Industry Articles & News

Do You Recognize the Differences Between Product and People Failures?

We all learn about the basic “Who, What, Where, When and Why” formula but does this work now that you’re out of school? Are there other questions that could help you determine if you’re looking at a product or people failure?

Sometimes the most important, and most overlooked, way to find answers on a product loss is to get as much information as possible from the product owner. Instead of finding out that the something broke and caused damage to the entire basement also ask the brand and model number of the product, age of the product and if any recent repairs or maintenance had been performed.

Knowing details about the specific product ahead of time can help you or your expert find any recalls, patterns of failures or other information about the specific model before the product or scene examination. The age of the product is important because manufacturer defects generally happen in the first year or two, although if the product is not used often they may occur later.

Besides the possibility of subrogation for inferior repairs, there are several other reasons to pay attention to recent repairs or maintenance work. If the owner performed work on the product there is always the chance that it was not performed properly or that something else was inadvertently broken. Other times evidence of previous repairs can show that a problem has been going on longer than reported.

When you are unsure if any previous repairs have been made to a product there are several things you can look for:

  • Fresh scratches or marks on screws, fasteners or paint.
  • Newer screws or fasteners - ones that don’t match others on the product.
  • Fresh scratches or marks on the floor near the equipment that show the product was recently moved.
  • Areas on the product that appear cleaner than others – i.e. the back of a machine that has dust over all but one area.
  • A component or part that has fresher paint than others.

In addition to this basic information it is also important to ask for the details of what happened when the problem started. Many times this can narrow an inspection to a specific part or area on a product or eliminate many scenarios. Even if the specific part that failed is unknown or incorrectly identified, the account of the loss can still be extremely helpful in directing an assignment. On one case Nederveld investigated these questions revealed that a failed toilet supply line was not due to a defect by the manufacturer, but was due to over tightening by a contractor as indicated by wrench marks on a “hand tighten only” fitting.

When the product or equipment requires regular maintenance asking if this maintenance was performed is important, but it can also be helpful to ask when and how this maintenance was performed. If something is supposed to be drained periodically does the maintenance crew or individual know how to do this? Are there any records of maintenance for commercial equipment?

Other helpful information can also be found in the product’s instruction or owner’s manual, or the lack of this manual. Depending on the product, if the manual cannot be found there could be a greater chance that the product is being misused. If the manual is available (either from the owner or online) a quick look can be revealing. In another large water loss involving a toilet, a brief look in the owner’s manual revealed that using an in-tank toilet cleaner could cause chemical attack and eventual failure of the toilet, which is exactly what had happened in this situation.

There are also times when a picture really is worth a thousand words. Photographs from the time of the initial loss can sometimes show things that have been moved or changed since this time. Recently we were inspecting an oil furnace that had failed and sent soot throughout a home. Our inspection of the loss did not immediately show a cause for the failure but when we received photographs of the scene from an earlier time we were quickly able to identify a component that had been moved prior to our inspection and would have caused the furnace to send soot throughout the home.

These are just a few things that may shed some light on your next product loss. If you still have questions on a product failure our engineers will be happy to discuss the specifics of your situation with you and, if necessary, perform an inspection of the product.