2017 Safety Trends and Risks for Churches

Jan. 11, 2017 – 2016 was an interesting year for churches with regard to safety and risk management. Hot topics included playing Pokémon Go on church property,  same-gender marriage, the Zika virustransgender access to restroomslive streaming of worship services, and vaccinations, in addition to common church claims such as storms, fires and falls.

While it’s challenging to predict what hot topics will arise in 2017, certain safety trends and risks are likely to make themselves known. Regardless of what 2017 brings, GuideOne will be here to provide you with risk management resources and timely information. Here’s what Eric Spacek, GuideOne’s Risk Management and Loss Control Director, predicts for trending topics this year.

1. Avoidable Incidents

It’s almost a given that a church insurance company such as GuideOne will see millions of dollars in claims resulting from incidents that, in many cases, are preventable: fires, water damage, and falls, to name a few. Aside from establishing a risk management team or committee in your church, we highly recommend that churches have a regular facility inspection program to identify preventable hazards such as combustibles stored near heating sources, walkway defects like cracked sidewalks, and water intrusion from clogged gutters or downspouts. To get started, take a look at our monthly and annual facility inspection checklists. Also, electrical fires are an area of concern, particularly for older church buildings. If your building is over 30 years old, consider having the electrical system inspected by a licensed electrical contractor.

2. Child Sexual Abuse Within Religious Organizations

This will continue to make headlines, given the tragic impact even one such incident can have. While no child protection program is foolproof, implementing safeguards such as screening prospective workers and volunteers, providing training and appropriate supervision of staff, and planning how to respond to an allegation of abuse are important elements in protecting the children under your church’s care. Child abuse prevention resources are available here.

3. Crime and Violence Challenges

We live in a violent world, and sometimes that violence spills into the church. Whether the threat comes from a domestic disturbance, a deranged individual, a person with a grudge or prejudice, or a terrorist, it is a good idea for churches to have a plan in place to prevent and respond to violent incidents. In 2017, I expect we will see churches continue to be challenged by changes to conceal carry and open carry laws, which vary widely from state to state, and require a church to carefully consider whether it wishes to prohibit, or allow, weapons on its premises.

4. Religious Expression Challenges

Currently, there is tension between a church’s right to make decisions based upon religious principles and some in the culture’s view that such decisions can be discriminatory to a segment of the population. As a result, challenges to a church’s religious expression, particularly in the area of facility usage and ‘public accommodation’ laws, are likely to continue. Churches may be wise to consider religious expression insurance coverage, and the accompanying risk management materials, that GuideOne offers on this topic.

5. Important Judicial or Governmental Decisions Impacting Churches

Two important cases currently pending in the courts include a federal district court in Texas that is considering the Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations (these were put on hold by a preliminary injunction in November 2016) and a United States Supreme Court case on the separation of church and state that will be decided later this year. Beyond those, I can safely predict there will be other judicial or government regulatory actions popping up during the year that will require churches to take note and respond. We will plan to address those in our Safety Watch e-newsletter as they arise.

6. Rapid Advancements in Technology

This presents both opportunities and challenges for churches. Safety and security technology such as video surveillance, communications equipment, nursery check-in systems and even lighting have never been so advanced, and prices may be less expensive than a church might expect. But the advancement of technology also presents threats in terms of privacy and the protection of the increasing amount of data that churches maintain on its members and guests. A strong data security system, along with consideration of cyber liability insurance coverage, is quickly becoming essential for churches.

Whatever we might forecast, the year is sure to bring twists and turns that we never envisioned. But some of the safeguards mentioned in this post can be a good place to start as we enter 2017.

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© 2018 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.