Ten Hot Tips for Inspections
When the builder and trade sub-contractors are insolvent, or impecunious, or simply resistant to fixing building defects, principals can find it advantageous to instead pursue their consultant team for negligent inspection of the building work. Your inspection or observation role is also one of the most important quality checks on the building work.
The aim is to set a tone of vigour and consistency from the outset, to encourage builders and trades to work accordingly. These tips come from court cases, claims notifications, and practical advice from experienced practitioners:
- Every project needs a signed consultancy agreement, including a scope of services that clearly sets out what inspection obligations you have. Without a clear contract, consultants often find they have much more onerous and extensive inspection duties than they ever expected (or priced for).
- If not undertaking an inspection role, say so very clearly in your scope, and check the client has engaged someone else for that role. Otherwise, the risk is that your occasional site visits to watch the progress of your design can be taken for inspections.
- Inspection by a consultant does not guarantee that all defective work has been detected, so avoid language that implies otherwise. Instead of “The works comply with all codes and standards and have no defects”, the most a consultant can usually say is “To the best of my knowledge, based on periodic non-intrusive observations of the works, and based where appropriate on observing representative samples, the works appear to comply generally with my construction documentation.”
- In past decades, consultants might be described as “supervising” the works, but that is seldom the case now as it implies constant site presence and oversight. “Inspections”, “observations” and “site visits” are more appropriate descriptions.
- The general scope of an inspection is to follow the progress of the work and take steps to see the works comply with the general requirements of the contract in specification and quality. If a building element calls for observation before it is covered up, consultants should instruct the contractor to halt work until the inspection is done. Some court cases call for consultants to follow the trail of suspicion, meaning that external signs of concealed defects should be followed up rather than hoping for the best.
- Inspections at monthly site meetings may be insufficient – because the timing may not match the progress of works or its key milestones, and the contractor will know its work is safe outside those times. Consider impromptu inspections as well.
- For repeated elements, inspect early to check installation is correct. The easier and cheaper it is for a contractor to correct a defect, the more likely they will do it.
- Risky design elements call for more rigorous inspection.
- Involve other consults in any inspection that calls for expertise in disciplines other than your own. Check from the outset on that those consultants have priced and planned to assist you in this way.
- Use the power of defects liability. Identify and resolve as many defects as possible before the end of the defects liability period. Although builders and trades may still have a legal obligation to fix defective work afterwards, it becomes markedly more difficult once they are no longer on site and have turned their resources to other jobs.
While they may seem like simple common sense, when these tips are not followed, the result can be large claims. Many of these tips are taken from a UK case called McGlinn v Waltham Contractors, where an unhappy client claimed £3.65 million from his architects relating to a house which was allegedly so defective he did not even move into it before having it demolished.
For those in Melbourne and Sydney, we’ll be discussing this case and more in our half-day seminar Effective Contract Administration on 21 June, which qualifies for three hours of CPD. Our Risk Managers will be co-presenting with construction solicitors and experienced architects to help demystify what can be the most challenging part of a consultant’s role.
And if you missed our recent webinar Inspection and Certification: a case study in setting boundaries with experienced architect and expert witness Peter Quigley, you can now purchase a recording on our online CPD website.