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Passing the Design Responsibility Parcel

Passing the design parcel

Passing the Design Responsibility Parcel

There's a lot of talk about specialists and the supply chain becoming more engaged in the design process.  We all (should) know that it's critical to define who is responsible for which part of the design, and this is essential when designing a waterproofing strategy.

The RIBA Plan of Work (2013) reflects this collaborative approach to design and project delivery and indicates that the Design Responsibility Matrix should be progressed early in the development of the project (Stage 1: Preparation and Brief). But in my experience, design responsibility appears to be ignored by most or passed around like the proverbial hot potato, until contractual appointments have been made or the project has progressed beyond detailed design.  This is the point at which the main contractor will often look to pass liability down the line to the specialist designer who may be a contractor, specialist contractor or supplier. It's a game of Pass the Parcel that is repeated on most major projects, creating paperwork, delays and unnecessary stress.

The supply chain is an integrated hierarchy of suppliers providing services or products either directly to the contractor or another supplier in the supply chain, and this creates an issue for design responsibility.  Often the first and second tier of the supply chain commit to demanding contractual liabilities, but as the chain develops, these liabilities lessen with suppliers at the end of the chain rarely being committed beyond designing with reasonable skill and care.

I read recently ( that the 'reasonable skill and care formula' could be defined as the skill, care, diligence, efficiency and professional conduct reasonably expected from a consultant with the qualification and experience suitable for the services. Depending on the contract, this may mean that the contractor can’t pass responsibility down to the specialist and therefore needs to remain active in the process of design or conversely, design responsibility may lie with the specialist, as they are the active designer. Attributing design responsibility when the project is well under way is often an exercise in semantics, hence the importance of agreeing the design responsibility matrix at an early stage of the project.

If the design team can have a sensible discussion about liability, without passing the parcel, there will be greater collaboration between the design and project delivery teams from an early stage of a project.  For example, as a waterproofing design specialist, we know that the architects and engineers who specify our products don't want their specification changed because of liability issues further down the supply chain. That's why we actively engage with contractors who are looking to establish relationships beyond direct, first tier suppliers. Setting up a design responsibility framework or a partnering agreement stops the game before it is played, and prevents those with design responsibility from turning a blind eye to the project delivery stage. It is a contractual responsibility to speak up if the design has flaws or needs amending.

Our Major Project Protocol is supported by our investment in Professional Indemnity Insurance (which provides cover for negligence, stemming from a failure to use reasonable skill and care), our highly qualified and experienced technical services, and on-site support teams. That way, we can get on with the work, rather than play the game.


By Martin Radford, Business Manager at RIW Ltd