Just as every rose has its thorn, every job has its hazards. In the world of insurance adjusting, depending on the type of adjusting being done, these hazards can range greatly (probably much like many other jobs). For anyone curious about the potential hazards of my industry, or for those who might be interested in a career in adjusting, the following will give you an idea of the risks we face.
First I’ll start with those adjusters who work primarily in an office setting (and yes, many insurance adjusters, especially as technology improves, never leave an office to settle your insurance claim). Besides the obvious hazards of getting into car accidents going to and from the office, or tripping on your own shoelaces, most in-office hazards come from repeated activities – staring at a computer screen all day, sitting in a chair all day, and typing for hours on end.
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Many corporate offices have access to ergonomics specialists within their Human Resources departments, or offer training videos on workplace safety. In addition to taking advantage of these resources, certainly it is wise to always be aware of things like tripping hazards (loose carpet, uneven surfaces, electrical cords, changes in floor elevations that are minor or difficult to see, or items placed on the floor near a corner). Then there are slipping hazards (water or other fluids dripping or leaking on a hard surface), sharp edges on furniture or accessories. Las but least we come to the falling hazards (usually from a heavy or unstable object placed too close to the edge of a shelf or other piece of furniture). I'll bet you didn't know the work place could be such a hazard zone.
Get up from your desk on a regular basis and take a brief walk around, doing simple eye, wrist, back or neck exercises based on professional advice and your personal needs. Not only can you avoid some of the repetitive motion conditions, you may take this time to take note of other potential hazards in the office, and recharge your batteries.
Many insurance adjusters who work in an office, also work in the field, whether at private residences, commercial properties, or car repair shops. These adjusters not only spend more time in their cars trying to avoid getting hit by other drivers, but typically find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, without the benefit of management and/or HR sanitizing every surface year-round.
Once you venture outside, the number of hazards increase exponentially, and there are far too many to name here. I’ll just give an idea of a few I have encountered over the years.
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As field adjusters, and especially as catastrophe adjusters, a major component of the job is climbing onto roofs. Most people can appreciate the obvious hazard of falling off the roof, but that is only half the battle. The method for getting on and off the roof – the ladder – is the other half. You have to be careful to set up the ladder properly, facing the right direction (yes, most ladders have instructions printed right on them with illustrations to show how to set up the ladder safely), and on the right surfaces. I once set up my ladder in the trunk of my car because I just needed 2 more feet to get up on a roof. The smart thing would have been to leave and return with a ladder that would reach this particular roof, but when in a hurry, and having a appointments to keep, people tend to improvise. It looked like it would work fine, and in fact it looked like I was in the clear until I made it to the eaves. At that point, there was enough of a shift in the weight being placed on the ladder that the felt-like material in the trunk suddenly gave way, quickly taking the legs of the ladder out from under me. All I could do was react, placing one hand on the roof, and another on the gutter, expecting the ladder to drop away completely and leave me hanging until I could drop myself down as safely as possible. Fortunately, the ladder didn’t drop completely away, and I was able to climb down without any injury to myself – and I only had to pay the homeowner for a minor gutter repair.
One of my adjusters was not as lucky when the ladder he set up on the side of a home slipped out from under him. He was just getting back on the ladder to climb down from the roof when this happened, and his first instinct was to push himself away from the ladder so he could land a safe distance away on his feet. Except for the possibility of twisting an ankle upon landing, I think he would have been fine, but he didn’t see there was a clothesline behind him, and as he came down, the clothesline hit the back of his legs, causing his body to rotate backwards, and he landed hard on his upper back and head, nearly losing consciousness.
Over the years I’ve heard many stories of people who were so focused on reading their tape measures, or were too engrossed in trying to identify damage on a roof, that they simply stepped off the edge of the roof, sometimes resulting in serious injury or death.
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Then there was the time I was on a wood shake roof in Oklahoma when I came upon a section of the roof that was home to a swarm of wasps, and they did not appreciate my trespassing in their space. This might have been just the right time to be scared stiff, because it gave me time to think about my next (slow) steps, and not get the wasps any more excited than they already were. Disaster averted!
In addition to the above, there are a host of dangers on roofs alone – high voltage electrical lines, slippery spots of mold or mildew, and rotten wood that can give way beneath you and land you in the attic, to name a few. And don’t forget the sun, lightning, and other weather conditions – I once got hailed on while inspecting a hail claim!
Then you have other critters you come across while doing property inspections, from bats to bees, to spiders and snakes, to overly protective and aggressive dogs. I even once found myself surrounded by a tribe (or trip) of goats on a farm in Texas. At first it was cool as a few gathered around to see what I was doing there. But before long they were all around me, nibbling and crowding and a few butting. Good thing I had my trusty ladder with me to help fend enough of them off so I could make my escape.
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Finally, you have all the hazards that are difficult to see when the destruction is especially heavy. After a severe disaster from fire, hurricane, flood, or tornado, there are many sharps pieces of debris that are literally everywhere. I have stepped on nails, been cut by glass, and poked by sharp or pointy spikes of wood or metal. Getting a tetanus shot every 10 years was not a problem for me. And most recently, I stepped into a quicksand-like mixture of sand and sewage, going from walking on solid ground to sinking to my knees in just 1 step. You hear about quicksand, or see it depicted on TV or in movies, but until you are in it, you can’t really imagine the holding power it has on you – I was stuck! And I stunk!
Overall, I have been very lucky throughout the years to escape any serious injury. Then again, except for a few times when lapses in judgement almost cost me dearly, I’d like to think I was pretty careful more often than not, considering my surroundings, taking care to minimize the risks I was taking. Whatever your job, be careful, be observant, and listen to that little voice in your head (that grows louder as you grow older).
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.