Is Design Certification credible? Michael O’Neill MRIAI

13 December 2016

I wrote this article after reading the excellent piece entitled “Garland Consulting Engineers | Are third party Design Certifiers compliant?”  I would like to follow up this piece by broadening the subject and building on what has been written and asking:

Is the process of Design Certification credible?

I submit that it is neither complaint nor credible, based on what the writer before me has written and the implications in the sections of legislation that are quoted in the article.  The issue of design and responsibility for design is a thorny one at the best of times

  • the definition of the Designer Certifier’s own scope and responsibility
  • how this scope and rile interfaces with those of the other designers
  • the decision making hierarchy within the Design Team
  • the level of competence being brought to the table
  • All of these things may be subject to review.

My direct professional experience rests with the more traditional format of Design Team, where the architect is appointed by the client and he / she appoints the rest of the design team members.  I am aware that on many projects engineers take the lead role – civil works, factory design, petroleum facilities, power generation facilities and so on.  I am not aware of Design Team lead positions being taken by Building Surveyors

In the cases of Design Teams I mention above there was a multiplicity of disciplines working together to achieve the overall result – a substantially compliant completed building or works.  From reading the Garland article writer’s analysis of the role and responsibilities of the Design Certifier it seems that the position is compromised from the beginning.

The certification of ALL design is required to carried out by one person – the Design Certifier – and here I believe is the fatal flaw in BC(A)R.

Let us assume that sometime in the future the wise advice of the writer of the Garland article is followed and a member of the design team is chosen to be the Design Certifier.  This person has designed PART of the Building or Works. Yet they are obliged to Certify the Design of ALL of the Building or Works. No single person can do this. The writer quotes the following passage:

“I am competent to carry out my design and to coordinate the design of others..”

There is a clear implication here that these “others” are coeval with the Design Certifier. They are not SUBJECT TO the Design Certifier. He/she COORDINATES, as opposed to SUPERVISES.

Yet it is the Design Certifier who is obliged BY LAW to Certify that the works designed by other members of the Design Team are compliant. This is something that cannot be done with any level of credibility.

Even if the certifier has qualifications of equivalent standing to all the members of the design team, the certifier would only act in the capacity of peer reviewer, since the certifier did not carry out all the operations of design that is being certified.  So even in some ideal parallel reality, the certifier cannot in theory do the job as described.  But in our world of limitations, he/she cannot do the required level of certification with any credibility.

The Design Certifier is a corporeal human being, usually limited in competence and ability to one design discipline. The Design Certifier will likely be senior and registered and competent to certify design within the terms of reference of ONE discipline, their own. Not ALL disciplines. This is the critical point.

The Design Certifier relies on other competent members of the design team doing their job AS EQUALS, not subservient to him/her.  These EQUALS must issue Design Certificates for their own disciplines. They must also be Design Certifiers or their Certificates will not carry Equal Weight. They cannot offer mere Ancillary Certificates.

Where does the legislation stand on this at the moment?

  1. The legislation does not establish the legal standing of the Ancillary Certificates.
  2. The legislation is not even fumbling towards the concept of Multiple Design Certificates.
  3. Are our civil servants who write the law so incompetent they they do not understand where liability arises for elements of design? It seems so.

But there is more to come.

The Design Certifier is supposed BY LAW to certify NOT ONLY those elements of the Building or Works that are designed by other members of the Design Team. The Design Certifier is obliged to certify ALL of the Design of the Building or Works. Here is a list of a few things that might be certified: –

  • The inside of a lock on a fire rated door. (this is not about whether the door passed its Fire Door Test)
  • The shell of a low voltage light intended for use in a fire resistant ceiling,
  • The opening rooflight mechanism in the ceiling of a fire rated atrium
  • The insulation of an Insulated Concrete Formwork element
  • The frost resistant design of a facing brick
  • The slip resistant design of a floor tile
  • The workings of a back up generator
  • The workings of an escalator
  • The workings of a lift

All of these elements are designed far from the comfortable office seats of the Design Team. It is totally impossible for the entire team together to stand over the design of these elements.  These are only a few elements that may be included in a modern multi-use building, yet their certification cannot be encompassed by the current legislation even in principle. Why?

Because the guarantees, warranties, certification or materials and agreement certificates necessary to cover such items are not even considered in BC(A)R as supporting documents for the Design Certifier. Even if they were, most of the current wordings would not separately define or certify the design element in the materials, components or sub-assemblies they purport to cover.  So the lack of alignment between the legislation under which we suffer and the building certification process is far greater than a complete misunderstanding of the role of the Design Team Leader and Members.

It fails totally to understand the coeval nature of the design disciplines, the need (at this top level) for multiple Design Certifiers, the creation and definition of Ancillary Certificates and Certifiers, their roles, responsibilities and legal liabilities and the ability to accept and rely upon Other Documentation such as detailed guarantees, warranties and test certificates as reasonable proof that a material, element, sub-assembly or component is designed compliantly.

With such supporting documentation given legal standing, the wording of the Design Certificate must be amended to fairly reflect the level of legal liability accruing to the Design Certifier – as balanced and supported by the other Design Certificates, Ancillary Certificates, guarantees, warranties and test certificates.

At that point we can begin to ask the really hard questions.

Is is fair to lay all this on the shoulders of a single human being?

Are banks or companies supported by the responsibility of one person?

Should any one person, acting in good faith, be held liable for the fault of others?

I see all these answers in the negative.

After this we can contemplate moving towards an era of corporate responsibility, where a firm or company issues the certificate, and its certification is insured in such a way as to survive the death of the founder or personnel of the company or even the demise of the company itself.

Finally we can address the hardest question of all.

What is the best way to ensure that if a defect is discovered, the consumer is first protected and secondly that a remedy or remedies offered to give a range of redress options that are appropriate to the situation?

Other posts of interest:

Garland Consulting Engineers | Are third party Design Certifiers compliant?

Design Certifier | RIAI advise separate appointment

Professional Liability and BC(A)R SI.9 | Mark Sanfey SC

One-off houses and Certificates | Deirdre Ní Fhloinn

Information Paper, Advice for Architects | Orla Hegarty MRIAI

County Councils appoint separate Certifiers to projects

SI.9 and Part L | Specialist ancillary certifiers Part 2

Why the design certifier and architect need third party building fabric assessments

Are Design and Assigned Certifiers risking professional suicide with Pyrite and S.I.9?

Local Authority Staff: Questions on assuming the ‘Design Certifier’ role | Eoin O’Cofaigh

RIAI: OPW Interactive Tools for the Design Certifier

Ancillary Certificates: Why On Earth Would You Want To Sign That?

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