Canadian Underwriter

How to help construction clients who are no longer deemed “essential services”

April 6, 2020   by Adam Malik

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Ontario brokers can expect to receive calls from their clients in the province’s construction industry, some of whom were recently de-listed from the province’s essential services list.

Under pressure to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario, the province recently trimmed its essential services list. All industrial construction has been stopped, the government announced on Apr. 3. Only essential infrastructure-related projects will proceed (hospitals, housing, or transportation projects, for example). No new residential construction will take place under the order, although residential projects near completion will be allowed to continue.

“We continue to monitor announcements and changes from all sources, including government and insurance companies,” Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario president Joseph Carnevale told Canadian Underwriter.

As a result of the province’s changes to its essential services list, contractors in the construction industry — and others that have been affected — should speak to their broker about what they’re experiencing, Carnevale said. “Brokers will make sure their operations are properly insured given these changes and connect with specific insurance companies on a case-by-case basis on ways to help during this difficult time.”

Related: Why it matters that insurance is declared to be an “essential service”

Apart from providing advice on their insurance coverage, brokers can also share other insights with their newly-shuttered or restricted business clients, according to RSA Canada.

RSA is asking brokers to get in touch with its construction team to ensure clients’ “insurance product has been tailored to meet their clients’ ever-changing needs,” said Steve Schmelzle, construction and Contracting Centre of Excellent leader at RSA.

Whether or not they’ve been asked to close, Schmelzle told Canadian Underwriter, all construction projects are facing challenges during the pandemic. “In order to best manage these challenges, construction clients need to work with their broker and insurance company to ensure necessary steps are taken to address each specific project and that the appropriate risk mitigation practices are in place.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford answers questions at the daily briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Saturday, April 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Schmelzle listed a number of recommendations construction clients should take in order to keep worksites safe:

  • Site fencing should be maintained and gated entries should be locked
  • For sites without onsite security, remotely monitored CCTV should be installed
  • Buildings under construction should be enclosed with windows and doors locked
  • Temporary heating should be turned off and all flammable and combustible material removed
  • High-value equipment that is not permanently installed should be stored in locked site trailers or removed from the site completely
  • Mitigate the risk of water damage by either closing off main water valve or having leak/flow detection device fitted
  • If a sprinkler system is fully operational, the water supply to the system must not be isolated

Northbridge said it would continue to support clients as the situation evolves. “We’re working with our customers in the construction industry to provide flexibility in terms of premium payments, adjust coverage where possible, and provide extensions of coverage for unoccupied construction sites,” Julie Pingree, senior vice president of corporate underwriting at Northbridge, said. “We will be working with brokers to help them understand what flexibility exists and how their customers can access this support.”

When asked if Intact would be doing anything specifically for the construction industry, a spokesperson told Canadian Underwriter that it is taking everything on a case-by-case basis and that clients should contact their brokers directly to work with them.

Changes to how hardware and electronics stores operate — closed to customer traffic and only accepting online orders for curbside pickup — were also announced as the essential services list was pared down from 74 to 44.

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