2,000 industry professionals convene to talk trends & tackle emerging risks

The International Risk Management Institute Inc. (IRMI) held its 38th Construction Risk Conference (CRC) November 4-7 at the Marriott Marquis in Houston, Texas. The CRC hosted over 2,000 construction and risk professionals, along with industry thought leaders to talk trends and tackle emerging risks in construction, and provide practical solutions and best practices. Over 600 contractors were represented, as well as many major construction insurance providers. IRMI reports that attendees were comprised of 36 percent construction firm representatives, 25 percent agents and brokers, and 22 percent insurers.

Sharpening Skills

According to Ann Hickman, IRMI’s editorial director, the goal is always to provide the best educational and networking experiences in the industry. “We give attendees a wide variety of topics to choose from and we screen speakers thoroughly to ensure attendees leave with tools and strategies they can go back to their offices and implement,” Hickman said. “We try to include something for everyone. For those in the early stages of their career, we always include some sessions that cover the basics of construction risk management; and for the seasoned veterans, we provide advanced topics that take a deeper dive, such as emerging technologies, changes in insurance case law, and public/private partnerships.”

This year’s curriculum featured three general sessions and over 40 sessions presented by more than 80 nationally recognized insurance, risk management, safety and surety experts. A new course option called “Snap Talks” provided four separate, high-level talks, during which attendees took in concentrated content covering better management techniques and technology tools with implications for insurance and construction.

Other popular sessions included the “Interactive Risk Managers Forum” and “My Wrap Doesn’t Wrap!,” discussing common coverage issues that arise in the wrap-up process, including coverage gaps, eroding or insignificant limits, from the perspective of both the insurer and the insured. Also of note was “Impairment in the Construction Workforce,” a session covering the spike in functional and cognitive impairment in workers and the expansion of legalized medical cannabis.

Exploring Trends

With CRC taking place during midterm elections, economic concerns were top of mind. The topic of United States infrastructure spending was one of the most pressing topics at hand. “Where is it? We were promised all this money and here we are with a lack of spending,” said Karen Reutter, Zurich North America’s head of construction. “There are some states investing billions, but in Wisconsin, there’s nothing. And even more so, it’s been reined in. I look at bridges and I think the construction industry has just not yet seen the spend,” Reutter said.

The week following the midterms and the conference, U.S. voters approved at least $24.4 billion in bond initiatives to support construction projects across different segments. The majority of the bond proposals were in California—approximately $16.4 billion in borrowed funds—with the goal of improving the state’s water infrastructure, schools, hospitals and more. This is a trend that construction business owners and top insurance executives alike will continue to monitor.

Reutter took on her current role in September and has a keen eye on industry trends. Generational diversity is a topic she will be addressing at Zurich, and it’s one she views as a great point of interest for the construction industry as a whole. “By nature, the industry respects experience (meaning age), and what we have to do as an industry is become more generationally minded,” Reutter said.

“Generational diversity is important in construction, as future clients and teams will be tech savvy. We need to learn from younger generations, as well as older ones. We need to listen and build on that.”

Reutter is not alone in her opinion. The skilled labor shortage and its effects on the industry, construction business owners and their teams, were addressed heavily throughout the majority of CRC sessions.

According to IRMI President, CEO and Conference Co-Chairman Jack Gibson, “The lack of qualified and well-trained workers, supply chain challenges, and construction defects continue to be some of the most difficult risks for contractors to manage and insure,” and working to solve these problems is part of IRMI’s goal. 

According to CRC presenter and Travelers’ Senior Construction Risk Control Consultant Casey Banks, “Attracting the right people and onboarding them and the influx of millennials are how we bridge the gap between generations.”

Banks co-presented a session called “Creating a Technology Plan for Managing Construction Risk” with Michael Fraser, vice president of business development at Triax Technologies, and Donald Naber, senior vice president of risk management at Gilbane Building Company. The three recently partnered to outfit more than 130 workers with wearable devices on a six-story, 60,000-square-foot New York City jobsite over the next 20 months. By increasing jobsite technology and leveraging the data from it, they hope to determine how wearable technology can keep jobs on track and keep workers safe.

Recognizing Excellence

New this year, the Bill McIntyre Leadership Award was presented to Dick Walterhouse, chief risk officer of Charles Pankow Builders Ltd., recognizing his contributions to the industry through innovative risk management strategies and tactics. Walterhouse has worked in construction risk management for 40 years and led his company to develop a “zero-accident culture.”

The Gary E. Bird Horizon Award was presented to Michael Feigin and Jeffrey Hutchens of AvalonBay Communities Inc., for their innovative loss prevention program designed to eliminate construction site fires on wood frame multifamily projects. Their approach focuses on four key pillars that use a combination of innovative building processes, new technologies and a novel wood treatment.

Although designed for with wood frame structures in mind, their approach has applications for fire loss prevention and elimination beyond wood frame construction as well. “Bringing all four risk mitigation pieces together is an innovative and all-inclusive approach that goes above and beyond the immediate addressing of the issue,” said Travelers Vice President of Construction Jennifer Lee.

“This is a game changer,” said Total Facility Solutions Regional Environmental, Health, and Safety Manager T.J. Lyons. “The basics of conventional safety have been gathered in a practical approach that now seems like an obvious fix—a fix that will save the lives of sons and daughters this firm will never meet.” Lyons was honored with the IRMI Words of Wisdom (WOW) Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions from a CRC speaker with exceptional presentation skills.

The 39th CRC will be held November 10–13, 2019, in Seattle, Washington. Register at irmi.com/conferences.