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Kaplan ITA's Monthly Inspection Tips - Free Electronic Newsletter

January, 2006
Occupant Safety Issues
Issue #45

Happy New Year everyone!

This month I would like to discuss occupant safety issues we might encounter during an inspection. I believe there are two types; one being the type an inspector would have to predict what actions (some stupid) a person might take to put them in danger. An example would be two men on a deck are having several alcoholic drinks during a party. Both men weigh over 200 pounds. A disagreement ensues and one gentleman is pushed rather hard into the deck guardrail and it breaks, allowing the man to fall and be injured. Is this something a home inspector should predict in a report? Should the inspector have stress tested the rail to determine it could withstand at least 200 psf. applied at the top from any direction (IRC Table 301.5)? I think not for both questions. However, I always give the rail a good shove with my hand to form an opinion as to its integrity.

Predicting the future is outside the scope of a home inspection; to me that means unusual or stupid acts by persons. However, most national home inspection standards of practice require us to inspect many components that may affect safety. Example is the ASHI SOP; they require us to report on significantly deficient items or systems and components that are near the end of their service life. Significantly deficient is defined as "unsafe or not functioning." Unsafe is defined in part "judged to be significant risk of personal injury during normal day to day use…" This seems to me to exclude the unusual possible scenario requiring prediction by the inspector.

That said, the following are some items known to be potential safety hazards that I believe warrant reporting the potential for injury. This is by no means a complete list, merely some conditions to get us thinking about the word "unsafe."

  1. Lack of safety glass at areas subject to human impact. I always report if there is the lack of label on glass in showers, doors, windows next to doors and other locations required by modern standards. I use modern standards (and yes, that means "Code") as my guide for any safety issue and recommend upgrading for enhanced safety.
  2. Cracked heat exchangers. The hazard should be obvious to any home inspector. Of course finding one that is visible is another issue.
  3. Lack of GFCI protection in modern standards required locations. Again I always suggest upgrade.
  4. Lack of proper handrails or guardrails - the hazards are obvious.
  5. The sectional fountain or other feature in the back yard. The sections are not secured together and could easily topple on a child. Do we check these? I think it is a personal choice since recreational equipment, etc. are not required to be inspected per national SOP.
  6. The fishpond or water feature on the property. Certainly an attraction to children and a potential hazard to them. I always comment about these, and of course any pool enclosure, but again the SOP seems to leave this commenting option to the inspector.
  7. Here is one I never thought of until I worked on a case involving one - the kitchen island with mud-set tile cantilevered top. This one was not fastened to the floor and tipped over killing a child. Do we stress test every kitchen island to be sure it is fastened to the floor? I think again that is up to the inspector.
  8. Large top mounted equipment refrigerators and ovens and ranges not properly fastened and/or lacking anti-tip devices. Many national standards don't even require us to test appliances. Do we evaluate them for safety, too? Once again, that option is up to the inspector.
  9. Any defect regarding electrical to me is a potential safety hazard and I report as such. Yes, even a missing receptacle cover.
  10. How about some plumbing issues, such as lack of backflow prevention devices and/or cross connections? I believe these conditions are risks to safety and report as such.
As I said the above is a short list of potentials, just some items for thought.

We'll talk next month,

Mike Casey
Kaplan Professional Schools
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