Who's liability is it, anyway?

Floor Test Australia recently undertook the Lidcome TAFE information and accreditation session on subfloor inspection and moisture testing.

That the concrete slab subfloor needs to be moisture tested has been known for some time. Overall however, Moisture Testing for concrete subfloors in Australia is certainly an emerging (black) art, still not fully understood. The fact that Moisture Content via Capacitance Moisture Meters has given way to Relative Humidity (RH) Moisture Testing, is understood possibly even less.

There was a gargantuan amount of information to squeeze into one day, from the basics of Relative Humidity (RH) in the slab, to the mechanics of the Moisture Testing equipment, so credit must go to those who formulated the material. Still, many of the contractors and flooring retailers present were understandably overwhelmed at the implications of complying to a sub floor moisture test- that is, complying to the extent that they cover themselves as fully as possible in terms of liability.

So, whose liability is it anyway?

We live in an increasingly litigious society (and before you blame the Americans, note that Australia is actually more litigious per-capita than the USA), so doing it right first time is paramount. There are plenty of people out there ready and able to sue.

Lawyers will do that to you

Not that most quality tradespeople and service providers haven’t always known that quality work is key- but, bearing all that in mind, nowadays there is increasing focus on how you record the information for future reference.

Having a $80,000 commercial vinyl installation blow up is obviously going to lead to the question of who is/was to blame.

At FLOOR TEST AUSTRALIA we know of a very telling resilient flooring installation failure which occurred in Queensland. The install was fine for six years. In the seventh year, the adhesive re-emulsified to the point that the floor level stunk out (it was a multi-story medical complex), as if the blisters in the floor weren’t bad enough. It was obvious to anybody with an ounce of common sense that the slab had taken on a major ingress of moisture long after the install, most probably due to a plumbing failure or the like. And yet, the installer was hauled in to contribute toward remediation- because he could not prove that the moisture levels were acceptable at the time of install!

So, it’s the installer’s responsibility to test the subfloor concrete slab for RH, right? Not necessarily. Large commercial projects have many stakeholders from installers, architects and project managers et al. Communication between all parties will obviously help produce a quality job. However, it stands to reason that whoever has taken the trouble to capture accurate figures describing the moisture condition of the slab prior to install, and acts upon the information accordingly, will reduce their liability significantly.

We have been involved in cases where the flooring contractor has tested the slab, but advised the project manager to get a second opinion. This is quite wise, especially if there are pressures from the final customer to fast-track an installation. In such cases, and independent test can absolve the the project manager and his installer from a potential strained relationship with the customer- that is, the customer can see that it is an independent, qualified voice expressing concerns about rushing into a floor install- not merely a contractor trying to squeeze more money out of them, or postpone a job to accommodate other work.

Of course, it helps to ensure that customers are advised before any plans are drawn up that there is the potential for sub floor issues and associated costs such as testing, mitigation, drying etc. This can often be covered as PC items.

So whose liability is it? We can’t answer that. But we can be sure that whoever owns the most information, and acts on it correctly, will have less need to worry about that question.

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