A Flaming Row: signing off on specialist design input

Our May 2020 Communique article about Fire Engineering brought feedback, controversy and debate! The key point of friction – if not ignition – is over who should be signing off on the fire engineering aspects of the project.

An architect is not required to think of all the nuances that might affect the scope of a specialist designer’s input. If specialist design is required to be “signed off”, then that duty falls to the specialist designer. The extent to which they need to satisfy themselves that their work will be – or has been – adequately incorporated into the design and their terms of engagement is for them to determine.

If you sign off a statement attesting to the work of a specialist designer, and a claim arises, then that specialist designer might off-load some of their liability on your practice on the basis that “you signed off that you had reviewed the work and you didn’t pick up the mistake either so have contributed to the liability”. If this liability is only connected to you because you signed off the statement, then insurers will may deny insurance cover, because you assumed a duty or obligation beyond that which would otherwise arise (as an architect) at common law.

This assumption of liability becomes even more risky if you are not involved in the construction phase of the project. Whether the design co-ordination is via a project manager, or by the architect, it should not require taking responsibility for the work of others. But it does require co-operation and communication.