The issue of quality is a thorny one on construction projects and covers everything from the construction process, to use and performance.

The two main standards are reasonable skill and care, or fitness for purpose.

Unless a contract clearly specifies a different standard, then you may have to rely on implied terms. For example, a contractor providing design services will not generally owe a higher obligation than the duty to use reasonable skill and care. And reasonable skill and care is only average competence!

If you want a higher standard, you will have to say so, clearly. 

No guarantee

If you have specific criteria in mind for a project, product or bespoke system, you need to be say so.

Where, for example a fire supression system was commissioned for a hot oil popcorn production facilitity, the specific risks that the system was meant to address need to be clearly set out.

A passing reference to the relevant British Standard was not enough.

A reference to the sorts of fires the system should respond to was not enough.

A requirement for reasonable skill and care was not enough.

A guarantee has to be set out clearly.

“[T]he fact that the system had been designed ‘to suit the specific requirements of the risks to be protected’ (to use the words of the specification) does not mean that the system was guaranteed to eliminate those risks every time. It was designed, manufactured and installed with those risks in mind, but the obligation as to design was to take reasonable skill and care and there was nothing in these words to impose upon the defendant a more onerous obligation. A design intended ‘to suit the specific requirements of the risks’ may or may not be done with reasonable skill and care, but it was not a promise that the design would eliminate all risks. A promise that a particular risk will be eliminated must say so in clear terms.

What should you do?

Set out precisely the technical and operational requirements you have for a project, product or bespoke system. Don’t rely on implied terms, vague phrases or design life.

Be as specific as you can, and inspect/test to check this has been achieved at completion.

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