Managing community blasting complaints

By |  May 25, 2016

quarry-blast-736x375Blasting tends to be one of the biggest concerns homeowners have with quarry operations.

That’s always been a given. But Jeff Taylor, president of Sauls Seismic, has noticed an increasing number of damage claims lately against aggregate producers and blasting companies.

“Blasting seems to be the one thing people fear most about quarries,” Taylor says.

So, how can aggregate producers put up a stronger defense when blasting-related complaints and lawsuits arise? Taylor offers some recommendations.

Perform pre-blast surveys with help from a third-party company. Aggregate producers should partner with an outside company to perform pre-blast surveys to protect themselves against blasting-related lawsuits, Taylor says.

According to Taylor, performing a pre-blast survey is one of the best defenses against a blasting lawsuit. In a pre-blast survey, a third-party company takes photographs of nearby homes prior to blasts to check for any pre-existing damages on structures. If homeowners are convinced a blast cracked their house, a pre-blast survey can test the claim’s validity.

“This needs to be a standard practice,” Taylor says. “If there are homes close to where you’re blasting, it’s wise to invest in this, like insurance. And it’s being a good neighbor to the people.”

Hiring an outside company to handle this task is beneficial, Taylor adds, because a third party tends to have more training on this topic than a producer or a blasting company.

Never ignore a complaint. As crazy as some complaints might sound, aggregate producers should take all complaints seriously. Although the aggregates industry has made some improvements in this area, Taylor says the industry could be better at being proactive rather than reactively handling complaints.

“As a regulator, I’ve been told by a lot of citizens that they had to take an issue to the state as a result of poor response from the producer,” he says. “So take their complaints seriously and respond quickly. The worst thing you can do is ignore it completely.”

Taylor recommends producers have a standard plan in place to address complaints. Producers should appoint one person to handle any complaints, he says, and that person should be a good listener.

“Pick a person who can be talked to meanly by a citizen,” he says. “A lot of times, I’ve found if you let a person vent to you for a while, and then you calmly tell them your concerns and the situation, it tends to work best.”

Set up community meetings. Not every blast requires a community meeting, but Taylor says it might be wise to host one if a producer plans to change its blasting locations or patterns. Use the meetings as a way to educate the community on blasting regulations and practices in place that will protect their property from damages.

“Be transparent with the community,” he says. “That’s all part of being a good neighbor.”

To inform people about a community meeting, share news about it with the local newspaper and post flyers in public locations. Also, select someone to serve as a moderator during the public conversation. This person can help to guide the conversation if anyone goes on a tangent, Taylor says.

“Let them reel in the conversation,” he says. “You’re always going to have some people unhappy with a quarry blasting, but if you can win the reasonable people to your side in a meeting on what to expect, you can get rid of potential issues.”

Community members can also form opposition groups to blasts on social media sites. Chrissi Douglas, a colleague of Taylor’s at Sauls Seismic, offers some recommendations related to this area in another article on pitandquarry.com.

About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at msmalley@northcoastmedia.net or 216-363-7930.

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