Overcoming Investigation Challenges During Social Distancing

David Reid Rowland, a Principal Associate Investigator at Hawkins’ London Office describes a recent investigation into the cause of a fire in a large warehouse building.

Our new Covid-19 specific Risk Assessments allow us to determine what steps are needed to operate safely during a site visit. Hawkins policy is to seek alternative, safer ways in which to carry out an investigation. Wherever possible, I use telephone and video conferencing or carry out desktop investigations to reduce the need for face to face contact. I also check whether any parties have recently exhibited symptoms of Covid-19 or been in contact with people who have.

I find that in most cases, simple social distancing in addition to our standard PPE is sufficient to keep everyone safe. As part of our standard Health & Safety Policy, Hawkins investigators are equipped with face-fitted FFP3 respirator masks and protective clothing which protects me and any one I meet from transmission of the virus.

In general, where I have been required to attend site, policyholders have been grateful for the visit and tell me they are impressed with Hawkins professional and considerate approach.

On this occasion the loss adjuster who instructed us was unable to visit site, due to Covid -19 movement restrictions. I arranged a tele-conference with both the adjuster and the owner of the warehouse, to get background information about the business and the circumstances surrounding the fire. I then visited the scene of the fire and met the insured party, in order to access the premises and establish more information about the fire. The meeting followed the current social distancing guidelines. Following a detailed examination of the fire scene, I arranged a video conference, and was able to walk the adjuster through the fire scene. I also sent him a complete set of our site photographs via a secure download link.

Following the initial site investigation, I often have laboratory work to undertake, which might for example involve dismantling electrical apparatus or examining exhibits with a microscope. Since the lockdown Hawkins has restricted laboratory examinations of exhibits with other parties (i.e. joint examinations) to essential cases only. By maintaining good communication within our offices we are still able to carry out solo examinations of exhibits to assist our clients.

My colleague, Gareth Dobinson, who is the Regional Manager in charge of our London office recently conducted a joint laboratory in conjunction with another expert acting for a different party. Prior to the meeting, Gareth held a teleconference to discuss the scope of the inspection, and decide what steps and measurements were to be taken during the inspection. This allowed the inspection to be carried out quickly, minimising exposure. During the inspection, social distancing guidelines were followed, and as both experts would be handling the same evidence during the inspection, suitable PPE, including glove, coveralls and face masks was used by both parties.

I have been surprised with how quickly I have adapted to a new way of working. Along with many others, I see that video and tele-conferences have an important role to play in the prompt and effective investigation of claims. The demand for this can only increase. If live video streaming is not possible (for instance, where mobile telephone reception is poor), Hawkins is also able to make a video recording with commentary to augment our normal site photographs.

David Reid Rowland

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