James Wallace of Wallace Risk Solutions explores the issue of accessibility when it comes to pest inspections, explaining the implications for potential professional indemnity claims. 

I often get asked by inspectors, ‘Where do most professional indemnity claims arise?’ One area that immediately comes to mind is a failure by inspectors to adequately report on accessibility issues.

In some cases a consumer’s expectation of what an inspection can deliver may be greater than what the service actually provides.

For example, the inspector is engaged to carry out a timber pest inspection. The client expects that all parts of the property will be inspected, but in reality many parts are inaccessible or concealed and will not be inspected.

In an inspection report it is important to tell the client what was inspected, but it is more important to tell the client what was not inspected.

For the purpose of this article, I have been given permission to use extracts from the current Reports Systems Australia Handbook, ‘Standard Timber Pest Detection Reports, Uniform Inspection Guidelines for Timber Pest Detection Consultants’.

Reporting on areas inspected is relatively straightforward. The following statement is typical of what may appear in an inspection report of a freestanding dwelling:

The inspection covered the readily accessible areas of the building and site including: the house interior; house exterior; roof exterior; roof space; subfloor space; the detached garage; and the grounds including fences and trees within the property boundaries up to a distance of 50 metres of the house.

Reporting on areas not inspected is much more complex and if not adequately reported on may lead to claims against the inspector if a significant defect is later discovered in an area that was inaccessible or obstructed at the time of inspection.

Sometimes certain portions of the property cannot be thoroughly inspected because of a lack of access, obstacles, inclement weather or some other reason. Importantly, the inspection does not cover areas that cannot be easily and safely inspected, especially if there is risk of injury to person or property.

All comments referring to accessibility should be brief and concise. The following example clarifies the point.

In inspecting the roof exterior, there was no inspection of areas obstructed by vegetation (widespread) and solar hot water heating components, or where the area of accessibility was more than 3.6 metres above ground or floor levels.

NOTE: Obstructions may be concealing evidence of timber pest attack that may only be revealed when the obstructions are moved or removed.

A similar statement will need to be generated for each area of the property where an accessibility issue exists.

In conclusion, due to the level of accessibility for inspection and the presence of obstructions, the inspector should assess the overall degree of risk of undetected timber pest attack and conditions conducive to timber pest attack.

Where the risk is considered “Moderate/Moderate-High/High” the following recommendation applies:

A further inspection is strongly recommended of areas that were not readily accessible, and of inaccessible or obstructed areas once access has been provided or the obstruction removed. This may require the moving, lifting or removal of obstructions such as floor coverings, furniture, stored items, foliage and insulation. In some instances, it may also require the removal of ceiling and wall linings, and the cutting of traps and access holes. This recommendation should be implemented as soon as a matter of urgency. For further advice consult the person who carried out the inspection.

Reporting on accessibility issues can be quite daunting. However, technology is making this task much easier. For example, the Inspection Agreements Timber Pest Report App.

James Wallace, Wallace Risk Solutions

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