Home Contractor's Corner Top tips on dealing with workplace challenges

Top tips on dealing with workplace challenges

With most of the UK experiencing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, it is important that unexpected costs are avoided where possible. However, those working in skilled trades face several challenges that can pose a financial threat.

Rob Rees, Divisional Director of specialist insurer Markel Direct, highlights the costliest problems which tradespeople could be putting themselves at risk of facing and the necessary precautions and solutions to avoid a devastating impact.

1.    Workplace Injuries
Tradespeople face a higher risk of personal injury due to the nature of their work. The construction sector, in particular, records one of the highest rates of workplace injuries, according to Health and Safety Executive data. Common injuries include slips, falls, accidents from heights, strains and sprains, often related to lifting heavy objects.
Business owners are responsible for their workers’ safety, and for trades businesses with employees, arranging employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement if you employ staff. It can cover your legal expenses and compensation in the event of an employee being injured at work.

Sole traders, on the other hand, should ensure they have insurance covering personal injury. While public liability insurance is popular and vital for tradespeople, it only covers injuries to third parties, not the tradesperson themselves.
To cover personal injuries sustained whilst at work, occupational personal accident insurance can help by providing an income whilst you are unable to work.

2.    Damage to third party property (including client property)

In the world of trades, even the most skilled professionals can occasionally make mistakes that result in damage to property. The range of issues can vary from minor mishaps, such as paint spills on floors and furniture, to potentially catastrophic events like fires. Such damage can lead to disputes, project delays and potential legal actions, all of which have the potential to place strain on a tradesperson’s financial stability.

To minimise the negative impact of damage, here are some essential steps to follow:

–    Assess the damage: Before taking any action, carefully evaluate the extent of the damage. Determine whether it resulted from your work or existed beforehand.
–    Notify the client: Promptly inform the client about the damage and discuss the situation.
–    Consult your public liability insurance provider: Contact your insurance provider to report the incident. Provide them with as much information as possible so they are best placed to support you. 
–    Follow insurance guidance: If the damage resulted from your work, follow the guidance provided by your insurance provider regarding next steps and potential coverage.
–    Prevent future incidents: Implement measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, such as enhanced safety precautions or improved work processes.

Taking these steps can help you to better address property damage incidents, protect your reputation and maintain the financial stability of your trades business.

3.    Tool theft, damage and loss

A recent survey found that 57% of tradesmen who had their tools stolen suffered financial losses. Among them, 41% reported losses exceeding £2,500, a substantial amount amid rising living costs.

Tools are often stolen from vans, with 41% of thefts occurring either at home or on-site. Tool theft not only hits finances but also disrupts work due to the time lost in replacing tools, and similar financial challenges arise when tools are lost or damaged during on-site work.

To safeguard your tools, take necessary precautions such as:

•    Adding extra locks/alarms to your vans
•    Removing tools overnight
•    Parking in secure locations
•    Using visual deterrents like alarm stickers and CCTV

Additionally, to alleviate the financial burden of tool theft, consider taking out tool insurance, which covers the cost of replacing stolen equipment and extends to tools lost at sites or damaged due to factors like flooding or fire. Surprisingly, 25% of tradespeople are unaware of tool insurance, despite its benefits.

These measures can help protect your valuable tools and your livelihood.

4.    Project Delays

One study showed that the primary reasons builders faced project delays was due to material shortages (73%) and a shortage of skilled labour (55%). Other common reasons for delays include poor time management, health issues, equipment problems (including theft), subcontractor issues and weather-related setbacks. Delays can lead to financial losses, as well as harm your reputation.

To minimise the financial impact of delays, develop contingency plans for common delay factors. Once you’ve identified the potential delay factors, develop specific strategies to address each one. These may include:

•    Building buffer time into the project schedule to account for unexpected delays.
•    Researching and identifying alternative suppliers for critical materials needed for the project.
•    Keep a buffer inventory of essential materials on-site or readily available to mitigate the impact of sudden shortages.
•    Keep all project stakeholders informed about potential material shortages and the steps being taken to address them.

These plans allow for quick responses when problems arise. Open communication is also essential; if delays occur, communicate early and clearly with your clients about the reasons and potential timeline adjustments. Managing their expectations can help to prevent dissatisfaction and strained relationships.

In more challenging situations, familiarise yourself with the legal aspects of project delays, including contract clauses related to delays, penalties and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Being proactive and transparent can help you navigate project delays more effectively while safeguarding your monetary interests and professional relationships.

5.    Unexpected legal costs

Unexpected legal fees can pose a significant and unforeseen challenge for tradespeople, potentially jeopardising finances and livelihoods. Whether it’s disputes with clients, issues related to overdue payments, or unexpected legal situations stemming from your work, the cost of legal advice can quickly add up. 

Seeking legal guidance at the earliest signs of conflict can help prevent matters escalating into a legal dispute or court case, so to safeguard your financial stability and professional reputation, you should consider proactive measures. This includes having a contingency fund specifically allocated for legal advice or making use of legal helplines.

Markel Direct provides business insurance policyholders with access to a 24-hour legal advice helpline, as well as access to Business Hub, which contains legal document templates to help with various problems.

It is impossible to predict when a problem may arise that could affect a tradesperson’s finances and work; however, what can be done is taking the proper precautions to ensure they have safeguarded against the most experienced issues in the industry.


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