As an expert on transport and cargo damage, aka surveyor, Karl A. Selig has been successfully dealing with transport damage for over 30 years. In an exclusive TimoCom interview, he provided helpful tips and interesting examples of his work.
What is the most interesting part of being a surveyor?
You learn something new with every bit of damage you see. New people, new technology. You get to know new categories of goods. I’m like a mini detective. Columbo is my hero.
What role does a surveyor have? Prosecutor, appraiser or judge?
I am an ascertainer! I ascertain damage - the amount and the reasons for it. Why did it occur? How badly is it damaged? Is there really as much damage as was claimed? Is it a write-off? Can it be refurbished, can it be sorted, can it be repaired?
These days, everything gets transported: from apples to toothbrushes. Anything might be damaged tomorrow. The opportunity to learn is as broad as the product range.
How long does it take to solve a transport damage case?
It really depends. Some damage is not that obvious. It takes longer if you have to determine how the damage was caused. For example, we had damage to meat that was mostly rotten by the time it reached the recipient. Research showed that the goods were too old and too warm when loaded onto the truck. We could thus exclude transport damage as a cause. The driver in this case simply had no chance to monitor the loading procedure or to check the state of the goods and their temperature. In this type of case, it is important to record these circumstances in the consignment note.
Can damaged loads be rescued?
Of course. Just recently I got a call when a load of ham got into an accident at 6 in the morning. Initially, everyone thought it would have to be thrown away. However, we were able to salvage it and keep it clean, while remaining compliant with cold chain conditions. We saved 70% of the total load. In my experience, damage reduction is possible in 50% of cases, regardless of whether the goods are toys or frozen food.
How much money can you save by employing a Surveyor?
It really depends on the case. But when you remember that there are companies that budget 80,000 - 60,000 EUR each year for damage payments, you realise how crazy that is. Basically, they write-off the money even though there is no need to. Simply because they do not know enough or because it is easier that way. Meanwhile, often the damage is not even their fault.
Is the transport and logistics industry generally well informed about Surveyor services?
Lots of companies do not even know that the option exists. Others do not believe it will help. Still others think that it is a job for their insurance company. Or, they wait too long before calling us. So long that we would need a crystal ball to figure out what exactly took place. But every Surveyor can be on the move in half an hour, and on site in their territory at the latest two hours afterwards in order to take a look at the damage. It is even worth it to wait at the longest three hours for them to get there. In the end, it saves time, money, and inconvenience. Our ability to assess the damage changes with every hour after it takes place. I recently had a case where the goods had been incorrectly loaded. We discovered this almost by accident - it really was not obvious. If we had not found the mistake, the company would have paid 40,000 EUR for damage they had nothing to do with.
Who pays the Surveyor?
If you coordinate it with your insurance, they will usually cover the costs for you.
What are the main causes of transport damage?
80% of transport damage is caused by poor planning and inadequate packaging. People just do not consider what is actually being transported and how it should be packaged. They are not thinking about the entire supply chain. Different people are responsible for the different departments in the company, and they do not communicate with one another, at least, not enough.
An example: back in the day, wine was transported in wooden boxes. The wine bottles were also wrapped in tissue paper so they would not get scratched. As time went on, someone discovered that the wine could be transported in cardboard boxes on palettes. But the boxes kept getting cheaper, and thinner. If you want to pick up a box of wine in the supermarket, you cannot be sure that it will stay in one piece by the time you make it to the register.
Sometimes, trucks drive over 600, 1,000 or even 2,000 kilometres with the wine in these cheap cardboard boxes. The bottles move around, and the material wears out. If the driver has to use the emergency brake, the goods are damaged beyond repair, and will not be accepted. Then someone says to the driver: “You drove badly. This is your fault.” But clearly, the fault is with the person sending the goods in poor packaging. Obviously the packaging should be able to handle braking in an emergency.
The fact that a higher quality cardboard box, that only costs a little more, could provide 50% more protection for the goods, is usually ignored by purchasers within the company. They only see what they can save when buying the boxes. The consequences are unclear, or the ramifications are not thought through. It shows a lack of planning, which applies not just to transport, but also to storage. Savings are made on the wrong end of the supply chain.
What is the best course of action when faced with transport damage? Can you provide some basic tips?
Romania is a great example. If a Romanian driver discovers transport damage, they fill out a statement with all the important details; identity of the driver, description of the damage and more. They take photos of the damage using their mobile phone. Snapping a few digital photos is quick and free. But it could save a lot of money in the long term. Because the most important thing is how the goods look on site. Not how they look later in the warehouse. In other words: advance planning and communication is essential for avoiding damage later on. If damage does occur, on site documentation is the key.