RIAI CPD July 2014: Design Certifier in the Design Process- SI.9

by Bregs Blog admin team


The following is a summary of a recent CPD run by the representative body for architects (RIAI). It was submitted to us on Sunday 7th July 2014 by an attendee at the conference. All notes and observations are personal to the author and the Blog does not recommend any practices or conclusions in the post. For any queries or comments we suggest contacting the RIAI directly. 

RIAI CPD Seminar on the role of the Design Certifier in the Design Process

Friday 4th July 2014 at the Alexander Hotel, Fenian St., Dublin 2

Speaker 1: The role of the Design Certifier: Joe Kennedy/Smith Kennedy Architects

Joe Kennedy was the first to present, speaking about the need for the design team to work together to identify ancillary certificates that will be required prior to tender. He emphasised the need to demonstrate how compliance with the Regulations was achieved, and called this the Design Certification Report, saying this serves as the “Defence Document” in the case of issues down the line. He also recommended that the Assigned Certifier review and sign off on this report and suggested, where possible, to get reports audited by a third party.

Speaker 2 + 3: Case Studies of Design Certifier on Building Types: Ciaran O’ Brien/OBFA Architects and Gopal Naidoo/RKD Architects

Two firms gave presentations on how they have been approaching the Design Certifier role. There was a significant overlap between the 2 presentations. One, Ciaran O’Brien of OBFA had completed the tender process on a job before the 1st of March, so had to retrospectively audit their design for compliance.  He noted a reliance on the TGDs for quality assurance. He also commented on several issues they had with the BCMS that apparently have been since resolved.

He said their approach was to have the other partner in the firm who was not involved in the project do an independent review, and He also noted that although they had carried out the fire certificate application in-house, they appointed a fire safety consultant to audit the design. They intend to have an independent person in the office to act as Assigned Certifier, despite the additional time required. In the MC role, John Graby referred to the fact that sole practitioners or very small offices do not have anyone “independent” within the firm to review their designs. However this was not touched on again during the day.

Gopal Naidoo of RKD described a fit out project. He said the key to dealing with the uncertainty was to keep the client informed at all stages, which Ciaran O?Brien also emphasised. He had set up a matrix to demonstrate key areas and what design team member was responsible for certifying, but unfortunately the text on this was difficult to read on screen so we will have to wait for the handout to see this in more detail. RKD also have a different team member reviewing the design, and recommended this be done 3 times during the design process as items were picked up at each stage.

Both Gopal Naidoo and Ciaran O’Brien referred several times to the fact theirs was a trial approach to dealing with the situation they were in that was being refined as they go. While honest, this served to underline the fact that we are all essentially in a situation that is filled with unknowns, whether known or unknown unknowns, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld and There were rumblings at coffee break about the lack of guidance out there – especially 4 months after the introduction of something that was well flagged.

Speaker 4: The process of demonstrating/recording compliance at Design Stage: Ray McNally/OPW

Ray McNally from the OPW was up next. As the earlier talks had concentrated on uncertainty, it was a welcome relief to have something concrete & technical. He said as an architect, he hates checklists so instead set up a series of tools in PDF format that serve as a “checklist”! He noted these are for internal use only, and in contrast with Joe Kennedy, said not to upload them or any non-essential information to the BCMS.

The tools are interactive, based on yes or no answers to the questions, and are designed to be printed off/saved as un-editable PDFs to show that due diligence was used to reach the answer. The first tool asks whether a commencement notice is required. The second is an overview of what legislation applies. The third is a building regulations checklist, referring to Parts C-M.  The fourth is guidance on preparing the BCMS Report and the fifth and final tool refers to the Building Control work process. These tools appear to be very useful from his demonstration and the OPW have agreed to make them available to RIAI members. He commented that feedback is appreciated.

Interestingly he noted that the OPW are using the certificates as agreed between the RIAI, the SCSI, IEI, despite considering their own wording initially. He said it is OPW policy not to upload details; instead they upload GAs and provide a drawing register which says that additional information is available on request.

Speaker 5 (unscheduled): Ronan Kelleher/Reddy Associates

Ronan Kelleher of Reddy Associates had a brief, unscheduled presentation on apps that can make site inspections easier. He said in their experience an iPhone/iPad app called Siteworks is the best they have found and gave a brief demonstration into its capabilities, including showing a promotional video from the App makers which caused some raised eyebrows as to whether we had stepped into an infomercial. He also listed other apps that they trialled that he felt were less successful.

Blog note:  Joe Millar did make a brief presentation before Eamonn Smyth however the attendee missed most of it. The presentation was a list of items on screen and it was thought the handout would include everything he said.

Speaker 6: Recent and planned updates to TGDs: Eamonn Smyth/Dept of the Environment (DECLG)

Eamonn Smyth of DoECLG was up next to discuss the updates to the TGDs in recent years. He went through them one by one, addressing items he felt were commonly missed by architects and referring to the key items that were updated. He noted that Parts B, C, E & L are currently under review, and Parts J and K have been updated recently. This was a whistle-stop tour of the TGDs and although useful, felt a little out of place in a CPD regarding design certification.

Speaker 7: The Construction Product Regulations: David Power/Cox Power Architects

The most frustrating talk for me personally came from David Power regarding the Construction Product Regulations 2013. This area was also touched on by Eamonn Smyth as part of his description of changes to Part D.

While most architects are aware at this stage that a record of all products used on site must be maintained, along with their relevant CE marks, it turns out that CE Marks in construction refer to a standardised, harmonised testing method across Europe and not a standard ‘quality mark’. CE Marks do not guarantee that any product is suitable for a purpose and should be linked to national requirements.  Despite listening attentively and taking notes, I was left none the wiser as to how to specify correctly, other than to state performance standards in conjunction with re-introduced national requirements. Hopefully a review of the presentation documents, when they are made available, will yield more insights, but it appears this change in standards will require significant time in researching and updating standard specifications in offices. Assuming the NBS has been updated to take this into account, a year’s subscription would help medium to larger offices significantly in research time.

Speaker 8: The evolution of the BCMS system: Mairead Phelan/BCMS

Mairead Phelan of Fingal Co. Council and the BCMS was last to speak. With a hint of resigned weariness in her tone, she said it has been a difficult time for BCMS team and practitioners and the BCMS is a work in progress. She outlined the numbers to date. They have validated 1200 commencement notices, of which 700 were online, with most of the remaining 500 being over the counter commencement notices requiring short forms. She also indicated that a positive of the system is they have live access to numbers. This shows not just the overall numbers, but gives an indication of where certain local authorities are outliers in terms of the invalidations they produce, allowing targeted investigation.

She said the purpose of the commencement notice is to show compliance with the building regulations and the most common issue in invalidations is incomplete forms – they are working on making it more difficult to leave out information to help avoid this. She commented that there is a huge variety in the level and quality of information they are receiving.

Inspections by Building Control inspectors are looking for different things at different stages, she explained. If an inspection takes place at foundation level, they are looking for compliance with Parts A & H, but if one takes place close to completion, the Building Control inspectors will be concentrating on Part B & M, for example. She did comment that with the building control authority staffing numbers, that it is likely some buildings will not be inspected at all during their build. In her description of a good submission, she included details which show compliance with the Regulations.

Questions + Answers

This The BCMS presentation led to the first question of the Q&A which asked specifically if GAs are sufficient or details are required. There was a polite disagreement between Mairead and Ray McNally on level of information that was necessary to be uploaded. Ray McNally asserted it is the OPW’s understanding that GAs should be sufficient for upload along with a schedule of other drawings that are available on request. Mairead said first it depended on the level of information in the GAs, but eventually confirmed that Gas are acceptable after a second person asked the same question. Mairead also commented that it would be beneficial to have an example of a best practice submission for information.  Why one does not yet exist is baffling.

Another question from the floor asked what has been done to educate non-professionals to their obligations. Short of the leaflet given (belatedly in some cases) with a grant of planning permission from Co. Councils, nothing else has been done according to John Graby. He cited the domestic PSDP/PSCS requirement as an example of where people were aware of their duties even without a public awareness campaign. As an aside, this is not the experience of this architect who deals with small projects regularly. Is the director CEO of the RIAI really out there meeting members of the public with €30,000 – €50,000 extensions who cannot generally afford to use an architect?

This question was brought up again by someone who pointed out the excellent plain English guide from the HSA regarding obligations for clients under the domestic regulations.

Ciaran O’Brien made the point that the state need to advise the public, not the RIAI, but that as it is a politically sensitive issue, it is being left to the professional bodies to deal with. John Graby echoed this and compared it with how the government didn’t publicise the fact that several thousand medical cards were going to be taken away. A cynical person could say of course the difference being that the IMO did not collude in the taking away of said medical cards with the HSE as some feel the RIAI did with the Department of the Environment..

A very pertinent question was also asked from the floor on how far we need to go in requiring Ancillary Certs from designers and certificates for materials. John Graby said this was a judgement call and said on domestic projects, the main contractor can provide ancillary certs for boiler replacements, for example and should be providing the majority of ancillary certs.

With regard to material certificates, another panel member said certs for critical products that affect Part A are essential e.g. hardcore, blockwork, pre-cast lintols, joists. He also noted that insulation is essential, and a receipt to show it arrived on site should also be retained, along with certification of the insulation itself.


The day was mixed in its usefulness. Some firms have been muddling along since March in dealing with the aftermath of SI 9, and it may not have been as useful for them as it would have been if it had been held 4 months earlier. By way of comparison, I attended one of the earliest CPDs after the introduction of the DAC which was very helpful with a worked up example of a good DAC application, showing drawings and report. SI 9 may be more far-reaching legislation, but the RIAI have been involved as stakeholders for over a year. Surely an approach to how best to deal with it could have been thought about earlier to help its already stretched members.

All three of the initial speakers spoke of using an independent party to review designs, whether within or outside their practices or a mixture of both. This had alarm bells ringing to this attendee as it clearly demonstrates that an independent building inspectorate is needed. In the absence of this, much higher fees will be required for these reviews, especially where these will be done out of house.

Across the day, several speakers referred to the fact that we had the same liability under civil law prior to SI 9. This may be true, but why then are they all now getting their designs audited before signing off as Design Certifier?

The numbers dwindled in the afternoon, even prior to impending World Cup match time, and by Q & A time numbers had reduced to perhaps two thirds or less.

Breg Blog Note: Due to low bookings the Cork (9th July) and Galway (15th July) RIAI CPD Seminars on the role of the Design Certifier in the Design Process have been postponed until further notice

Other posts of interest:

Engineers Ireland CPD 10th June – click link here

Where is the Design Certifier in BC(A)R SI.9? – click link here

MISSING PERSON- the Design Certifier? – click link here

Problems with role of Design Certifier: BC(A)R SI.  – click link here

RIAI: time needed for schools- BC(A)R SI.9  – click link here

Specialist Certifier 4- COMPANY: Questions and Answers – click link here

4 tips for Design Certifiers… – click link here

Law Society : Certifier is single point of responsibility – click link here

Post 1: Architect’s Ancillary Cert (Design & Completion) – click link here

BC(A)R SI.9- BCMS: “must do better” – click link here

ALERT: Cork CoCo guide to BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

Where to find everything part 1? BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here