Recently a group of underground utility contractors met to discuss risk controls to mitigate damage to dwellings and other structures in close proximity to their jobsites. Many of the contractors had experienced liability claims from owners of homes and commercial buildings in close proximity to their project sites for damages such as cracked foundations, leaking pools, broken windows, and cracked drywall. Some had even received claims for broken art pieces, such as toppled sculptures and paintings that had fallen off walls.
The result of the discussion was a list of basic precautions that contractors could take to minimize causing damage and to identify and document damage as a means to mitigate any loss costs associated with third party claims. One of the key factors identified was the benefits of maintaining good relationships with the residences in direct proximity of the project.
The list of basic precautions is listed below. The list may seem like overkill, but any actions you can take to minimize losses from third party damage may be beneficial to the overall profitability of a project; and good public relations is always a positive.
Underground Utility Operations in Proximity to Third Party Structures: Recommendations for Damage Mitigation
1. Identify areas where construction operations will be in close proximity to third party structures that, if damaged by construction operations, would result in significant loss cost.
- Damage from construction operations may result from vibrations caused by heavy excavation and earth moving equipment. These vibrations will transmit through the substrate and may act upon structural integrity or cause settling of the substrate under a structure. Vibration intensity may be determined by the type of substrate, moisture content of the substrate, and distance the vibrations are transmitted.
- Affected structures include, but are not limited to, residential homes, multi-story dwellings, commercial or municipal buildings, roadways, railroad tracks, communication towers, bridges, canals, levees, and dams.
2. Contact the owners/residents associated with structures that may possibly be impacted by construction operations.
- Communicate the scope of the construction project and estimated duration of the project. This can be done individually or in a group setting depending on the number of parties being impacted.
- Explain to owners/residents your company’s commitment to minimizing the impact of construction on their property and the steps they will take to minimize disturbance to their property and activities.
- Ask for permission to make photographic record of existing structural conditions.
- Utilize still photography or video recordings. You cannot take enough photos/videos; cover everything.
- If making videos, pan camera slowly to ensure good quality recording of structure.
- Record the conditions of both exterior and interior conditions if possible.
- Pay particular attention to foundations/slabs, pools, out buildings, and older, large trees.
- Inquire as to any valuable art inside the structure such as sculptures, or large hanging paintings.
3. Generate a ‘Damage Condition” form listing all major damage identified, and have the owner/resident sign the document to acknowledge existing conditions.
4. Conduct vibration monitoring of the affected project site.
- Use multiple vibration sensors along the construction path and at varying distances perpendicular from the excavation and pipe laying path, and in proximity to individual structures.
- Vibration records should be taken daily and continuously throughout the work shifts with no interruptions.
- Records should be retained as part of the project file.
- Services of a certified engineering and testing lab specializing in vibration monitoring should be utilized.
5. Each day, at end of shift, site supervisors should contact each owner/resident whose structure/dwelling is in immediate proximity to that shift’s activities.
- Supervisors should confirm structural conditions and if any damage has occurred. Supervisors should note damage/no damage in their daily logs, make annotation for that date on the Damage Form for that specific structure, and the owner/resident should sign the form in acknowledgement for that date.
- If any damage has occurred, photo/video record should be made of that damage.
- A ruled measurement should be included in the photo record.
- The company should determine if damage claim is to be made immediately or wait until completion of construction in proximity of that structure to see if further damage is incurred.
6. All field staff and subcontractors working on the project site should be notified of project operating limitations.
- All construction personnel should be held in strict adherance of these operating limitations.
- Operating limitations include, but are not limited to:
- Heavy vehicle transit speeds of under 5 mph
- Slamming of dump truck bed door during dumping evolution
- Excessive tampering by excavators or front end loaders
- Quick dropping of pipe during pipe staging or pipe setting
- High bucket dumping of aggregate or fill by front end loaders
- Excessive vibration intensity above compaction specifications listed on design plans
7. A second photo/video record of existing conditions should be made of individual structures upon completion of back-fill stage, and at final completion of that section of the project.
8. Damage Condition form for each structure should be reviewed with owner/resident to confirm damage/no damage upon completion of that section of the project. Form should be signed by owner/resident.
9. It is recommended that the services of a qualified, reputable contractor specializing in the entire scope of damage mitigation activities be utilized. These contractors are professionals at this type of work, have all the necessary equipment, have certified calibration of their equipment performed, and carry general liability and professional liability insurance.
10. It is recommended that all policies, procedures, and forms be reviewed and discussed with legal counsel.
John "Jay" Gumbrecht is a Risk Control Consultant for Westfield Insurance based out of our Tampa, FL service office. Jay has over 20 years of risk management and safety experience which he uses to provide top quality service to several large Westfield policyholders.