Beyond reasonable doubt

21st of May 2013
Beyond reasonable doubt

It’s a well known fact that as a result of the current economic climate, cash strapped consumers are far more likely to pursue a compensation claim for personal injury than they might perhaps otherwise have done during less ‘lean’ times. Shane Clifford of software specialist Zetes explains how software can help to curb the compensation culture.

It’s a well known fact that as a result of the current economic climate, cash strapped consumers are far more likely to pursue a compensation claim for personal injury than they might perhaps otherwise have done during less ‘lean’ times. This trend is further validated by internal data from leading retailers, which shows a clear correlation between the level of compensation claims made and general levels of personal affluence within an area. In parts of the country where shoppers have less disposable income, due to high unemployment levels for instance, the value of payouts for personal injury claims made is higher than in other more ‘well heeled’ areas with lower jobless levels.

What does this have to do with the cleaning profession you might wonder? Well, if cleaning is contracted out to a third party, they may ultimately be responsible for paying the costs of the claim, depending on who is thought to be at fault. From experience, if the ‘venue’ owner who originally engaged a professional cleaning company can demonstrate they had taken due care and attention, they would typically take care of the legal costs because the claim could be defended. If the case is less clear-cut and there may be cause to suspect that the cleaning company had been negligent, the latter would be liable for damages and costs, which, multiplied over the course of a year, can run into six figures.

Research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has showed that over 20 per cent of all claims for compensation are due to slips and trips, which result in typical pay outs of between 3,500 and 12,500 euros. Add to this the fact that most injury claims are presented two years after an incident takes place. This illustrates how difficult it is to defend solely with paper based records, unsurprisingly, many cleaning companies have no option but to write off the costs.

The industries that were shown to be most at risk of legal costs from claims included retail, food and hospitality, warehousing and distribution, plus the construction industries. Larger companies in particular were perceived by survey respondents as ideal targets for no-win, no fee opportunists, often because the claimants believed big brands could better ‘afford to pay’ out for opportunistic claims and were less financially vulnerable than smaller, independent businesses. In many cases, these frequently minor accidents would not have been avoidable, but payouts for compensation could be reduced through better management.

This is borne out in the experiences of one major retailer who has first hand experience of how cleaning management software can reduce costs, with a direct impact on profit levels. Software is therefore very important as a tool to protect contract cleaning professionals because it leaves an independently verifiable audit trail that the cleaning services were completed properly.

Currently, the frequency of what are often trivial or even false claims for accidents caused by unseen trips and falls cost larger retailers and leisure companies millions each year. The regularity of payouts even requires some retailers to set aside annual liability expenditure to cover legal expenses and compensation claims.  Through ongoing monitoring and reporting, cleaning management software helps to reduce the incidence of accidents occurring and any resulting personal injury claims. This is achieved by ensuring both a regular workflow of cleaning operations is completed and that information is automatically captured to verify that due care and attention had been taken by the cleaning or facilities management company responsible.

For contract cleaning companies considering how software might add value to their operations and differentiate service provision, what should buyers look for in a solution?

Flexibility to manage a diverse range of cleaning workflows and capture data to verify best practice at all times is very important. Because cleaning staff are mobile workers, any software needs to support this mobility and direct workers from the point when they first log onto the system at the start of a shift. As they go about their individual daily tasks, they are required to scan in and out of the different locations to be serviced using a small, rugged, handheld computer with a barcode scanner to capture barcodes located around the store or workplace and verify a job has been completed.

All scans or completed tasks result in a date and time stamp being recorded, which provides irrefutable evidence that facilities have been cleaned and maintained in accordance with requirements.

Legally binding user dialogue and data capture is also important to ensure that evidence collected will stand up in court. The system needs to incorporate appropriate user dialogue, developed in partnership with legal experts, to ensure any evidence produced to defend a claim is robust enough to withstand a legal hearing. Linked to this is the need to combine written dialogue with visual communications to support a multi-lingual workforce. As English is unlikely to be the first language for most commercial cleaning workers today, how can you properly cater for their needs and capabilities? Having easy to understand visual icons to guide workers through their daily workflow is a must.

In addition to providing protection against claims, cleaning companies can use software to profile when they are greatest risk of spills occurring – usually during the busiest times of the day - and set their rostering accordingly.

In the past then, many negligence claims could not be defended by cleaning companies, because they lacked the right, legally robust data to prove public areas have been kept clean and safe. Cleaning management software removes any doubts by providing legally binding evidence of due diligence, which can be easily retrieved from a database in minutes. And because the software updates wirelessly in real time, it also provides full, real time visibility of what is happening to management and users can better manage cleaning processes, monitoring their time efficiency.


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