The surge in people working from home has brought an increase in home cooking fires, risk and insurance professionals observe.
“You are seeing a spike in residential fires in condos and rental units because people are at home more and cooking more,” said Jeff McCann, CEO of Apollo Insurance Solutions Ltd., in a recent interview with Canadian Underwriter.
Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic this past March by the World Health Organization, millions of Canadians who normally work from their office have been working from home.
Some get distracted when they are trying to cook, said Michele Farley, president of FCS Fire Consulting Services Ltd.
“Some people are putting cardboard in ovens and putting items such as metal in the microwave oven that should not be there,” Farley told Canadian Underwriter.
One fire department has advised consumers to take their pizza out of the box before heating it, reported Farley.
In Ontario, fatal home fires are up 65% since January compared to this time frame in 2019.
“Similar increases are being seen across the country. The numbers are alarming. This applies not just to single-family homes, but also to condominium buildings and multi-tenant buildings,” said Farley. “At a time like this, it is critical for brokers to share fire safety reminders.”
In particular, said Farley, brokers could advise clients to:
Ensure all occupants know what to do in case of emergency;
Have a plan to escape from a fire and a pre-arranged meeting place outside;
Always be alert when cooking;
Only smoke outdoors; and
Always use a safe method of extinguishing cigarette butts – such as putting them in an ashtray and not discarding cigarette buts in a planter.
About 4.7 million Canadians who do not usually work from home did so during the week of March 22 to 28, Statistics Canada reported earlier. When those who usually work from home were included in the statistics, 39.1% of the labour force, which is 6.8 million Canadians, worked from home that week.
The increase in cooking fires could change the way property insurance is underwritten, said McCann. In particular, there could be a shift in the questions brokers and agents ask consumers who are applying for renters’ insurance. For example, there could be less emphasis on the quality of construction and the building’s fire safety systems, and more emphasis on what the rental units are used for and how often the clients are home, McCann suggested.
“Every stovetop, water pipe and door hinge is on full tilt when a home is fully occupied all day, every day,” said Dan Davis, director of IoT and emerging markets with LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “So it stands to reason that certain claims will naturally trend higher than others in those times.”
McCann was asked how easy it is for a home insurer to differentiate a good fire risk from a bad fire risk without asking a tenant questions they may not be able to answer.
FCS provides fire safety consulting to managers of more than 1,000 buildings with an average of about 100 people a building.
Apollo is an insurtech whose technology is intended to cut down the amount of time it takes a broker to process an application. Apollo Exchange offers Canada’s brokers access to multiple insurance providers, with over 500 classes of insurance.