Choose tradies wisely to reduce your liability …

It’s a common misconception; many homeowners and property managers believe that by outsourcing the maintenance and repairs, they are removing themselves from all possible risk or liability.

And this just isn’t the case.

Of course, when you hire an expert, such as a professional plumber or roofer, you can reasonably expect them to know what work is required and how to conduct it safely and in compliance with the local regulations.

But like most professions in life, not all tradies are equal.

If you think about one of the more dangerous areas of a home – such as its roof – it’s unfortunate that, even in these modern times, people fall and people get injured or worse. In fact, according to Safe Work Australia, 122 people died falling from roofs between 2015-2019 which is a staggeringly high number given the regulations and awareness that exist in the building industry.

So, the question we seek to answer is, can you, the homeowner, be sued if something like this happens to a contractor (tradie) at your home?

Well, at the risk of sounding like lawyers, the answer is ‘it depends’. Sure we’d all like a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but it’s simply not that simple.

Whilst the home or building owner is not generally responsible for the actions of contractors working at their premises, there are exceptions. Let’s focus on homeowners rather than wading into the legal jungle that is construction management.

Using our roofing example, if a tradie comes to fix or replace your roof then they are responsible for their conduct and services. If they do not have the required qualifications, training, or equipment; it’s on them. But that doesn’t mean that the homeowner can relinquish themselves of all responsibilities.

In the legal world, the term ‘negligence’ is hugely powerful. As an example, you can’t insure against negligence, and for good reason. And in a commercial setting, the value of a claim for negligence usually circumnavigates any liquidated damage caps but, that’s for another day.

What steps can you, the homeowner, take to reduce your risk in the event a workcover incident occurs at your property?

  1. License and Insurances. There’s a reason this is first on the list. If your tradie doesn’t have the required licenses and insurances – find a different one. In fact, if you get different quotes from different tradies or companies and one is noticeably lower – this is often a great sign that they’ve cut some costs (aka corners) out of their business, such as insurance. Saving a few dollars at the front end could prove to be a very false economy in the event of an incident!
  2. Provide All Available Information. This pays homage to the notion of negligence. Make sure you provide contractors with all available information. If there is an infestation that you know of, or a loose sheet/tile, unstable section of guttering – be sure to tell your contractors!
  3. Do Not Lend Them Your Tools. Whilst most of us like to be helpful, it can be a disaster waiting to happen. If something goes wrong with the tool, for example an electric drill, and the tool belongs to you, there could now be exposure on your part during a subsequent workcover investigation. And let’s face it if your tradie is up to the job they’ll have the right tools of their own! Your dentist wouldn’t ask you to bring your own tools, would they?!
  4. Paperwork. Yes, we know it’s boring, but … make sure you have some sort of written agreement with your contractor. This can be as simple as a series of emails but make sure the work to be completed is adequately stated, the price to complete the works is stated, any exclusions are clearly identified, and that you’ve given the official confirmation of accepting all of this. From a contractual, and therefore legal perspective this matters. Such agreements should also release you from liability.

These are four very simple steps that can help to reduce your risk significantly. Remember, if a tradie’s price is lower than another, ask yourself why. Don’t just fall into the trap of accepting the lowest price; there’s nearly always a trad- off for doing so i.e. lower work quality and/or increased risk.

For professional roofing companies such as ours, we see examples of this all the time. Complying with the requirements laid out by the NSW Government SafeWork team can often mean that two people are required for a job that requires working from height. Imagine the difference between a quote that is compliant versus one that isn’t … sure one is cheaper, but at what cost?

And money aside, nobody wants to see a tradie get injured or killed for the sake of shaving a few dollars off a quote. We insist that our roofing teams remain compliant and vigilant at all times – people before profits!

If you have any roofing or gutter repairs or replacements that need doing or any height safety requirements, why not give our team a call. When you’re on the phone with us, ask about our license, insurances, and employee training programs. We’d be only too happy to talk to you about everything we do to keep our team safe and get your job done!

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