Commissioning: Responsible Parties
Beyond the letter of the contract: When it comes to system flaws, not everything falls on the shoulders of the general contractor or the architect.
Whether one calls it a commissioning action list, a master issues log, a deficiency list, a corrective action list, etc., every commissioning project includes a matrix of items needing attention by someone on the project team. This table is the responsibility of the commissioning professional to create, maintain, and share with the team.
A commissioning action list can be used to document all commissioning activities, deliverables, site observation issues, and failed test results. On the other end of the spectrum, it may be limited to simply documenting deficiencies discovered during the functional performance testing process.
As with action lists of any kind, one of the key elements of a commissioning action list is the assignment of a responsible party for each item. This assignment is made by the commissioning professional and, when it comes to design and construction phase concerns, it is not as straightforward as one might think. For example, if there is a construction problem, contractually everything may be the general contractor’s responsibility. If there is a design problem, contractually everything may be the architect’s responsibility. Although assigning all actions to the general contractor or the architect may be easiest for the commissioning professional, it is not as useful as it could be for the project team.
For example, when it comes to test deficiencies, the commissioning professional will know most about the details of each failed test step. One should be able to make a reasonable initial judgment about whether the root cause of the problem is control system programming, air or water balancing, a failed hardware component, poor integration, a design issue, etc. It is most helpful to the project team if the commissioning professional assigns the responsible party as far down the contractor or design team hierarchies as practical.
However, everyone needs to remember that the commissioning professional has no authority to direct anyone on the project team. The responsible party assignment actually needs to be considered a “suggested” responsible party. If an assigned subcontractor believes a task is outside of their contractual responsibility, that subcontractor needs to address that concern with the contract-holder. The commissioning action list is not a change order vehicle.
In fact, the commissioning professional bases the responsible party assignments on the commissioning professional’s best understanding of the contract requirements of each subcontractor and/or subconsultant. Although commissioning professionals will have a general idea of each party’s contractual requirements, they are not typically privy to the specifics of every contract.
Therefore, if an assigned responsible party takes exception to a particular assignment, that party needs to inform the commissioning professional as soon as possible, so that the commissioning professional can change the responsible party in the commissioning action list. It is not productive for an item to sit unaddressed on the list because the assigned responsible party does not believe the assignment is correct. This is a rare case of where passing the buck, if contractually appropriate, is encouraged.
It is also valuable to understand that the responsible party for a single commissioning action list item may change for other reasons. For example, take the situation where the original issue was control programming that failed to send the correct signal to open/close/modulate a valve. If, after the controls subcontractor corrects the programming, the valve still does not respond to the signal, the responsible party is likely to shift to the mechanical contractor who provided the non-responsive valve. Of course, the responsibility could also stay with the controls contractor if the controls contractor was responsible for the control valve actuator and/or control wiring to the actuator.
In summary, I encourage all commissioning professionals to assign responsibility as deeply into the subcontractor or design team hierarchy as they are confident doing so. At the same time, I encourage all subcontractors and subconsultants to speak up immediately upon being assigned an action item that they believe is outside of their contracted scope of work. ES