New Rating System for Homes at Risk

New rating system launched

Following the ‘Black Saturday’ and ‘Blue Mountains’ bushfires in recent years, the Australian Government in conjunction with local councils and fire services, has amended the requirements set out in Australian Standard 3959 – Construction of Buildings in Bushfire Prone Areas.

A Bushfire Attack Level (commonly known as BAL) Rating has now been applied to all domestic buildings located within 100 metres of bushland vegetation.

The BAL Ratings that have been assigned (from lowest to highest) are:

1. BAL – LOW

2. BAL – 12.5

3. BAL – 19

4. BAL – 29

5. BAL – 40

6. BAL – FZ (Flame Zone)

These ratings are based on factors such as the region where you live, the vegetation type around your property, the distance from your home to individual vegetation types, and the slope of the property.

This means that if your property now has a BAL Rating applied to it, then the costs to repair or rebuild your property have increased, sometimes dramatically, to now comply with the new amended Australia Standard laws. The additional costs are not strictly limited to fire damage only, but also apply to all claims affecting the external components of the building such as roof, walls, gutters, eaves, windows, doors, decks etc. So if your property suffers damage through events such storm, hail, impact, accidental damage etc. then the repair costs will be impacted by the BAL Rating.

So what does this mean for insurance? Depending on the BAL Rating applicable to your property, the additional costs associated with the rectification of damage caused to your property, be it by fire, storm, impact, etc. need to be included within your Building Sum Insured and not be exhausted under your insurance policy.

The Building Sum Insured nominated on your insurance policy now needs to be increased to include these additional costs otherwise it will result in under-insurance leaving you with either an unfinished home or personal financial contribution (outside insurance) to complete the repair or rebuild of your property.

The recommended additional costs have been set at:

1. BAL – LOW
No additional cost

2. BAL – 12.5
Additional $5,000 – $15,000

3. BAL – 19
Additional $20,000 – $30,000

4. BAL – 29
Additional $30,000 – $50,000

5. BAL – 40
Additional $50,000 – $80,000

6. BAL – FZ (Flame Zone)
Additional $100,000 – $120,000

In order to determine the BAL Rating applicable to your property, please contact your local council who will be able to provide you with this information. Once obtained, a calculation can be provided for the average additional costs that should be included in your building sum insured and added to your insurance policy to ensure you are adequately protected in the event of a loss.

If you would like more information regarding BAL Ratings, please contact your CQIB broker.

Pollution Liability Insurance

A Must-Have For Many Businesses

Many business owners are unaware their standard business package insurance will not cover pollution remediation. It’s likely that contractors and other professionals working on major infrastructure and construction projects will have appropriate cover, but the cover is not just for heavy industry. Businesses with high risk include dry cleaners and hair salons due to chemicals they store and use. Service stations are vulnerable because of the potential leakage from underground storage tanks and pipes corroding over time.

Recently there was a $300,000 clean-up claim from a contractor that had serviced pipes at a petrol station. An explosion at a sewerage plant, some kilometres away, was traced back to the service station, and it was discovered that pollutants had flowed into the water table.

Pollution incidents are not confined to heavy industrial sites, they can also be caused by small businesses or individuals such as contractors or subcontractors – for example, due to a failure to install proper sediment controls while undertaking earthworks.

Independent contractors need to protect themselves against any claims of damage caused by the work they do or have done. One type of cover that may be suitable is pollution liability insurance. This cover protects an entity against liability from damage caused by hazardous waste materials. The reality is that environmental clean-up projects can cost millions of dollars.

It’s too late to buy cover if you cause an incident and you should be aware that pollution liability is not covered under a general liability policy. Some policies may provide coverage only for sudden and accidental events, but exclude gradual pollution events and the cover may specifically exclude clean-up costs.

Mould, Legionella, noise and odour are also considered pollutions and may be covered by an environmental insurance policy.

If you think you may have a risk of hazardous waste exposure in your business operations, it is a good idea to consult with your insurance broker about the need for pollution liability insurance.

The Cloud

What is it? Where is it?

In the simplest terms, ‘cloud computing’ means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of on and from your computer’s hard drive. ‘The cloud’ is just a metaphor for the Internet. There is no real, puffy white cloud involved; it’s just a 3rd party service provider’s server, somewhere.

When you store data on or run programs from your computer’s hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. Everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy (for that one computer, or others on the local network). Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades and some argue it’s still superior to cloud computing.

The cloud though, is not about the hard drive in your desktop computer or hard drive server in residence.

To use the cloud you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet or at least have that data synchronised with other information over the Internet. With an online connection cloud computing can be done anywhere and at anytime on smartphones, pads or tablets as well as desktop computers.

The serious business, and where the money is, is in the cloud-based software programs. These include ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) where businesses can subscribe to an application over the Internet (examples: Adobe Creative Cloud, Salesforce.com). There’s also ‘Platform as a Service’ (PaaS) where business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And of course the major players who offer ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS) where companies like Google and Amazon provide the backbone that can be rented out by other companies as a platform for their services; Netflix being one, a customer of Amazon cloud services and due to launch in Australia in March this year.

Cloud computing is big business. Global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company claims that 80% of the largest companies in North America that it surveyed are either looking at using cloud services – or already are.

The cloud in its many forms is an exciting development but it also creates new types of challenges in protecting sensitive information assets. A business-focused risk-management approach enables companies to strike the right balance between protecting data and taking advantage of more efficient and flexible technology environments.

A business minefield – Employees misusing social media!

Business owners beware! Even if you or your businesses are not active in the social media space, your employees’ online actions can have a lasting real life impact.

In a well-known case from 2011, an employee of Linfox Australia Pty Ltd was dismissed for posting offensive and discriminatory comments about two of his managers on his Facebook profile page.

The Fair Work Commissioner recognised that the posted comments were ‘outrageous and distasteful’, but found that Linfox did not have grounds to dismiss the employee. At the time of the dismissal and the hearing, Linfox did not have a social media policy.

In the recent case of Malcolm Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2014], the Fair Work Commission held that it is not “harsh, unjust, or unreasonable” to expect an employee to comply with a social media policy that operates outside, as well as inside, the workplace. In this case, Linfox (presumably having learned from its previous experience) had implemented a social media policy and Mr Pearson’s refusal to sign this policy, amongst other shortcomings, constituted a valid reason for dismissal. The Commission dismissed the unfair dismissal case on the basis that the social media policy was a legitimate exercise by Linfox in protecting its reputation and security. The Commission recognised that the natural overlap between public and private life makes such an “invasive” policy necessary.

“It is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer’s reputation and the security of the business could operate in an ‘at work’ context only…Gone is the time where an employee might claim posts on social media are intended to be for private consumption only.”

These decisions form part of an evolving body of case law that reflects the increasing prevalence of social media and a more sophisticated understanding of its implications in the workplace.

So what should employers do to protect their interests? Most experts agree that employers should:

  • Implement a comprehensive social media policy
  • Adequately train their employees in the policy and ensure they are aware of the employer’s expectations around social media in and out of the workplace, and
  • Regularly review the policy to maintain currency.

Employers should be mindful that courts and tribunals are increasingly willing to hold employees accountable for social media misuse. Hence, employers should not shy away from robust disciplinary actions when the circumstances are appropriate.