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From Drones to Defects: Planning for Construction’s Top Challenges

Construction buyers must be more vigilant about protecting projects before breaking ground.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

The construction industry is firing on all cylinders. New projects spring up every day, but not all go according to plan.

Three out of every four construction projects fail to finish on time. Every party involved – owners, designers, contractors and subcontractors – expects perfection, with the final product delivered on schedule and on budget. Those expectations leave little room for uncertainty, so even a small hiccup can have ripple effects that disrupt a project for everyone.

As outlined in a recent report by McGraw Hill Construction “a lack of thoroughness of preconstruction planning, estimating and scheduling” is a leading cause of uncertainty.1

“There’s often a big disconnect on the front end of project planning,” said Doug Cauti, Senior Vice President, National Insurance, Chief Underwriting Officer, Construction, Liberty Mutual.

Proactive risk mitigation is also important to manage emerging challenges facing the construction industry ‒ drone regulations are evolving, commercial auto losses are rising, and so is uncertainty about which party might be held responsible for a construction defect. Without the proper planning, these issues can easily be overlooked and result in major losses and project disruption.

Liberty Mutual’s Doug Cauti discusses key challenges facing the construction market.

“Key risk management strategies have to be aligned among all parties from the beginning to minimize these uncertainties.”

Before construction begins, there are actions that project owners, designers and contractors can take to address these challenges and better protect their projects and businesses:

Drone Dangers

Drones can be useful tools on construction sites, providing an extra set of “eyes” for large commercial projects or tall buildings. They provide a real time aerial glimpse of works in progress, giving supervisors an added perspective to spot potential flaws, assess safety hazards, and check on workers. But many challenges remain in the safe — and legal — operation of drones.

Liberty Mutual’s interactive infographic highlights risks related to managing drones at construction sites, and also includes a pre-planning drone use guide and a pre-flight checklist that includes making sure to review the latest drone regulations.

How construction buyers can manage the insurance implications of using drones in their operations.

General contractors and project owners need to stay up to speed on FAA regulations, which changed in August, 2016.

“For one thing, operators need to have the drone in sight at all times,” Cauti said.

“And you need to make sure any operators are appropriately licensed and trained, that the drones are regularly maintained, and that the machines don’t impede on others’ safety and privacy.”

Clear flight paths and work zone boundaries can minimize the risk of a drone striking another property, or worse, a person. Operators should also know how to conduct an emergency landing if the drone suddenly loses power. It’s also important to consider how you are going to manage and use drone footage. Advertising liability can be a concern if third party images are captured and released. Know who is in charge of the data collected, who has access to it, and how you are going to protect it.

“If the contractor owns the drone, it takes on more liability. The contractor should review its insurance policies to make sure the coverage will respond to that risk,” Cauti said.

SponsoredContent_LM“As an insurance carrier, we may have a role to play in those proactive discussions. We are uniquely positioned to help project stakeholders see their risks and work to minimize them.”

— Doug Cauti, Senior Vice President, National Insurance, Chief Underwriting Officer, Construction, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Contractors and project owners can protect themselves through enhancements to their commercial general liability policies or through separate aviation policies, he said.

If a general contractor leases a drone through a third party, “they bear the responsibility of making sure the vendor is fully insured,” Cauti said. Vendors should have “non-owned” aviation coverage with limits suitable to handle the size of the risk.

Fleet Safety

Commercial auto losses challenge many business sectors, and construction is no exception.

More vehicles on the road and more miles driven, combined with fewer experienced commercial drivers, are driving up the frequency of accidents. On construction sites in particular, congestion created by closed roads, piles of materials and roving heavy machinery may lead to work zone accidents. Rising medical costs and repair and replacement costs of high-tech vehicles increase claim severity.

“I don’t see this trend reversing any time soon,” Cauti said.

Mitigating commercial auto losses begins with driver hiring practices.

“Pay attention to who you put behind the wheel,” Cauti said.

“Motor vehicle reports (MVRs) and driving history can alert employers to previous accidents or tickets. But there also needs to be regular communication with the drivers you do hire, and clear protocols in place that define expectations of how the job should be performed,” he added.

Ways construction buyers can manage rising commercial auto loss costs and better protect their fleets and employees.

Those protocols include requiring the use of seat belts, prohibiting cell phone use while behind the wheel, mandating scheduled breaks, outlining maintenance procedures, defining if company vehicles can be used for personal use, and establishing crash report procedures that delineate who to contact and what information to collect in the event of an accident.

Contractors can also monitor fleet performance through telematics systems. These on-board systems can track unsafe driving behaviors like hard braking, sharp turns, and speeding. But the data is only as good as the person analyzing it. Contractors and project owners should partner with an insurer who can use fleet telematics data effectively to pinpoint common causes of accidents and recommend specific risk mitigation strategies.

Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driving Performance is one tool that leverages insureds existing telematics data to identify unsafe driving behaviors and accident patterns.

“Our risk control consultants can drill deeper into the data and interview drivers to identify patterns and find out the root causes of bad driving behaviors in the first place,” Cauti said.

For example, a post-accident interview with a driver could reveal that he had been skipping breaks and spending too many hours on the road, leading to fatigue and inattentive driving.

Identifying those connections enables consultants to make specific risk mitigation recommendations, such as adjusting drivers’ schedules and workloads to reduce overtime, or adjusting dispatch protocols so employers can ensure drivers aren’t working too many shifts in a short period of time.

Construction Defects

Another uncertainty project owners, designers and contractors have to face is how insurance coverage will apply should a project end up in a dispute. “The struggle is around the definition of ‘faulty workmanship’ and who is responsible for the defect. Is it in the design or the build?” Cauti said.

“There can be a lot of finger pointing involved. This reinforces the need for contractors to have a systematic quality assurance (QA) program that adheres to best practices, and for every party to have a role in it.”

Elements of a QA program could include testing of construction materials, conducting regular walk-throughs and obtaining approvals from the owner at key phases, and final sign-off by the owner at the project’s completion.

How construction defects and the current legal climate are affecting projects.

Construction defect claims can affect a business’s reputation, profits, and ability to maintain insurance coverage. That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant about avoiding construction defects, whether you’re a designer, developer, owner or general contractor.

Ultimately, though, these risks should be addressed before ground is broken. Discussing these challenges and collaborating on loss prevention strategies up front reduces the likelihood that any “hiccups” will throw off project timelines or increase costs for the various stakeholders.

Pre-planning discussions also offer the opportunity for these parties to take advantage of carrier partners’ risk control services.

“As an insurance carrier, we may have a role to play in those proactive discussions,” Cauti said.

“We are uniquely positioned to help project stakeholders see their risks and work to minimize them.”

To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s solutions for the construction industry, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/industries/construction-insurance-coverage.

[1] Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction SmartMarket Report

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.








Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty and workers compensation.

More from Risk & Insurance

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4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]