James Wallace, Director of Wymark Insurance Brokers, explains why reporting tools play an essential role in creating compliant paperwork.
The answer is simple: yes. Reporting tools also minimise risk.
It is important that pest managers can be relied upon to provide an acceptable standard of professionalism when it comes to their work, including paperwork. However, consumers have traditionally found a large variation in the standard of paperwork, giving justifiable concern.
In respect of professional negligence, the highest incidence of insurance notifications and claims are due to failed professionalism and the use of poor paperwork.
There is more to paperwork than a legal review of terms and conditions; paperwork also requires a technical review.
Many complaints arise from consumer expectations not being met. For example, when a timber pest inspector finds no evidence of termites, the client often interprets this to mean that the property is free from termites. The inspector cannot guarantee this, as a standard timber pest inspection is limited to the readily accessible areas of the property.
Therefore, for the client to have a realistic expectation, the report must clearly indicate what was inspected, and more importantly what was not inspected. The use of absolute terminology such as “no termites” or “termite free” should be replaced with “no evidence of active termites found”.
Another common issue is the reference to certain parts of an Australian Standard within the paperwork. It is unreasonable to expect your client to purchase and download a copy of the applicable Australian standard. Your paperwork should contain all the relevant information so your client can interpret the findings.
In relation to pre-purchase timber pest inspections, the pre-engagement agreement, once accepted, provides evidence of the actual terms of inspection and report. If a problem arises, the inspection agreement will assist in the dispute resolution process, especially if the inspector’s professional indemnity insurer needs to address a potential claim.
The best way to mitigate disputes and unnecessary disappointments is for the pest manager to provide paperwork of the highest standard.
When providing paperwork of the highest standard, it is important to consider ‘contractual liability’. A contract binds people to perform the acts specified in it, whether those things be the performance of work, the sale of land or goods, or the payment of money. The law adds some limited extra requirements to the performance of a contract. The most important requirement in this context is that work must be done in a proper and workmanlike manner. That standard is not what you usually do, and may not even be what the majority of people in the industry do. It is an objective standard imposed by the courts.
The best protection from a claim such as this is to ensure that your inspection procedures and paperwork have been prepared taking into account what is currently regarded as ‘best practice’.
Therefore, paperwork specifically designed to the AS 4349 series of Australian Standards covering the minimum requirements for the inspection of buildings could be problematic now, especially as the AS 4349 series of Australian Standards are well over a decade old and may not be considered as ‘best practice’.
It is in the interests of all industry participants to minimise the occurrence of claims to moderate the cost of insurance. This can best be achieved by adopting proven work practices including the use of good paperwork and procedures.
Wymark Specialty has partnered with Report Systems Australia for a decade, and we will soon be announcing the release of our Report Systems Portal, a comprehensive web and app-based report system available on both iOS and Android. The reporting system offers more than just reports – users will also be able to access the new ‘Knowledge Base’. The Knowledge Base contains a wealth of information and in-house training materials including inspection and reporting handbook guidelines, report templates, continued professional development self-assessments and much more. The aim of the Knowledge Base is to promote the use of best practice approaches across the industry.
More information about the Report Systems Portal will be available closer to the release date.
James Wallace, Director, Wymark Insurance Brokers