Our Perceptions of Risk & Prioritization

In this article, I will argue how poisonous spiders and environmental risks can be similar. If you’d like to hear more about how I can make this unusual comparison, please read on.

Viewpoints from Tony Sandfrey

As an environmental insurance broker and risk advisor, I often speak with clients and others about environmental risks, and I am regularly suggesting environmental insurance (aka pollution legal liability insurance) as a risk financing/risk transfer mechanism.

From these conversations, regardless of the business or industry, there are several themes repeated by those who ultimately don’t purchase environmental insurance:

  • We’ve been in business for many years without a pollution event/loss.
  • The chance of a catastrophic loss is remote, and we are not a high-risk business.
  • We know the existing risks and are prepared to address a likely case scenario.
  • There are no resources / no budget to dedicate to this right now.

There are others, but the above conveys the most common.

With that in mind, let me summarize my own general perceptions of poisonous spider risks before this past week:

  • I’ve never been bitten by a black widow or brown recluse spider and I’ve lived in Georgia for about 25 years, working outdoors as an environmental consultant/contractor my first few years.
  • I have monthly pest control service visits…I’ve already addressed this. These spiders avoid humans, so contact with them is uncommon.
  • I’m a bigger-than-average guy with no allergies, so I’m not at high risk even if bitten. Adverse reactions are rare, affecting those more vulnerable (children, elderly, etc.)
  • I’m aware these spiders live in Georgia, and I keep an eye out for them whenever I’m outside. Beyond that, this is not really a top-priority risk item for me.

See any similarities to the environmental risk themes above? You can probably guess what comes next…

True Story…BITTEN!

It appears that I was bitten on Friday – I say “it appears” because I never felt the bite or saw the spider. I first became aware of it during my last call of the day on Friday afternoon, and while on my call, I was fussing over this bite I had on my finger… A small red mark was slightly larger than a mosquito bite but incredibly itchy. I messed with it a bit and put a bandage on it so that I would stop fussing with it.

Later that afternoon, I felt like I was starting to get sick… some mild body aches. My son recently started back to school, so catching a common cold a week or two after elementary school starts is not abnormal for our household. By Friday night, I was starting to get a mild fever and was feeling worse.… by late Friday night, I was shivering & shaking uncontrollably and very cold. Still, I thought, “I hope this isn’t the flu or COVID.” I felt terrible all night and only got a few hours of sleep.

I woke up Saturday with a splitting headache and muscle cramps all over. I was still cold but somehow sweaty and very dehydrated. There was a throbbing pain in my hand – now swollen and the finger with the bite had nearly doubled in size. It was only at this point that I realized that a spider had bitten me. Getting up and moving around with my muscle cramps, headache, and lightheadedness was challenging. Within the next few hours, I felt even worse at an urgent care facility. Initial measurements revealed that my blood oxygen was very low, and my blood pressure was dangerously high. After inspecting the bite, the doctor suspected that it was a brown recluse spider that bit me.

After providing the prescribed treatment and prescription, the doctor made me keenly aware of the seriousness when he said, “It will take several days to improve, but if anything gets any worse, go to the emergency room immediately.”

Sunday was about the same (i.e., awful, but thankfully not worse), and Monday and Tuesday were maybe just slightly less awful. Wednesday was noticeably better. My recovery continues as I write this – my hand is still discolored, and I still have shortness of breath doing simple tasks.

Luckily, it seems that I will be alright, though I certainly had a lousy week. I missed an important meeting at work (possibly missed business opportunities) and gave my family a scare.

Lessons Learned

Getting back to how poisonous spiders and environmental risks can be similar:

  • I had never been bitten before and it was not likely – but it happened. Similarly, many businesses don’t expect to have an environmental loss, and while pollution losses tend to be infrequent and are unlikely, they happen.
  • I never saw the spider, nor did I feel it bite me – but it did. Similarly, pollution releases are often not quickly detected or discovered.
  • I didn’t think it would be that bad – I vastly underestimated my risk and was unprepared. After discovering I had been bitten, I couldn’t even appreciate my own risk. Similarly, many businesses are not likely able to perceive their actual worst-case scenario until after a loss.

For those still reading, I hope that my true story and lessons learned above accomplish two things:

  • Everyone – This is an excellent reminder to ensure you have a basic plan if you, or a family member, are bitten by a spider, snake, etc.
  • Risk Managers and Business Stakeholders – Please talk with your broker about your environmental risks, recognize that the unlikely can and does happen, and reconsider environmental insurance as part of your risk management strategy.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me – I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss environmental risks & insurance (or even what little I still know about poisonous spiders). Thanks for reading this.

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Tony Sandfrey

Environmental Practice Leader