Environmental risks are an important consideration for any construction project, but work at a health care facility requires a higher standard of care. Without proper precautions, contractors can inadvertently pollute the jobsite during general construction services.

For patients with weakened immune systems in hospitals, clinics and senior living centers, the reaction to conditions such as fugitive dust, fumes, lead, asbestos or mold can be life threatening. Besides the health risks, contractors need to consider the potentially significant costs of delays and environmental cleanup. In addition, problems at a health care facility may bring unfavorable news coverage that can cause lasting damage to a contractor’s reputation.

Many of the expenses linked to environmental incidents are unlikely to be covered by a general liability policy. A policy may provide limited coverage for liability resulting from bodily injury and property damage, but nothing for expensive, out-of-pocket cleanup costs. To protect patients and workers onsite, contractors should implement a comprehensive risk management strategy that includes thorough planning with the help of environmental experts, along with insurance that specifically covers pollution exposures.

Any type of construction work at a health care facility carries a variety of pollution risks heightened by the presence of people with compromised immune systems. Some common exposures include fuel leaks or spills, silica dust from concrete blocks, dust from drywall, and fumes from adhesives, paint and solvents. Waterproofing, laminating floors or even installing carpets can cause problems for sensitive patients. Any work that involves disturbing existing structures—including exterior facades, interior framing, and HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems—may cause pollution conditions.

Water intrusion can lead to mold or bacteria problems, including legionella pneumophila, which can spread quickly in a health care facility. Ignoring these exposures may require remediation work, which is likely to be extensive and expensive. For instance, mitigating a mold problem may require removing a substantial amount of material and even shutting down a portion (or all) of the facility. Construction waste materials also must be handled properly and disposed of in accordance with the appropriate regulations; contractors ultimately may be held liable for the exposures associated with waste transportation and disposal.

Pollution incidents at health care facilities likely will involve state and local environmental agencies. Contractors may not always have the in-house expertise necessary to work with these entities effectively.

Whether it is new construction or a renovation project, contractors must identify the environmental problems that may accompany the work, as well as the measures required to mitigate those exposures. For example, containment zones can play an important role in preventing contaminants from reaching ventilation systems.

A comprehensive contingency plan should be developed to address potential problems, such as a burst water pipe, power outage or natural disaster, so control measures can be put into action quickly. Contingency planning may include measures such as back-up power systems, mold mitigation plans and emergency response protocols.

Just as they would for any specialty work, contractors may want to bring in experts who can provide assistance in mitigating the environmental risks of construction projects in the most sensitive areas of health care facilities. Such services include project pre-planning, onsite monitoring and testing, air quality sampling, HVAC system evaluations, and construction and remediation management.

To mitigate their environmental exposures, contractors should consider taking a program-based approach, including risk transfer through a comprehensive contractor pollution liability policy that provides coverage for a wide variety of exposures and includes remediation costs. Environmental claims may not be frequent in nature, but they can have a substantial financial impact. As such, environmental insurance is an essential component of a contractor’s overall insurance program. Contractors may want to consider a pollution insurance policy that comes bundled with support services for planning and managing construction work. It is also important to make sure the insurer has expertise in the construction industry and in handling claims arising from environmental exposures.

Gerry Rojewski is vice president and national product line manager of ACE Environmental Risk, a division of ACE USA and part of the ACE Group. For more information, visit