Product Family

A focus on property and premises risks

Scott Ewing


North America Engineering Leader, AXA XL Risk Consulting

When COVID-19 exploded in the US, businesses had no time to plan and protect. Instead, organizations had little choice but to react. Some businesses were shuttered, employees sent home, and if companies were fortunate, they were able to implement remote operations.

In some cases, companies were able to adapt and shift to new product lines. Increased demand meant an increase in production and staffing. Yet no matter what the impact of the pandemic on operations, increased risks emerge.

Whether your operations have halted, increased or been amended to include new products, your organization is facing new or increased property or premises risks. And whether your change was small or large, long term or short term, getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible will be of paramount concern once your company resumes normal operations.

In order to get your business up and running as quickly as possible once the pressures from the pandemic ease, businesses should focus on five key risk areas:

  • Human element
  • Security and protection
  • Maintenance
  • Equipment
  • Facilities status


Managing the people aspect of risk is important as you return to regular operations. Preparing your employees for a return to business, if done well, allows for uninterrupted, safe operations.

As your operations restart, workers and contractors may be focusing on getting equipment up and running. Yet, are the people doing the maintenance or repair work doing so in a safe manner? For example, are any contractors or workers doing any type of hot work, such as cutting, welding or grinding?

As a leading cause of fire in industry, hot work needs to be planned for. Look for deteriorated conditions, such as oil leaks or a buildup of grease or debris before allowing any hot work in your facility. With reduced staff or idle properties, housekeeping schedules may have been impacted, resulting in your facilities having more combustible materials than desirable.

Your facilities may be closed to all outside visitors. That may also include those contractors who regularly maintain your fire protection, alarm and special extinguishing systems. Before any work occurs on your premises, ensure that these systems are serviced and tested in accordance with local code.

If your operation is changing in any way, your workers and vendors need to know what to expect. Review all changes with personnel. Develop and implement processes and procedures that address these changes. Make sure your employees and vendors understand how to work with new products and equipment.

The hazards posed by those products need to be analyzed, as well. Any new product line or change in formulation to existing products needs a process hazard analysis to evaluate the risks. Does your current emergency plan address this situation?

Is local law enforcement aware of your facility status? Are they willing to patrol your area regularly to deter break-ins? Does the fire department know what type of materials your company handles? Perhaps new hazards have materialized recently? Communicate with your local first responders and let them know of any substantive changes. They need to know so they can be prepared if called upon to respond to an incident.

Your operations, whether idle or open, need to maintain and possibly increase security and protection. Inspect and verify that perimeter fencing is adequate and maintained. Ensure exterior lighting is adequate. Consider adding or enhancing your current security systems.

Also, make sure those systems are in working order. Companies have significant amounts of capital into protection systems, but these systems need to be functioning in order to be effective. Maintain automatic sprinkler systems in service. Ensure that special extinguishing systems are in service. Don’t forget ancillary equipment such as kitchen hood wet chemical systems.

No matter what the status of your operations, building maintenance should continue. Inspect and clear roof drains to prevent any water ponding that could lead to roof collapse. Maintain environmental systems. Loss of air conditioning in some climates could result in mold growth. Standing water can result in bacteria growth.

Water Damage
In fact, liquid damage is one of the most frequently reported types of loss. Water damage is one of the more serious risks that companies can encounter. Water lines above computer rooms, hot water pipes running through high-value equipment storage rooms, even coffee machine water line failures can cause significant damage and mold potential. If a leak occurs over a weekend or when your facilities are empty the water may run unchecked for days leading to extensive damage. This type of event could result in a multi-million-dollar loss.

Evaluate your operations, including offices, to identify all water sources. Then develop a program to evaluate water damage potential and how to prevent and manage any instances of water infiltration. If your facility has been idle for an extended period, flush the systems as you prepare to reopen. This will remove any stagnant water that could be harboring harmful bacteria or sediment that could plug filters or cooling water systems.

If your facilities are idle, consider isolation of power to the facility or parts of your operations. Take care not to shut power off to critical systems, such as electric fire pumps, alarm systems or any other protective systems. If your facility is running at capacity or beyond capacity, review your utility needs and regularly monitor and manage the load.

Well-engineered restart procedures are a big part of managing change at a facility.

When facilities are idled, the risks associated with equipment multiply quickly. Well-engineered restart procedures are a big part of managing change at a facility. All the following items, and more, should be part of this evaluation.

When shutting down your facility, be sure to properly lay-up equipment. Proper lay-up of equipment can reduce equipment loss and potentially larger hazards once your facility is up and running again.

  • Boilers can be laid up wet or dry. Dry laid up boilers should have desiccants added to prevent moisture or corrosion. Pay particular attention to recommendations on how equipment should be idled.
  • Transformers rely on their own heat to keep moisture at bay. As a unit cools down, the potential for moisture intrusion increases. This can lead to damage to insulation and electrical components. Depending on your operations, consider keeping transformers powered to avoid potential damage.
  • Moisture and corrosion problems can occur in nearly any facility. Even the reduction of air conditioning in humid environments can lead to increased potential for mold or bacteria growth. The potential for damage increases the longer facilities remain without heating or cooling.
  • Machine lubrication is critical to proper machinery function. Lubricants should be checked and maintained at prescribed levels. Over-lubrication can be just as bad as under-lubrication – it can stress seals and lead to equipment failure.
  • Ammonia-based cooling systems present a significant hazard. Ammonia is a toxic, combustible material that can lead to an explosion if confined within its flammable range. Regular maintenance of these systems is extremely important.
  • Storage energy systems, such as hydraulic systems, compressed airs systems, and battery banks could fail if not properly maintained. Hydraulic hoses and fittings are classic points of failure. Shutting down pumps and relieving pressure on the systems could help alleviate any issues. For batteries, OEM recommendations should be followed.

When your facilities are ready to reopen, it is critical that proper restart procedures be developed and followed. Lockout tagout procedures allow for an easier, safer managed restart. Any activity conducted on equipment should be documented, allowing others to know the status of each piece of equipment as well as any actions needed to get it back up and operational.

Idle facilities pose additional risks beyond equipment compromise or mold. When few or no people are onsite, the risk of intrusion or theft increases. Yet it’s not just your facility that poses these risks – an idle location nearby could present an exposure risk from a fire perspective.

Theft is just one risk to an idled facility. Properties that stand idle may not have their exteriors maintained regularly. Vegetation, brush or other debris can be present and allow for a fire hazard.

Exposures from natural disasters may increase as well. If your facility is working at reduced capacity, who is enacting preplanning for natural disasters or catastrophic events? Is there anyone designated to install flood or hurricane protections when needed? Are the staff available or have they been furloughed?

Repurposed Facilities
Even an operating facility has increased risks in the time of COVID-19. Any change made to your normal operations may pose additional risks to property. For example, facilities switching their business operations over to making hand sanitizer could be introducing highly combustible material into plants and warehouses that were not designed to house or process these materials. So, sprinkler systems may not be able to protect that higher hazard material or operations.

The alcohol used in hand sanitizer is highly flammable. And your employees may not be trained in how to safely dispense flammable liquids to avoid potential fires. Working with flammables requires protections such as bonding and grounding, ventilation, containment, sprinkler protection, and more setup.

The same could be the case for operations that have moved to working with textiles for masks or personal protective equipment. Cutting textiles and synthetic materials creates dust and lint. Dust and lint fires are extremely fast-moving. Is your housekeeping staff able to keep pace with the new cleaning demands? 
Storing such materials as well as any other new materials could quickly overwhelm your current fire protection systems. Also, increased production levels could result in increased materials and goods to store. Storage too close to sprinkler systems or in aisles in the warehouse increase the chance that the protection may not be able to check a fire.

Employees asked to take on new tasks and to support new process need to be trained to handle these new products, processes and hazards. Some employees could be temporary staff who are not adequately trained in how to react in an emergency.

One item that may be overlooked during peak levels of operation is maintenance. If your facility is working at maximum capacity, there could be little time for scheduled maintenance of equipment. Nevertheless, it is a critical component of keeping your operations running smoothly. Scheduling proper maintenance time is imperative for the continuity and resiliency of your business.

Testing and Predictive/Preventative Maintenance could uncover potential issues before they become major problems. Increased use of your equipment or new equipment being employed could overload current systems. Proper evaluation of electrical loads and electrical distribution coordination are highly recommended.

Whether your business is idle or running at full capacity, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased exposure to your property and business. Indirect exposures such as supply chain may be just as serious or even greater than your direct exposures.

Planning now, even amid the current crisis, can help your company be more agile should another large-scale event take place. Turn a very challenging situation into an opportunity to self-evaluate and to improve. It is up to your business to make sure that if another event happens, your organization is prepared and not only survives but excels.

About the Author
Scott Ewing is Americas Engineering Leader, Property Risk Engineering, AXA XL Risk Consulting and can be reached at

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