A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (or Dollars)

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (or Dollars)

If you’re a utility contractor or subcontractor you eventually end up dealing with damage claims. Some you know about when they happen and some you are unaware of until the claim notice arrives, months or years after completing your work on the job.

Like every utility contractor we excavate, use our equipment on public roads, utility right-of-ways and private property. When we are done we clean up our messes, restore damaged grass and landscaping and move on to do our next job.

On most jobs we try to leave the condition of the property just like we found it. So if we know that some type of damage has occurred then we respond to it quickly and make repairs it to mitigate the claim costs.

Sometimes however, long after the work is done we get a damage claim notice and we have no first hand knowledge of how the damage occurred or where the damage happened. So we trudge back to job site, meet with homeowners, explain why the damage happened to the client’s representatives, and try to figure out just what happened, when it happened and who is responsible.

Sometimes in these circumstances we risk paying for damage claims we did not cause. In Responsible for a claims often hinges on what the conditions were on the job before we started our work, where the excavations and locate marks were while we worked and what condition we left the work site in when we finished our work.

Damage claims can be filed up to two years after they occur or even two years after the damage is first discovered. Damage notices are sometimes sent to a contractor just because they had a locate ticket issued for the area where the damage are found.

When claims come in how are you as a contractor going to determine who is a fault?

That’s when pictures are good as gold! When claim notices arrive, jobsite pictures (pre-construction, during work operation and post work) become invaluable.

To address and control damage claim costs A.R.E. Utility Construction has instituted a Loss Control Policy. As part of that policy we purchased a digital camera for each foreman, supervisor and management employee. We also put into place procedures that require our crews, supervisors and subcontractors to take pictures, lots of pictures. We take pictures

  • When conducting the initially survey of the job and the job setup.
  • Of all proposed excavations and all existing locate marks on site.
  • When the crew arrives on site.
  • Daily during our work operations.
  • During any company site visit or inspection.
  • Whenever damages occur.
  • When we leave the job site.

We teach our employee to take lots of job site picture from different perspectives and angles to document our work operations, the conditions on the worksite, existing locates and any existing damages found.

All those pictures are downloaded to a computer database and linked to each specific job number and name. Once data based they are readily available for employees to review when planning work and management when responding to a concern. After the job is done pictures sit in their database and they wait.

  • If we return to the same area to work or when questions come up about a job they are a ready reference.
  • Whenever a utility damage claim comes in we can review the pictures to determine if the utility was marked prior to the damage and just where our excavations of bore lines were located. A picture that shows that locate marks were not in place or that the damage was outside the tolerance zone for the existing locate marks saves us from having to pay for damage repair costs.
  • When a property damage claim comes in we review the pictures to see what damages were pre-existing on site, where we specifically excavated and what the job looked like when we left. A picture that shows pre-existing damages on a work site means we won’t be responsible for repairs and a picture that shows a properly barricaded or secured worksite means we won’t have to pay for a liability claim.

These digital picture cost pennies to take and to store but they are a very valuable tool that helps us resolve claim issues, monitor crew activities and reduce claim costs.

Each picture is potentially worth not only the direct cost of the claim but all the costs associated with the claim; including the administrative cost, profit losses from the claim, potential litigation costs, and insurance premium increases.

Pictures even help us negotiate change orders when construction delays are caused by conditions outside our control, like excavations in rocky ground or with groundwater problems that incur additional costs.

Pictures are a great tool to protect against unnecessary claims and control claim costs and they protect our reputation for providing quality work.