policies and procedures to ensure that “what needs to be done” includes education, vehicle maintenance and other things to keep Cantore, his crew and their equipment as safe as possible under the circumstances.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.


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