April 6, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

While there are hundreds of thousands of cellphone applications — commonly referred to as apps — which claim an ability of doing almost anything, some are downright dangerous to your wallet if believed.

Sergio discovered just how costly certain apps can be when insurance for his restaurant was up for renewal and “a risk assessment evaluator came here, and using cellphone apps, measured noise and light levels, then issued expensive building modifications orders if we wanted our insurance to remain in force,” he told You and the Law.

“He did not have any professional instruments, only his cellphone, and claimed that noise and lighting levels in kitchen and customer areas were so bad that I was in violation of OSHA requirements. I objected, but he stated that what he was using was just as accurate as anything available and his company stands by them.

“This makes no sense at all. I have never had a problem in the past, do not believe their numbers can be trusted and don’t want to lose my insurance or spend a small fortune based on cellphone apps. I have two questions:

• What is the procedure for challenging this inspection?

• As opposed to hiring a private safety evaluation company — which I know could cost a great deal of money — are you aware of reasonably priced instruments on the market I can buy which would give accurate information to show the insurance company?

Get your agent involved

We ran our reader’s question by Don Charpentier, who has been a general lines insurance broker in Bakersfield for more than 35 years. “Sergio needs to involve his insurance agent immediately,” was his advice, adding, “Common sense dictates that you cannot rely on a cellphone app and then tell your insured to go out and spend thousands of dollars on building modifications.

“A competent agent should arrange for a reinspection and verify that properly calibrated equipment will be used. But if his agent will not help him, please tell Sergio that he must find a different agent and new insurance carrier. Rates based on incorrect findings have a way of sticking around for a long time, even when proven wrong, Sergio must not delay,” Charpentier stressed.

App numbers would have put Sergio in violation

Sergio was extremely observant, jotting down the names of these noise and light apps and noting that the evaluator used a Samsung Galaxy S3 cellphone. Using the same type of cellphone, we downloaded the apps, comparing the numbers to professional sound and light meters sent to us by Extech, a leading manufacturer of test and measurement equipment.

They were so far off as to be a joke, only no one was laughing. If believed, those numbers would have put Sergio in violation of OSHA regulations.

Sam Ruback, an Extech product specialist, told us this situation isn’t that rare.

“It is important to understand the limitations of cellphones versus professional sound and light meters. With an increase in noise pollution-related issues, it is a challenge to educate the public that integrated cellphone sensors and apps cannot be relied on. Here’s why:

• Cellphone electronics are designed for conversation and photography. They are not intended to provide accurate measurements required in industry or law enforcement.

• Professional meters are calibrated to validate accuracies against traceable National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards. This is not possible with cellphones.

“These factors often lead cellphones to show extremely significant errors of 30 to 40 decibels or 100s of lux (light measurement) errors,” Ruback warned.

To buy or hire a safety evaluation consultant

We spoke with a number of firms which conduct OSHA-type safety evaluations and learned that an average cost, including a report, would be around $2,500.

“But that’s not the best use of your reader’s money,” Charpentier firmly believes, “because these issues will come up again. It could be an employee who claims a hearing loss or customer who argues that the restaurant was too dark, which led to a fall. So it is in his best interest to have his own, accurate noise and light measuring devices, assuming the cost are reasonable.”

When we researched prices for these devices — manufactured by a number of companies — our recommendation for Sergio was easy. For well under $500, accurate, fully professional meters are on the market. Their numbers would stand up, not only to his own insurance company, but for someone making a claim against the restaurant.

And while we are on the subject of noise, before spending hundreds of dollars on “noise cancelling headphones,” don’t miss next week’s article, because we’re going to save you some real money.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.