I recently reviewed a client’s set of drawings and one of the “general notes” on the cover sheet stated, “The work shall be performed to the highest level of workmanship standards of the building trades working under this contract.” What does that mean?
First, let’s start with a basic review of what a “general note” on the drawings should be. Foremost, general notes, as CSI’s Uniform Drawing System (UDS) states, “do not repeat specification content on the drawings nor are they repeated within the specifications.” General notes should be able to stand on their own to assist the user of the drawings in interpreting the entire set of drawings--not just one discipline’s drawings. If it sounds like a specification requirement, it probably is.
At first blush, one would say that the general note in question might comply with that basic requirement, since the General Conditions (A201-2007) do not mention “workmanship” and neither do properly prepared Division 01 sections. The fact that “workmanship,” or its cousin “workmanlike,” are missing in these documents is not by accident, but, rather, by design. These words, although defined in almost every dictionary, are not terms to be used in construction documents because they alone cannot be quantified.
There is no doubt that specifications should address workmanship, but the use of phrases such as “install in a workmanlike manner” or “provide the best workmanship” are too vague and are open to interpretation. Workmanship requirements should be specific to that work result and establish a set of criteria that can be measured.
To flip the tables for a moment, let us assume that a design professional is awarded a project by an owner. The owner hands the design professional a contract that states the design professional shall perform services at the “highest level of standard of care.” The design professional then takes this contract to the design professional’s attorney and professional liability insurer for their review. After recovering from the verbal tongue lashing and wrist slapping, the design professional approaches the owner with a revised contract that deletes “highest level.” Design professionals who have even the slightest understanding of common professional standard of care laws would know not to sign a contract with such language.
Now, I understand that the legal system does not treat design services the same as construction services, but why would design professionals insert such language in a construction document if design professionals themselves have been indoctrinated not to sign contracts with similar verbiage?
“Highest level of workmanship” is an expectation that may vary significantly between owner, contractor, and design professional. Additionally, it may be contrary to other requirements in the contract documents. What if “custom” quality woodwork installation per Architectural Woodwork Standards (AWS) is specified for a project—does “highest level of workmanship” now require “premium” quality?
Quality of workmanship requirements needs to be objective. The use of standards and tolerances are examples of establishing a level of workmanship desired and provides measurable criteria for enforcement by the owner and design professional. The bottom line is: do not insert language in the contract documents—drawings, specifications, general conditions, supplementary conditions, etc.—that the owner or design professional cannot enforce.