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Substandard Concrete: A Hidden Risk for Insurers

How Construction Materials Testing Errors Increase Risk

The smallest materials testing errors can lead to costly re-testing, mitigation, consequential damages and questionable insurance claims. In this blog, we discuss what these CMT errors look like—and what insurers can do to eliminate the associated risk.

As a construction insurer, you agree to assume certain risks on behalf of the policyholder, a construction project—liability for the general contractor, surety for the owner—in exchange for a premium. You decide what risks to accept based on probabilities and consequences for a project.

There are any number of risks on a construction project that can be covered by different types and levels of insurance, including:

  • Accidents and injury
  • Weather damage
  • Vandalism and theft

But not all risks are as obvious as these. What if materials don’t meet specifications? Risks associated with the performance of materials used in construction are more difficult to calculate. What are the consequential costs, and what is the impact of any delays? When these risks generate potential losses, they become a massive headache for insurers.

For example, what happens if concrete installed in the construction of a bridge has a lower strength than specified? All of the materials would need to be reevaluated through an expensive core drilling process. Then comes the mitigation. What do we do now? Why didn’t the concrete meet spec? Was the materials test completed properly? Who is to blame for the errors? This type of situation can add significant costs—not to mention years of delays—to a project.

Even the smallest incident caused by errors in CMT can complicate matters for insurers. You simply can’t anticipate this type of risk the way you can predict weather patterns or the likelihood of vandalism in a particular location.

However, knowing where this risk comes from can help you manage that risk and make better decisions about how you insure projects down the road. Here’s how CMT errors increase the risk for insurers—and what you can do about it.

3 CMT Errors that Increase Risk for Insurers

As an insurer, you know that construction material performance is essential. Project materials must meet the design specification, or component failure may lead to unforeseen consequences.

So, quality control and management through proper materials testing is essential—and in most cases, it’s the law!

Construction materials testing labs work in a controlled environment. They have to follow building codes and ASTM standards and abide by various local government regulations. But despite this, errors and variance still occur, opening the door to an incredible amount of hidden risk—especially in the following areas:

#1. Specimen Assurance

Materials perform in different ways. Concrete, for instance, poured wet and soft, cures to a hardened state. How it is sampled and when it is tested is critical to determining whether or not it will perform well over time. The testing workflow begins as soon as a technician pulls a sample of material from a construction site.

If the specimen is mislabeled or handwritten with a marker that can smudge or be misread, the specimen might be tested on the wrong day, or the results might be recorded in the wrong place. Either case leads to incorrect test results, which, if unnoticed, can cause major structural issues down the line.

#2. Machine Preparation & Testing

CMT labs use powerful compression machines to break a cured specimen and determine the strength and flexibility of concrete. The testing machine must be calibrated with the right testing protocols. If the lab is using a fully manual compression machine, technicians have to preload an amount within spec. During the test, they have to adjust the load rate. This process is manually intensive, and speeds and loads vary considerably between technicians and tests. Tests run on different manual machines can also produce inconsistent results.

#3. Data Collection & Storage

Many labs still copy break data by hand from a machine to a clipboard. Then they’ll enter it into a spreadsheet or separate laboratory information management system (LIMS). Naturally, this creates vulnerability in the test results.

Handwritten results and manual data entry are susceptible to errors. Plus, when tucked away in filing cabinets or a flat-file system on a shared drive, results are much more difficult to access and share. Original test data is difficult to verify, and, in unfortunate cases of fraud, results can be falsified to save face.

How to Decrease Risk

As you can see, there are many opportunities for error or fraud in the testing process, and each has its own impact on the overall risk of a construction project.

So, how does an insurer verify that construction materials are trustworthy? The answer: insist on reliable and transparent testing processes—ones that can actively prevent errors and fraud.

This is precisely what an integrated, cloud-based CMT platform enables.

Integrated CMT platforms (like ForneyVault™) connect the different pieces of the testing workflow (like machines and LIMS systems) to a secure cloud database. These integrations allow testing data to flow through the process with minimal human intervention, eliminating the potential for errors and variance. And by storing unalterable data (forever) in a private cloud, it prevents anyone from tampering with results.

Conclusion

Humans aren’t perfect. And mistakes are a pain to verify and correct. Factor in tight construction deadlines and costs, and you can begin to understand the kind of immense pressure labs are under to get it right the first time.

But pressure is what causes people to make mistakes or cut corners—a hidden problem for insurers that makes risk management more difficult. Their clients need a way to reliably and transparently mitigate it—so everyone can trust that construction materials meet expected strengths and tolerances.

The only way to do that is with an integrated, cloud-based CMT platform.

Want one less risk to worry about? Join our ForneyVault Partner Program to start reducing CMT related claims. Contact us to lean how we can work together.