The Worst Construction Mistakes Ever Made

Forgetting one hurricane tie before drywalling probably isn’t going to see a house going up in a tornado like in The Wizard of Oz. Some mistakes aren’t that big a deal. Others… well, here are some of the biggest mistakes ever made in construction, engineering and architecture:

The Aon Center

The Aon Center, completed in 1973, was known for its beautiful exterior made of Italian Carrara marble. A fetching addition to the Chicago skyline, it turns out that there’s a reason they don’t use Carrara marble on most buildings. It’s a very thin material. Just one year after the building was completed, pieces started to crack and fall off, one of them smashing through the roof of the nearby Prudential Center. Replacing the exterior with granite cost over $80 million. There’s something to be said for using the right materials the first time.

NASA and Lockheed Martin’s Mars Orbiter

Long story short: in 1999, Lockheed Martin used the English system of measurement on a project with NASA, while NASA used the metric system. The Mars orbiter was then unable to transfer its coordinates to the lab in California. Now there’s a $125 million chunk of useless metal floating around the galaxy. You might not be building a satellite any time soon, but it’s important to get on the same page with your crew and your client when it comes to how many inches are in a meter.

Vdara Hotel & Car Dashboard

The Vdara Hotel & Spa is a classic example of a designer putting form before function. All those reflective surfaces on the windows surrounding the pool looked absolutely stunning, but at mid-day, they created a sort of magnifying-lens-on-an-ant effect, scorching people in the swimming pool and turning the whole area into a car dashboard on a Summer afternoon. One man even claims to have had some hair singed right off his head while going for a swim.

Piper Bravo Oil Rig

The smallest mistakes can have major complications. The Piper Bravo Oil Rig exploded, killing 167 people, simply because safety inspectors forgot to replace a single safety valve after a routine check of the rig. The repairs cost more than $3 billion in 1994 USD. This is something worth thinking about the next time a worker decides that he doesn’t need to wear his goggles if he’s only going to be using the table saw for a couple minutes.

The Origins of Workers’ Compensation

Read about how workers were treated in the old days and it can be a little scary. Few industries were as brutal for the worker as mining, but it’s generally safe to say that companies didn’t really care about the people who worked for them 150 years ago.

That being said, we tend to think of progress as being a straight line: Things used to be bad, now they’re not so bad. In truth, worker’s compensation is a very old concept. As far back as 2050 B.C., ancient Sumerian law dictated that workers be compensated for injuries, with each body part being valued differently. For instance, a thumb was worth only half what a finger was worth.

In the mid-1600’s, the famous pirate Captain Henry Morgan would compensate injured men to the tune of 600 pieces of eight for the right arm, 500 for the left, 500 for the right leg, and 400 for the left. If you’re wondering: Yes, that’s the same Captain Morgan from the rum bottle. Bet you didn’t know he was a working class hero, huh?

Modern worker’s comp laws have their beginnings with Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. von Bismarck created the Employer’s Liability Law of 1871 in order to settle social unrest. By 1884 he would establish Workers’ Accident Insurance, providing monetary compensation as well as medical and rehabilitory considerations. The intention of these laws was primarily to ensure that employers not be hit with civil lawsuits. By giving workers a way to recover and to seek compensation without harming the financial well-being or reputation of their employers.

In the US, modern worker’s compensation dates back to the early 20th Century. With industrialization, workplace injuries began to rise, and worker’s compensation laws proved an effective way to address this. Authors like Upton Sinclair are often cited as major proponents in the push for safer working conditions and worker’s compensation for the American laborer. Sinclair’s book The Jungle detailed fact-based accounts of workers falling into meat grinders and being served to the public… leading to the Food and Drug Administration Act of 1906. The shift in public attitudes was slow going at first, with people showing more concern for their food than for the people producing it.

In 1910, a conference was held in Chicago where the guidelines for compensation law were first established, and then passed into law, first in Wisconsin, in 1911, and spreading to other states, ending with Mississippi in 1948.

Worker’s compensation has been a fundamental principle in most industrialized nations. Many historians actually consider it odd that the US took so long to enact such laws to protect workers.

Cyber Liability – Protect Your On-Site Computers

cyber liabilityConstruction sites provide a golden opportunity for cyberspace mischief makers and thieves alike. Contractors and subcontractors share huge data sets including pictures, drawings, submittals, photographs and various other files where viruses and spy ware hides.

And, if the site is WiFi friendly, hackers and the disgruntled gain easy access to everyone else’s computers.

Even with the normal defenses, firewalls, anti-viral software and password protection, the legal responsibility in most states is absolute – you must protect data from compromise. Think about smaller subcontractors that may keep employee personal identification information on their job site laptop.

The costs associated with a breach of sensitive data includes:

  1. Public relations – a nightmare
  2. Forensic analysis – determine the extent, cause and source of the breach
  3. Revenue loss
  4. Business disruption – can you continue to build or plan securely
  5. Legal – defense costs
  6. Notification to any party potentially affected

The cost to rectify these factors approaches $200 per record. According to the Travelers website, in large companies, the average claim is over five million dollars.

Too small for a cyber attack? Over one quarter of all attacks are against companies with fewer than one hundred employees. Those laptops are a goldmine of personal data.

It’s wise to think about using dedicated computers for shared job site communications which do not access personal or company sensitive data.

Buy Cyber Liability coverage to insure the costs associated with:

* Network and information security liability
* Communications and media liability
* Regulatory defense expenses which pays for fines and penalties.

Cyber liability can often be purchased as an add-on coverage in a package or as a single policy. This coverage is an important part of your risk management plan, particularly when sharing massive data with other stakeholders.

And, cyber breaches occur more frequently every day — up over 40% this year. A claim like this could bankrupt your company. Use every avoidance risk management technique to avoid the loss, but insure to avoid disaster.

For more tips on protecting yourself with regard to cyber liability, see our article on cyber liability and prevention planning.

Completed Operations – Defined

Operations concerns work in progress such as constructing the steel for a bridge. Completed operations is the finished process or scope of work put into its intended use by someone other than another contractor.

The steel skeleton is an operation when the concrete subcontractor pours the decks. It’s a completed operation when traffic begins to flow, whether or not the guardrails are functional.Completed operations liability covers the consequences of faulty work: not damage to the faulty work, but bodily injury and property damage as a result of the faulty work. The steel isn’t covered, but the car it lands on is. completed operationsThree tests must be met to secure completed operations coverage for a specific claim:

1. The bodily injury or property damage must arise from your work product or completed operation.

2. The claim occurs away from insured premises owned or rented.

3. The work must be completed or abandoned when the injury occurs.

The subcontractor exception can be difficult to understand:

1. The exclusion does not apply to work done by subcontractors.

2. The exclusion does not apply if the damage arises out of work by a subcontractor.

If your general contracting company installs an HVAC system incorrectly that burns the building down, your work will not be reimbursed by your insurance carrier, but the work of your subcontractors will.

If a subcontractor installed the faulty system, all the work will be reimbursed by your insurance company. Of course, your company will likely subrogate (that is sue), the subcontractor.

The best risk management technique for this exposure is only perform work within your expertise and subcontract the balance of the contract, and perform quality control inspections on your work and that of your subcontractors. Document specific work completed by your subcontractor. Test your materials and fix defects as you work on the project.

Make sure your work is completed correctly to your satisfaction before releasing the project for its final use.

OSHA – Embrace the Mission

OSHA safetyThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mission concerns the reduction and elimination of workplace conditions which lead to accidents and illness.

OSHA is rumored to be feared by many contractors for surprise inspections and handing out steep fines. We recently noted some of these in our post about new OSHA reporting requirements for 2015.
OSHA, however, administers safety and health more than policing it. If you embrace their mission, OSHA becomes a great partner.

Use OSHA Research
OSHA has libraries of manuals and fliers regarding on the job hazards and alerts for newly discovered perils. The publications, available on their website, bring awareness and solutions to potentially dangerous job conditions.
The literal A to Z coverage of dangerous chemicals and occupational risks can be found at in English or Spanish.

Use OSHA Paper work and Forms
Some are mandatory anyway, so adapt the forms to your reporting purposes and cut back on data entry. Their injury log organizes essential data for injury occurrences on the job. Add to these data by keeping records of near misses, prevention responses, or any in house data or follow up within your own safety culture.
Read and review OSHA forms to mine ideas regarding your own programs. OSHA responds to general safety and health needs, but you can tailor ideas to fit your specific conditions.

Use OSHA Spanish Language Signs and Instructions
OSHA serves as a built-in interpreter for essential safety communications which require a specialty lexicon. Non-English speaking labor does not automatically know the United States standards of or tolerance for safety. OSHA helps with the teaching.
Some signs serve as a reminder of important employee rights and procedures. OSHA has these signs available in Spanish to assure your compliance.

Use OSHA Training Classes
HAZMAT response may be a specialty occupation, but most laborers should have basic knowledge of how to spot a potential toxic chemical spill. OSHA certified training is quite good in this area.
If you’ve been cited unfairly or just don’t like the idea of OSHA site inspections, don’t deprive yourself of OSHA research, posters, language help or ideas. Embrace the health and safety aspects for your employees. You have that in common.

Contractual Liability

contractual liabilityContractual liability concerns accepting grey-area responsibility through agreements with other business stakeholders.

Standard liability policies exclude damages as a result of the insured’s agreement to accept liabilities through certain contracts, such as hold harmless or indemnity agreements.In order to be covered, the insured must pay a premium to remove the exclusions so that those obligations are paid as general liability claims.Keeping the exclusion in the insurance policy does not relieve the insurance company from liability if a court would find the insured responsible in the absence of the contract. Removing the contractual exclusions does not remove the exclusions to the general liability coverage. For example, a claim from a contract which anticipates bodily injury will not be paid.

It’s complicated. Certain contracts fit the definition of insured contracts under standard CGL language:

1. Real estate leases except indemnification clauses for fire damage, which must be insured

through property coverage

2. Railroad sidetrack agreements

3. Easement or license agreements (except construction or demolition within fifty feet of a

railroad track)

4. Contracts with municipalities

5. Elevator maintenance agreements

6. Blanket tort liability, as opposed to warranties or guarantees

Some companies remove the blanket terminology to limit contractual liability.

Legal fees and costs become part of the limit of liability under the contractual liability unless the insured would be held responsible in the absence of the contract. In that case, legal fees and costs are covered in addition to the limit of liability.

As business became more complex and contract oriented, this clause has been added to and modified to meet the contemporary demand. Now, it’s like Dr. Frankenstein’s clause. It’s alive, but not as simple as it could be.

Seek advice from your attorney and insurance agent when contemplating agreements with transfers of liability. These scenarios are very complex under general liability policies. While you should always have an attorney review your contracts, we can also give guidance relative to the insurance requirements and how the contract may (or may not) protect you. Give us a call!

Fireplace Maintenance

fireplace maintenanceYour fireplace looks beautiful and adds warmth to your home. It can also be a fire hazard, though. Protect your home and family as you enjoy the beautiful ambiance when you follow a fireplace maintenance schedule and implement safety tips this winter.

Check the Chimney

An essential part of your fireplace, the chimney needs a thorough inspection once a year. Hire a professional to look for cracks and other damage and to clean out combustible buildup like creosote. Then, secure a spark-arrestor screen to the chimney as you prevent dangerous sparks from escaping and damaging animals from entering.

Start the Fire Safely

Before you light a relaxing fire, open the flue. Start the fire with only approved materials like newspaper and dry logs. Once you have the fire going, don’t use it to burn holiday gift wrapping or grill food.

Maintain the Screen or Door

Every fireplace needs a safety screen or glass door. It prevents sparks from flying into your home and discourages your children or pets from reaching into the fireplace. Ensure the screen is constantly in place and free from any damage as you reduce accidental burns and other injuries.

Remove Combustibles

Flammable rugs, draperies, paper and other combustibles should be located at least three feet away from the fireplace. Otherwise, these combustible materials could cause a fire.

Use the Right Tools

Metal tools safely adjust logs and remove ash. Store them near the fireplace (but out of your children’s reach!)

Provide Proper Supervision

Always supervise your fire. If left unattended, sparks could start a fire in your home or your children or pets could walk into the bright but hot embers.

Remove Ash and Coal Properly

A one-inch layer of ash in the firebox insulates the fire. To remove excess ash or coals, wait until they’re completely cool. Use an ash vacuum or metal shovel, and place the materials in a secure metal container outdoors.

You’ll safely enjoy your fireplace all season when you use proper fireplace maintenance procedures. For more fireplace safety tips, visit This Old House online. Keeping your home in top condition can actually help reduce your insurance premiums. Give us a call today to update your home insurance policy and provide a layer of protection for your family and house.

Protect Your Electronics!

protect your electronicsWhether using your electronic devices for socializing, working or gaming, you want to protect your valuables from theft. Follow six tips as you protect your electronics at home, in your vehicle or at a public location like the library or coffee shop.

1. Invest in LoJack

While LoJack is known for automotive theft protection, it can also protect your electronics from theft. Use its software to track your devices, lock them and even remotely delete data.

2. Use a Kensington Lock

Leave your laptop sitting on the table while you check out books, use the bathroom or refill your coffee, and it will probably be stolen. Take precautions and carry your laptop with you or use a small but powerful Kensington lock to secure your laptop to your office, library or dorm desk.

3. Hide Your Devices

From carrying your computer to class in a nondescript bag to placing your GPS in the trunk after you park your car on campus, hiding your devices goes a long way toward preventing their theft. You’ll also want to throw away the device’s packaging so that no one can snoop around your home and see what you own.

4. Lock the Doors

Keep your home and vehicle doors locked, and you deter thieves from accessing your electronics.

5. Register Your Devices

When you buy electronics, take the time to register then with the manufacturer. Those companies often cooperate with the police to find stolen electronics.

6. Buy Theft Insurance

Adding these devices to your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy won’t protect your electronics from theft. However, the right insurance could replace stolen electronics. Give us a call to ensure you have replacement coverage on everything from your laptop and printer to your tablet and MP3 player. To prove the value of the devices you own, save the purchase receipts and record the serial numbers with your insurance policy in a secure location.

Forklift Safety

forklift safetyForklifts have revolutionized the construction industry, but they have also created the risk of serious injury and death for drivers, other employees, and pedestrians.

Although following the rules for forklift safety operation – safety checks, maintenance inspections, and so on –are time consuming, they’re essential for workplace safety.

To help ensure that your construction projects stay productive and accident-free, we’d recommend these guidelines:

· Designate walking and driving paths. Many accidents happen because a worker was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Help prevent such incidents by clearly marking paths for foot traffic and forklift lanes. Yellow tape is easier to notice than signs, and won’t become covered with dirt or debris like floor marks.

· Have the right tires. A blowout could cause an accident or halt productivity. The type of tire is perhaps the most important difference between forklifts that only operate indoors and those used outdoors. While indoor forklift-tire sizes relate to truck weight, aisle and lift height, tires for outdoor lifts aim to prevent punctures.

· Identify gradient inconsistencies. The floor gradient is an important consideration because slight changes can cause a tip-over. This is the number one cause of death and serious injury to forklift operators.

· Because forklift designs vary significantly, choose the appropriate model. The first factor to consider is the maximum load. Trying to lift a load that exceeds this capacity can damage the arms or cause a tip-over. When possible, assign drivers who have experience with the model you’re using. If this isn’t an option, make sure the driver understands the limitations of this forklift and can do pre- and post-operation maintenance checks.

Our agency’s specialists are happy to help keep your staff and equipment safe on the job. Forklift safety is an important part of risk management. Interested in learning more? Read our article on 7 Construction Safety Myths. As always, feel free to give us a call to discuss any questions or concerns. We’re here for you.

Internet Defamation – Words Have Power

internet defamationSocial media is a great way build your business’s reputation. Interactivity between merchants and customers has helped many unheard of boutique shops become Internet darlings with maxed out sales. However, fostering social media on your website or participating in social media on another’s blog can be dangerous.

The danger is Internet Defamation.

What is Internet Defamation?

Defamation is when a person makes false statements about your business such as stating that you use discriminatory practices in hiring, or you use dishonest practices dealing with your customers. Making statements like these and putting them on the Internet for anyone and everyone to see is libel. There are important elements for a statement on the Internet to earn the label of a defamatory.

  • The person who published the statement was not the person defamed
  • The statement is a false statement of fact
  • The false statement was understood to be:
    • About the plaintiff and
    • Designed to harm the reputation of the plaintiff
  • Should the plaintiff be a public figure he or she must also prove malice.

Businesses with a presence on the Internet, especially if the Internet site encourages comments and dialogs among visitors need to be especially vigilant monitoring about what other users post on their site. There is a powerful federal law known as Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code (47 USC § 230). This federal law is part of the Communication Decency Act of 1996. This law has precedence over any local or state laws and protects owners of interactive computer service providers from claims of defamation from postings made through reader’s comments and entries of guest bloggers. In other words, this law gives you, as a web host, protection from claims made from hosting information written by third parties.

Then why should a business watch what third parties say on their site? This is a valid question. You want your site and blogs to promote your brand, not distract from that purpose by allowing a “flame war” on your sites.

Allowing an offensive statement to stay on your site — even when written by a third-party — is off-putting to potential clients and customers.

Imagine: your own employee gets baited into a discussion and tries to defend your business. He then engages in Internet Defamation costing you customers and even cash if a lawsuit against you goes to court. Words have power.

Insurance for Internet Defamation

Even though the Section 230 language and the truth – if what you said is true it is not libel – help keep the threat of you being successfully sued for Internet Defamation lower, it is a risk that your insurance advisor can cover through your BOP policy, your General Liability Insurance, or an Umbrella Policy.

Talk with one of our risk specialists to understand your exposures and the best way to cover them with insurance.