Paying attention to details

We are now "into the season." Let's hope you've worked all the bugs out of the system you have in place to care for your customers' needs. Some parts of the country have already been severely tested by some serious snow storms. Thus, many of you have a reliable "feel" for whether you will have a good year, a mediocre year or a bad year--snowfall-wise anyway.

So, you've been removing the snow, salting the parking lots and sidewalks, and generally "digging in" and "getting it done." But are you actually protecting your staff and your customers from the pitfalls inherent in our type of work? Specifically for contractors, are you protecting your customers from liability suits as much as you are trying to protect yourself? Keeping records and having adequate, verifiable systems in place is incredibly important in such liability protection. (This month's Snow & Ice Manager delves into this topic in "Dodge the insurance snow job," on page 4.)

Anyone who has been involved in a slip-and-fall lawsuit knows the kinds of questions that can arise during legal depositions. Subjects that come up include whether you keep consistent records of incoming calls from customers requesting services, documentation of the amount and types of ice-control products you use, transcriptions of who plowed what locations, listings of who cleared what sidewalks and when, notes describing the times your crews worked at various locations performing any type of service, etc. This documentation must be consistent and verifiable as having been performed as a normal part of your daily business functions. You must educate everyone on your staff about the importance of performing these oftentimes mundane tasks. If not, your lack of attention to detail can come back to haunt you. Lawyers love to find inconsistencies in routine that can allow them to cast doubt on your performance of customers' requested services. Keeping accurate documentation will be a lifesaver in a winter-rela ted lawsuit.

Obviously, it is a lot of work to keep track of your business in the manner described here. But it is definitely worth the time and expense. This kind of meticulous attention to detail is what separates the successful professional operators--contractors and on-site managers--from the fly-by-nights.

So, if you are not keeping accurate, consistent and constant records of your activities (or the activities of your front-line workers, subcontractors and employees), you are leaving yourself open for a very expensive lesson. It may not feel expensive at the time because your insurance carrier will cover you "this time." However, if the insurance company cancels your coverage because you are not protecting it by maintaining detailed records, you may find it extremely difficult to secure viable coverage in the future.

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