By Peter Danso and David Marihugh
Some people find specifications boring, however, those of us who make a living working with them, including those of us on CI’s Specifications Committee, enjoy discussing situations in which the specifications for a construction project caused problems. One such specification we found to be particularly interesting read:
“All other items and materials not covered or mentioned in the scope of supply, but are found necessary to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the facility shall be considered as included in the Contractor’s Scope of Supply.”
The problem with this broad statement is that it is not fair. The specification attempts to take all of the responsibility and risk for furnishing a safe and efficient installation off the engineer and owner and place it solely on the contractor’s shoulders. On the surface, including such a statement might make sense because it seems to transfer a great deal of responsibility off the design team. The design team could make the biggest mistakes ever made, and it would be the contractor’s problem to correct them. As experienced specification writers, however, we would never include such a statement in a specification of ours. Specifications transferring large amounts of risk unfairly cause contractors to increase their pricing to cover a risk that they have no control over. In addition, such clauses are often challenged through the legal system, bringing their actual enforceability into question.
We have all heard “contractor” horror stories about poorly done work, inferior material substitutions, unnecessary delays, etc. However, it is not fair to lump all contractors into a single category. Most contractors we have worked with just want to complete the work shown on the plans and in the specifications, make some money, and then move on to the next job. Poorly-written specifications often lead to increased costs and extended schedules on projects. As engineers, we can avoid all the legal arguments and blame game that occurs on projects only if we are very specific and thorough with our stated specifications. Since contractors work according to the engineer’s written specifications, is it fair to expect them to read the engineer’s mind in addition to understanding what the contract documents specifically require? No, it is not.
Sometimes during the course of a design, mistakes are made, or the existing conditions might change, and a change order becomes necessary. These are sometimes very costly. If we as engineers prepare a design that must be altered after the bid due to faulty plans or specifications, or if something is beyond the control of all the parties involved, should it be the contractor’s responsibility to just correct what is wrong without compensation? No, that is not the fair thing to expect.
In addition, it must be pointed out that as engineers, we must be careful in our written specifications to give detailed information for an item or a material. Moreover, it is important not to include details of different manufacturers to make the specification appear complete, without checking whether there are any vendors capable of meeting the total specification. This practice is also not fair, because in the end, contractors will not be able to satisfy the entire specification through no fault of their own. Engineers must strive to create specifications that are realistic, available and fair.
Children and adults, alike, desire fair treatment. Why? It is the right thing to do, and we all know that. Therefore, when preparing your specifications, ask yourself if you are placing responsibility for the designer’s mistakes on the contractor. Of course, if engineers never make mistakes, none of this would be necessary to explain; however, engineers do make mistakes. So, the next time you write your specifications for a project, ask yourself if they are fair.
Peter Danso is a Project Engineer with the Tema Oil Refinery Limited in Ghana, and he has been a member of the CI’s Specifications Committee since 2011. David Marihugh is a Project Engineer with the HNTB Corporation in New Jersey and he has been a member of the CI’s Specifications Committee since 2009. Peter and David thank the Chairman of the Specifications Committee, Larry Eckersley for his input and patience.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the authors.