If your church is like many others, it probably has a limited budget. Plus, the staff is likely busy with ministry activities, and it is difficult to take on additional responsibilities. This can be an issue when it comes to risk management — improving safety for congregants and enhancing your facility’s security.
By Eric Spacek, JD, ARM
As one of the nation’s leading church insurers, GuideOne keeps detailed records about the types of claims and losses churches experience across the United States. Over the last several years, the most common causes of loss are: storms; falls; water damage; theft, burglary and vandalism; accidental fires; lightning and electrical surge damage; recreational activity injuries; arson; sexual misconduct incidents; and maintenance injuries.
The good news is, with little or no extra money, the leaders of your church can make dramatic improvements in the way they protect people and the property. The only requirements are a commitment to safety and security by church leaders and volunteers.
The first step in beginning your church safety and security efforts is to recruit volunteers in order to form a safety or risk management team. Typically, this team is made up of congregation members who have experience in safety, facility or property management, insurance, law enforcement, law, accounting, child care and healthcare. The goal of this team is to identify risks at church and formulate a risk management program.
Once the team is in place, it is important for them to establish a process to make sure that the property and surrounding grounds are regularly inspected for various hazards. Sample inspection checklists should be available from your church’s property insurance carrier. Ideally, a qualified professional should look for issues concerning electrical, HVAC, fire prevention and plumbing. The safety or risk management team also should look for the following general items and issues:
- Hazards that can cause slips, trips or falls — such as uneven walking surfaces including parking lots, sidewalks and hallways, or worn carpeting
- Fire hazards — such as improperly stored combustibles or open flames
- Roof damage or debris blocking the gutters, downspouts and eaves
- Trees or branches close to the building or electrical wires
- Nursery and daycare protective devices — such as outlet coverings
- Cleaning supplies and chemicals that are well-marked and locked
- Playground equipment that is well-maintained and with sufficient ground cover
By addressing these issues ahead of time, it could greatly reduce the chances of experiencing several of the common causes of loss listed above.
Slips and falls
The most common cause of injuries on church premises are slips and falls. Churches in areas prone to freezing winter conditions should take snow and ice into consideration. It’s essential to promptly remove the hazard from all sidewalks, stairs and parking lot areas where there is a heavy flow of visitor traffic. Ice-Melt or similar products can be used to minimize the danger of slipping. Your church also can put up “Wet Floor” caution signs in entrances and heavy traffic areas. Also, keep walking surfaces free of tripping hazards such as extension cords, boxes or other items.
Water damage — from frozen pipes that break, as well as leaking roofs, drain blockages and sewer lines that back up and overflow — is the third most common type of insurance claim among churches. To minimize the risk, keep the church’s roof in good condition, have gutters cleaned out, and make sure there is adequate insulation and ventilation in attic spaces. Insulate water pipes that will be exposed to freezing temperatures, and regularly inspect the premises. Your church also should consider installing a water leak detection system.
Theft and burglary
About one in eight churches is victim to theft or burglary each year. To help prevent crime at your church, follow the “5 Ls.”
1) Lock-up. Make sure doors and windows are locked when the building is unoccupied.
2) Lighting. Illuminate exterior buildings, doors and parking lots from sunset to sunrise.
3) Landscaping. Keep shrubs and trees trimmed around windows and doors, and keep any unsecured tools or ladders from being easily accessible to outsiders.
4) Lookout. Establish a “Church Watch” program and develop relationships with neighbors, asking them to keep an eye on the property and report any suspicious activity.
5) Law enforcement. Develop positive relationships with local police and invite them to patrol the property at odd hours.
Naturally, certain types of losses — such as hurricane or tornado damage — are impossible to avoid. However, research shows that more than half of all losses at churches could have been prevented or minimized if the church would have taken the proper steps and precautions ahead of time to reduce their risks.
For a complete listing of ways to protect your ministry from common church claims, visit the GuideOne website.
Eric Spacek, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, IA. Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.