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Eric Clark begins his term as President of Oklahoma's premier civil defense attorney group

Source: Rhodes, Hieronymus, Jones, Tucker & Gable, PLLC

We are pleased to announce that Eric Clark will be the President of the Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel (OADC) for the years 2023-2024.  Started almost sixty years ago, OADC is composed of Oklahoma attorneys who devote a substantial amount of their professional time to the handling of litigated civil cases for the defense.  Eric has served on the Executive Board for the past seven years in various roles, including as the Chair of the Sponsorship Committee for three years and as the Secretary and Vice President.  Eric’s leadership has focused on the professional development of young lawyers interested in insurance defense.   He recently created and planned a new conference for the education and development of young civil defense lawyers.  Through the efforts of his Committee, enough money was raised to fund the attendance of all who wished to go.  The two-day conference was held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa.

 

A look back on Innovative Construction Trends in 2022

Frank Griffin, PE Texas Principal Engineer, Construction; Envista Forensics
Donna Friis, PE Construction Practice Leader; Envista Forensics

Modular Construction, Mass Timber, and 3D Printed Construction have all been around for at least ten years; but, their market share is expanding at a faster rate than ever before. These building methods and materials have already affected the construction sector, and undoubtedly will have an even larger impact on construction in the years to come. The forecast of such construction technologies, materials, and methods is catching on for a variety of reasons, given the economic state of the globe, sustainability initiatives, the shortage of qualified and skilled labor, as well as supply chain issues globally.

Modular construction technically dates back to England in the 1600s and were also employed through the California Gold Rush. Efficiency was greatly increased with modular construction and this appeal still remains today. Times have changed since modular construction was first introduced, with proponents of modular construction touting reduced project costs, accelerated schedules, consistency, and sustainability. With the global push towards more resilient and sustainable construction, coupled with the emerging supply chain issues, modular construction is gaining traction.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) was first introduced in the early 1990s in Austria and Germany. The engineered timber has been slow to gain wider adoption and use, but recently has seen a significant increase in the construction industry. Experts have predicted the number of mass timber buildings to be completed will continue to rise, with over 24,000 estimated in 2034. In support of the widespread adoption of mass timber, the International Building Code (IBC) expanded its building code provisions in its 2021 release. This is a significant step in expanding mass timber’s influence on the construction industry.

Full scale buildings were completed around 2006 but these prototypes and one-off attempts to 3D print structures (of all sorts) were not quite a true construction methodology. The world’s first 3D printed neighborhood began in Tabasco, Mexico in 2019, with the first “net zero energy” neighborhood started in Southern California in 2021. Lennar and Icon Technologies have partnered to build a 100-home community in Austin, Texas. The global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a 87.3% compound annual growth rate of 87.3 from 2022 to 2031. It is clear that these three construction technologies have already started to make their impact on the construction industry. So how far into the future do we need to go to feel their impact in insurance claims and litigation?

Resource Links:

  • https://www.modular.org/HtmlPage.aspx?name=MA-oi-History-of-Modular
  • https://www.constructiondive.com/news/mass-timber-101-understanding-the-emerging-building-type/443476/
  • https://research.cnr.ncsu.edu/blogs/clt-panels/history-of-cross-laminated-timber/
  • https://bim360resources.autodesk.com/connect-construct/a-history-of-3d-printing-in-construction-what-you-need-to-know
  • https://www.iconbuild.com/updates
  • https://bit.ly/3PRZqmE
 

Situational Awareness: There is More to Fire Scene Safety Beyond NFPA 921

Source: David Harlow, Principal Consultant, Fire and Explosion, Envista Forensics

Whether you are an insurance adjuster or fire investigator, when out on a loss site, such as a fire scene, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings and maintain situational awareness, the conscious knowledge of the immediate environment and the events that are occurring in it. Situation awareness involves the perception of the elements in the environment, comprehension of what they mean and how they relate to one another, and how you may need to act or react, but more than that, situational awareness is about always keeping yourself and your peers safe through mental preparation. 

Situational awareness can be understood as a collection of skills needed to set limits in circumstances that may make us uncomfortable or are possibly even dangerous. It is an awareness of the environment and a basic understanding of how to avoid potentially dangerous situations. When we have a good understanding of situational awareness and we know our mental abilities to survey and understand our surroundings, we gain self-esteem and confidence to trust our instincts.

Staying Safe On-site, After A Fire

In both the public and private sectors, new generations of insurance claims adjusters and investigators are entering the workforce, and as they enter, they are faced with new risks; risks with today’s technology, with public safety, and with issues such as climate change, as well as the ongoing impacts of a global pandemic.  Amid all these risks, safety when on a loss investigation remains a paramount concern.

In the second edition of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) Health and Safety Committee’s manual, Fire Investigator Health and Safety Best Practices, published in May of 2020, there are no recommendations or guidelines as to how fire investigators need to have situational awareness and maintain control of the area where they're working during uncertain circumstances.  Additionally, both past and current editions of the NFPA 921 have a chapter dedicated to scene safety, but has very little information addressing potential health and safety events that may occur after the loss, when the site is being investigated.

Whether you have been a part of fire scene investigations for 30 years or three weeks, the tips below are essential to comprehend and utilize for maintaining situational awareness and keeping yourself and others safe on loss sites.

When possible, attend site inspections with others. This may mean other adjusters, investigators, or law enforcement professionals. Keep in mind that anytime you go into a new area, you may be seen as suspicious or a threat, so traveling with others is a good rule of thumb.

  • Clearly identify yourself by wearing company-labeled Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and providing clearly identifiable signage in your vehicle so that people know why you're there.
  • Take the time to introduce yourself to neighboring businesses and/or individuals, letting them know that you are conducting an investigation in the area. This is also a good time to ask if they have any information, photos, or videos on the fire.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and immediate environment.
  • Just as you should when entering an unfamiliar building or structure, determine the entry and exit points.

Remember the job you’ve been hired to do. These can be stressful situations, but your ability to remain focused on the job at hand will enable you to conduct your investigation safely and effectively.

 

Up in Smoke: The Dangers of Cannabis and Hash Oil Operation Fires

Source: Andrew Bennett, Assistant Technical Director, Fire & Explosion, and Paul Mullin, Principal Engineer

Cannabis cultivation operations have been around for years but with the recent legalization in various U.S. states, the number of regulations and standards on legal operations has increased. Following this legalization, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) created NFPA 420: Standard on Fire Protection of Cannabis Growing and Processing Facilities. This, along with other standards, has helped guide the safety for facilities that produce, process, and extract cannabis, but the large number of illegal operations which do not adhere to these standards are rising. The ever-growing types of THC extraction have become an additional hazard to contend with and the methods continue to evolve.

There are numerous hazards investigators and engineers face when dealing with a cannabis cultivation operation, which is why proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary for those on-site. Each scene is a little different but typically a filtered mask, hard hat, nitrile gloves, eye protection, and a coverall suit with shoe coverings are required. Mold is an ever-present hazard in these environments due to moisture and the typical ineffective regulation of it in these operations. An often-forgotten deadly hazard is electricity and chemicals, as some operations use chemicals in their processing either as a true part of it or as a test to change concentrations or psychological effects. When on-site, one should assume if something is a liquid or powder, that it is an unknown chemical, even if it is labeled, to ensure safety.

Due to the necessity for lighting, fans, dehumidifiers, and other electrical devices, indoor operations normally consume a lot of electricity. To get around the high utility bills and possible red flags to local agencies, many of these operations will bypass the electrical service meter or use power from adjacent structures. Even if the service meter has been removed, it is likely that there is still power connected to the structure, and it is important to take precautions until it is proven otherwise. Many times, distribution devices, such as power strips and extension cords, are of poor quality and have a higher possibility of being overloaded, which poses a serious fire and safety risk.

In this article, we will discuss some of the typical problems which are found in relation to the cause of fires in cannabis operations.

Electrical Circuits

Since cannabis cultivation operations are becoming more prevalent with added legislation, licensing and code requirements are still evolving. We are still faced with numerous hazards of the unlicensed or illegal operations with a primary problem of the electrical aspects. The electrical work performed, in the illegal operations, are not usually up to code or what would be considered safe practice. Even in licensed operations, electrical work may be performed by unlicensed individuals when the operation is trying to save in costs.

As mentioned above, when entering one of these operations, one should always assume power is still connected until proven otherwise. Electrical service bypasses are typically located above the main service meter for the structure, and due to the clandestine nature of the operation, this is typically only visible from the interior of the structure.

Electrical service can also be used from an adjacent structure, with the wiring buried or hidden by other methods. In multi-tenant buildings, power is sometimes scavenged from adjacent panels or circuit breakers. Many of these connections or splices are with items available at that time, such as welded, nuts and bolts, or twisted onto the conductor with no covering. Poor and improper connections can cause overloading, resistive heating, and arcing, which can then cause ignition to surrounding combustibles.

Due to the heavy electrical draw on the system, primarily to lighting and climate control, the existing circuits are often overloaded, causing wiring and connections to degrade, and tripping the circuit breakers or fuses. A routinely tripping circuit breaker oftentimes leads the operator to simply replace the circuit breaker with one with a higher amperage rating, which does nothing but create a bigger problem of overcurrent on a circuit.

Powered Equipment

Legitimate Underwriters Laboratory (UL) rated cannabis cultivation equipment is readily available from quality manufacturers. Though, due to the expensive nature of these products, cheaper manufactures and products are typically used. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” and this is normally the case for cannabis cultivation equipment. The lack of quality control, standards, and testing can lead to a vast array of malfunctions. Poor contact on connecters is often seen, which leads to resistive heating and arcing. Corrosion can also occur with the same ignition cause because of the humid environment or exposure to chemicals. Additionally, with the high probability of errant electrical activity and poor connections, resistive heating, arcing, and melting can occur.

Lighting

When it comes to indoor operations, lighting is essential. More light means bigger yields for growers. There are three major types of lighting, fluorescent, high-intensity discharge (HID), and light-emitting diode (LED).

Fluorescent

The two types of fluorescent lights used in cannabis growing include compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and T5 grow lights. CFL grow lights are the small twisty-looking bulbs you can find anywhere you normally buy light bulbs. They can be used in tiny spaces where no other grow light would fit, such as the inside of a cabinet. With a small space, lack of spacing or ventilation can cause heat buildup and the degrading of components, leading to errant electrical activity. T5 grow lights are one of the most easily available types of grow lights and are used to grow many different types of plants. These can be found in many garden and home improvement stores.

High-Intensity Discharge (HID)

HID lights used in cannabis growing include metal halide (MH), high-pressure sodium (HPS), ceramic metal halide (CMH), and light-emitting ceramic (LEC) grow lights. HID bulbs get really hot and generate a lot of heat. The surface temperature of the bulb can range from 500 to 1000°F. Due to the concentrated heat production, the bulb should be placed in a hood with some sort of cooling to prevent or dissipate heat. This is especially important for the bigger lights with power above 250W. As a result of this immense heat, most growers use an exhaust fan with ducting to vent out heat, which adds additional equipment that can fail.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

LED lighting is the newer trend in the cost-saving aspect of these operations. Although LED lamps usually run a lot cooler than a similar wattage HPS bulb, they still produce heat, and the bigger sizes, like 300W+, may need to be vented with an exhaust fan to prevent overheating. Water-cooled LED fixtures are becoming popular as well to deal with the amount of heat normally produced during operation.

Pressure Vessels

As we learned in high school biology, plants consume CO2 to produce energy through photosynthesis. Cannabis growers supply CO2 gas into grow areas to significantly increase flower output of the plants; larger flowers equals higher profit from each plant. Over-pressurization of piping from high-pressure CO2 tanks, inside or outside the building, can be a significant hazard. Without proper safety pressure relief valves installed, gas piping can become a grenade if an accidental overpressure condition occurs.

Criminal Revenge

Due to the illegal aspect of these operations, criminal intent is a real factor in the cause of a fire. Competition between nearby operations, money owed, and theft of equipment or product are often motives. More often than not, the suspects and individuals involved in the cultivation are never seen again.

Hash Oil Extractions and Their Hazards

The butane honey oil or butane hash oil (BHO) method to extract oil uses butane gas to break off and dissolve the trichomes into the solvent and carry it away from the plant material. The butane is dispensed as a liquid but quickly turns into a heavier than air gas that accumulates in low-lying areas. This condition creates a highly flammable dangerous environment. Ignition sources can be similar to that of a typical natural gas leak in a structure, such as pilot lights, candles, electrical items, or the lighting of cigarettes.

The BHO method provides for a higher yield than other methods and the product can be consumed in vape pens, candies, waxes, and other forms that are increasingly popular. State-licensed producers of hash oil utilize sophisticated systems that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those wanting to make hash oil at home don’t have to spend nearly as much but results in the lack of safety procedures and risk to themselves and those in adjacent living structures.

Conclusion

As the legalization of cannabis continues throughout the country, the existence of fire and safety hazards will continue to be present. Those having to deal with the investigation and claims must stay up to date with the trends of cannabis growing and learn how to safely mitigate the potential remaining dangers. Effective evaluation of potential equipment failures in cannabis operations is extremely important, as the dangers can be serious. Knowing the proper precautions and having trained professionals and experts to advise and guide through the dangers and potential problems is critical.

 

 

FMCSA Publishes Draft Of Medical Examiner’s Handbook For Proposed Regulatory Guidance On Driver Physical Qualifications

August 18, 2022 • Source: Joe Pappalardo, Gallagher Sharp LLP

On August 16, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a 122-page draft of the new Medical Examiner’s Handbook that could become a guide for certified medical examiners who determine whether a driver meets the physical qualifications for commercial driving. The Agency also proposed changes to the Medical Advisory Criteria now published in the Code of Federal Regulations, 49 CFR part 391, Appendix A.

Under the current regulations, medical examiners make physical qualification determinations of drivers on a case-by-case basis and may refer to the related Medical Advisory Criteria for guidance. See 49 CFR 391.41 through 391.49.

According to the FMCSA, the handbook would provide medical examiners clearer information on specific regulatory requirements relative to a driver’s physical qualifications and offer further guidance to medical providers when making such determinations.

The current draft of the handbook, however, also offers recommendations on identifying drivers at risk for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea, a condition currently not required for testing by medical examiners under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Should the handbook be formally adopted by the Agency, this would pose the question as to whether the handbook becomes a catalyst for future regulatory requirements, such as screening commercial drivers for obstructive sleep apnea, under the FMCSRs.

The debate about regulatory requirements for CMV drivers with obstructive sleep apnea is nothing new.  In March 2016, the FMCSA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that would have required CMV drivers who exhibit multiple risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea to undergo evaluations and treatment by a healthcare professional with expertise on sleep disorders.  However, this ANPRM was withdrawn in 2017.

FMCSA is now accepting public comments about the proposed regulatory guidance on or before September 30, 2022.

 
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