The Architect May Be Liable Too
PcM - Section 1, Objective 3
CE - Section 2, Objective 1
This question comes up regularly.
On a routine site visit an architect witnesses an unsafe condition. What to do?
I often hear, “Say nothing, because of the architect’s potential exposure to liability.” Seems like a safe approach, but is this really what it’s come to? Not only is the “say nothing” response morally suspect, it’s arguably a violation of more than one standard in the architect’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Furthermore, according to Law for Architects: What You Need to Know (an NCARB reference for ARE 5), “…you can still be held liable if you actually observe or know about a dangerous condition or practice at a jobsite and fail to warn about it, in the event that condition or practice later causes an injury…”
The architect is required to act reasonably. Of course, without some additional context, it’s impossible to know what a “reasonable person” might do. But the answer is clearly not, “nothing.”
Say there’s a board laying on the ground. A nail is sticking out where someone could step on it. A relatively minor concern, right? It happens all the time.
But, imagine an extreme scenario in which someone is in imminent danger; a falling beam, or a truck backing up toward a worker. “Say nothing”? Really? I hope somebody would at least give me a “heads up."
The scenario for an ARE 5 question is likely to be somewhere between these two extremes. Say, improperly stacked material is at risk of falling over on the job site. It’s true that the architect should not advise the contractor regarding means and methods, or workplace safety. But a reasonable action is to tell the contractor that the material is about to fall over, whereas suggesting that the contractor secure it with duct tape is not. Inform, don’t advise.
While the architect is not obligated to look for unsafe conditions, if one is found during a site visit (the execution of the architect’s services), the architect is obligated to do something, and that includes notifying the contractor, the owner, or a public official who deals with safety issues. So, if someone gets hurt and it comes out that you, the architect, were aware of the danger and said nothing, you’re now exposed to a whole new liability. And you don’t want that.
Completely Unrelated to the ARE, but Helpful
Drain your water heater periodically to flush out the rust and sediment. Getting that junk out will help it to maintain efficiency and will extend the life of the water heater. Seriously, Google a “how-to.” Pretty simple and totally worth it.
Vacuum the condenser coils on your refrigerator and air conditioner. The buildup of dust, grease, pet hair, etc., makes it hard for the compressor to dissipate the heat it generates which can lead to premature failure.
Have an asphalt shingle roof? Use a leaf blower to find loose shingles. Like this:
When you make repairs, the black roofing cement invariably gets on the shingles and looks ugly. Look in the gutters and collect the granules that have washed off the shingles. Sprinkle the granules on the black roofing cement. It’ll blend in with the rest of the roof. Problem solved.
Get some moisture sensors. Place them where you’re most likely to get any unwanted water; below the kitchen sink, cracks in a basement slab, on the floor near the water heater. They’re cheap, they're loud, and they’ve saved me from a major cleanup more than once.
Get a little fire extinguisher for your kitchen. They come in lots of designer colors, like red. Mount it to the back of a pantry or cabinet door. If you ever need one, you’ll be glad you have it. I was.
It’s your turn!
(Ready to get serious?)