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Contractors Pollution Liability: Insurance Solution To Protect Contractors Against Environmental Liabilities

September 27, 2021

Contractors, no matter the industry they work in, face environmental risks stemming from operations on a daily basis. For most contractors, a single pollution incident or loss can seriously damage their operations, balance sheet, and even reputation.

Making matters worse, pollution incidents can either be sudden or occur gradually over time. 

While many contractors assume that environmental claims will be covered under their commercial general liability (CGL) policy, the unfortunate reality is that most CGLs contain pollution exclusions that leave contractors uninsured in the event of a pollution incident.

This example from the Canadian Underwriter provides a glimpse of how there may be a gap in your pollution liability insurance coverage:

“[A] contractor was working on a high-rise condo building, which was at the concrete forming stage. Oil for the tools and equipment was stored onsite in a barrel. During the night, high winds knocked the barrel over and the oil spilled on the street and cars below.

Until the late 1970s, pollution cover for third parties tended to be included as endorsements in CGL policies, said Rick DeGrace, senior vice president of environmental at Strategic Underwriting Managers.

In the mid 1980s, those were modified to become either more restrictive or to absolutely exclude pollution.

The basic auto policy in each of the provinces does not have a pollution exclusion, explained DeGrace.” Source: Canadian Underwriter

Thankfully, contractors are increasingly turning to contractors pollution liability (CPL) insurance to ensure they have the right coverage in place to remain secure and profitable.

Contractors Pollution Liability Insurance

Contractors pollution liability insurance policies provide contractor-based insurance for third-party coverage for bodily injury, property damage, defence, and cleanup as a result of sudden and gradual pollution incidents arising from contracting operations performed by or on behalf of the contractor.

Contractors pollution liability insurance is intended to provide coverage to all types of contracting operations, including contractors who are involved in building construction and environmental firms that remediate polluted sites.

Contractors pollution liability policies are offered on either a claims-made or occurrence basis.

Claims-made or occurrence basis

Claims-made policies provide coverage only for incidents that occur and are reported within the policy period. Occurrence basis provides coverage for incidents that occurred during the policy period, regardless when the claim is reported.

What’s more, CPL policies are non-standard, meaning each policy is different and can be modified to cover the various needs of the contractor purchasing the policy. Policies can be offered on a project or blanket program basis. 

In some instances, CPL policies can also be used to cover losses from civil fines, penalties and punitive damages.

Covered Pollution Incidents

Contractors should keep in mind that contractors pollution liability insurance policies differ in regard to the types of pollution incidents that are covered. Two important considerations when evaluating CPL insurance policies are: 

  1. Whether or not the policy will respond to gradual releases of pollutants, as opposed to sudden and accidental releases; and 
  2. The types of substances that are considered “pollutants” under the terms of the policy. 

Generally, policies that cover both gradual and sudden releases of pollutants provide contractors with a broader scope of coverage. In addition, policies that provide a broad definition of pollutants are considered superior to those that contain a narrow definition.

Accordingly, it is important that contractors work with their commercial insurance broker to find a CPL policy that is tailored to their needs.

READ: Pollution Liability Insurance: Expect the unexpected

Commercial General Liability (CGL) Pollution Exclusions 

A primary reason why contractors obtain a contractors pollution liability policy is due to the various pollution exclusions contained in most CGL insurance policies. The pollution exclusions found in most CGL policies take one of two forms, either “absolute” or “total.”

CGL policies with an absolute pollution exclusion remove coverage for most pollution events that would occur in the course of an insured's business operations.

However, despite its name, an absolute pollution exclusion may preserve coverage for certain incidental pollution damages, products and completed operations liability, and certain off-premises work.

However, more commonly, CGL policies include a more restrictive “total pollution exclusion.” This type of exclusion effectively removes coverage for any event the insurer characterizes as a pollution incident. 

Contractual Requirements

Contractual requirements serve as another motivating factor that lead many contractors to obtain a CPL policy. In many instances, project owners and general contractors will require contractors to obtain pollution insurance that meets certain, predetermined standards.

"Contractors' Pollution liability insurance shall have limits of not less than $5,000,000 per occurrence for bodily injury, death and damage to property." CCDC 41: CCDC INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS, December 14, 2020.

From this perspective, having a CPL insurance policy in place can serve as an upfront sales tool during the bidding process that enables contractors to qualify for opportunities when such coverage is required.

Finding the Right Pollution Liability Insurance Policy

Regardless of specialty, all contractors should be mindful of the pollution risks associated with their work. A contractors pollution liability insurance policy can provide much-needed security in the event of a pollution incident, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. 

CPL insurance is not only good for business, but it also provides peace of mind in industries that are full of surprises and risks.

Let Scrivens work with your organization to find the contractors pollution liability insurance solution that is right for you. Contact your Scrivens insurance broker today to learn more.