Conference ministry starts pilot program to help churches improve safety, reduce losses

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference ministry starts pilot program to help churches improve safety, reduce losses

June 4, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0682}

NOTE: A headshot of Mark Thomas is available at

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The Florida Conference Department for Ministry Protection wants to be more proactive than reactive in the way it views conference property.

Mark Thomas

That’s why Mark Thomas, the ministry’s director, recently began a comprehensive safety and loss prevention pilot program in the conference’s South Central District.

Thomas and Mark R. Waring, the region risk control consultant of Arthur J. Gallagher, the conference’s insurance broker, visited 11 churches, both large and small, in the South Central District March 19-23. The churches were selected based on their loss history, size and location. 

At each church Thomas and Waring took pictures of hazards they saw on the property and gave church staff a report assessing areas of concern. The report also went to the district and conference offices. The churches also received immediate notification by e-mail of any critical issues that required urgent correction.

A final report will list areas of concern found at all locations, and a training session/seminar will be held June 20 at St. James United Methodist Church, Tampa, and June 21 at First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, for churches in the district to help them learn what potential risks and liabilities to look for on their properties.

Thomas said the idea for the program came from his efforts to help churches reduce accidents and injuries to employees, members and visitors, as well as provide input to develop and implement a conference-wide comprehensive loss prevention program in the future.

The pilot was conducted at no cost to the churches, but the results could save the conference countless dollars in potential claims for accidents and injuries.

“The assessment visits focused on both the physical and procedural practices that may cause or contribute to accidents, injuries or other potential threats,” Thomas said. “We want to safeguard our people, guests and facilities, as well as the health and strength of the Florida Annual Conference insurance program. This will be an educational experience in loss control techniques that can reduce the potential for loss.”

Making the grade

First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, was one of the sites Thomas and Waring visited. They met with members of the staff March 20 to review a detailed list of items related to the church’s insurance and safety procedures.

The inquiry included routine questions about such safety measures as having smoke detection, sprinkler and alarm systems at the church to questions many churches may not consider: procedures for management of money collected at the church, requiring vendors — janitorial staff, painters, tree trimmers — to show proof of insurance before working on church property, having a hurricane preparedness plan.

First Church was doing so well during the question and answer phase that at one point Waring said, “You have swept me away.”

After the initial sit-down interview, Darryl M. O’Gorman, the church’s property manager, and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Minton, executive pastor at the church, went with Thomas and Waring on a walk-through inspection of many areas of the campus. It included visiting the pre-school, where exits were clearly identified and rooms labeled, some with Braille, and the sanctuary, air-conditioning unit and maintenance workshop area.

Waring said he could tell by the way church staff answered his questions during the sit-down interview and what he had seen on the walk-through to that point that he didn’t need to visit all areas of the campus. Although he saw some minor hazards, he said they are ones the church can easily correct and he was very impressed by the safety practices the church had instituted.

Large or small, safety matters

Waring encourages members of church boards of trustees to look at their church property as if they are first-time visitors. He said doing so often detects potential risks, which can help churches and the conference save money because the number of claims is reduced and people are safer when on church grounds.

Waring said many small churches often lack safety measures because they don’t have the funds, staff or time to devote to routine safety procedures. Many, he added, have volunteer or part-time people who manage the upkeep of church grounds.

Waring said large churches like First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, which has 5,000 members, have more patronage and can allocate funds for preventive measures. Smaller churches, on the other hand, often have to fight for funds.

Although he says larger churches are typically “more on top of things,” sometimes the size of the church doesn’t matter.

“Some larger churches just don’t have it together,” he said. “This is the start of the process of getting churches moving towards doing better. If we can give them some basic guidance, train them what to look for, I feel losses would diminish considerably.”

Thomas said there will be a record of the deficiencies cited at each church and the recommended action to fix the problem. If a church doesn’t have the funds needed to do what’s suggested, Thomas said the church can direct funds toward the issue once they become available. 

After receiving Waring’s report noting specific areas of concern, churches have been asked to complete a response sheet stating what they have done to correct the violations.

Waring said his preliminary findings from all the church audits show the larger churches fared better than the smaller ones. He said some of the general areas that need improvement are playgrounds with safety violations and walking surfaces that may cause falls.

Waring said the pilot program is definitely identifying areas of concern and it would benefit the conference if the program was done in each district. He said its value can’t be ignored.

“Arthur J. Gallagher has done this before for large religious entities and has seen a reduction in both general liability and worker compensation claims by 20 to 25 percent,” he said. “The program can lower insurance premiums, minimize losses, reduce pain and suffering and save money to be better utilized for religious practices.”

Thomas said he is big supporter of the program and would like it implemented throughout the conference because of its benefits: ensuring safer facilities for everyone on church property, reducing risk of injury and property damage, strengthening the conference’s comprehensive insurance program, reducing the frequency and severity of claims (because insurance underwriters review the loss history of the conference when determining property and casualty insurance premiums), and creating greater awareness at the local church level of fire and life safety issues. 

“I want to see how this program goes,” he said. “I think it would be excellent throughout the conference.”


This article relates to Conference Insurance and Liability.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
** Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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