Almost every week, we hear of new laws, codes and licenses created to protect the consumer. This new legislation, introduced at the local, state, and national government levels, may very result in our general population being safer now than they have ever been before. But, at the same time, greater responsibility has also been thrown on the shoulders of contractors, and those technicians who deal with the public, to follow the rules and comply with the laws in order to stay out of trouble and avoid litigation.
You know you want to do what is right. But you must also protect your financial investment. You must make sure that you and your service technicians work in an approved and safe manner, and by all rights, that should keep you from being sued and placed in a legal situation that could wipe out your entire future. This article will help you watch out for some of the potential entanglements and legal exposures that are typical of this industry.
Now, just how can you avoid the problems that have been mentioned? Well, first and foremost, you should make sure that your business is covered by all necessary licenses and certificates and that all these documents are current. See that your organization is properly insured in all areas and that you have the necessary bonding coverage that might be required by job specifications and by local or state codes.
YOU CAN AVOID LEGAL PROBLEMS ON SERVICE WORK BY:
- Making sure that all of your service technicians have any journeymen or technical certificates that are required by your city or state government. You should also make certain that these certificates are kept current. A technician with no certificate or license, or a non-current one, can cause you a lot of grief if it surfaces, for example, after a fire.
- Using a numbered work order or service ticket for all jobs and by making sure that the ticket is written to show what service was rendered and what parts were used. Make sure the ticket is signed by the person accepting the service.
- Using only approved or original equipment parts for repairs. The risk is too great for the few dollars you might save by using inferior, “no-name” parts. If a problem occurs after you render service, the adjuster, manufacturers’ representative or local inspector is going to look for deviations in the equipment immediately. A part that is not an original-equipment item can prompt a question of doubt. It will probably cause you to take defensive action that would not have been necessary if you had used an original-equipment part.
- Never bypassing or jumping a part that is a direct or indirect safety. Not even for one night! Not even if the kids are cold! You can’t afford the legal or moral risk. Examples in this area would be installing a piece of copper wire in place of a fusible link in a duct heater; or a jumped high limit control on a gas furnace; or a jumped high-pressure switch on a heat pump. I ask you also to remember that evidence of the above actions would in most cases be obvious to an investigator even after a severe fire.
- Pointing out any problem areas that you notice on a piece of equipment to the customer at the time you service the system. Don’t make the mistake of saying “I don’t need to worry as I didn’t do it.” Or, “I don’t handle that brand or part.” Note the problem on your service ticket and make sure that the ticket is signed by the customer. Remember that the customer called you as a professional technician and the courts say that in that capacity, you must advise the customer of any unsafe condition that exists in the equipment. You can be charged or sued over a condition that another technician created if you do not correct the problem or make the problem known to the customer. (Examples of this situation would be: ungrounded unit, wrong part, over-fused, under-wired, cracked heat exchangers, etc.)
- Always working in a safe manner:
- Fire extinguisher or water available when you are using a torch.
- Close all electrical panels when you are not present, even if you are only going to be away for a few minutes. (How long does it take to electrocute a child? Could you live with yourself if a child were electrocuted because you were too lazy to place a cover on a high-voltage area?)
- Never allow adults or children in the area when the work you are doing could be hazardous (adding refrigerant, brazing, drilling holes, etc.).
- Check natural or LP gas leaks in a safe manner (soap bubbles, pressure gauges or gas leak detection meter).
- Replace all panels and screws before you leave, even if you feel they are not needed. Negligence about this gives more service technicians a bad reputation faster than anything else I can think of. It can also create big legal problems for you.
- Make sure that your service technicians use good, safe tools and equipment and that the equipment is approved by OSHA and any local regulating agencies for the job you are using it on. You should also make regular inspection of your equipment to see that it remains safe on a continuing basis.
Excerpt from Service Application Manual (SAM) of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society – www.rses.org