Beware of Risk Transfer: Part 2

Making contractors responsible for building code requirements.

Some licensed design professionals reference ACI 318, “Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete,” the local building codes, or both in specifications with statements such as the following:

In addition to complying with all pertinent codes and regulations, comply with ACI 318, “Building Code Requirements for Reinforced Concrete.”

Such requirements in specifications should be avoided, as stated in the following excerpts from two Code documents:

Introduction to ACI 318-11:

“The Code provides a means of establishing minimum standards for acceptance of designs and construction by legally appointed building officials or their designated representatives. The Code and Commentary are not intended for use in settling disputes between the owner, engineer, architect, contractor, or their agents, subcontractors, material suppliers, or testing agencies. Therefore, the Code cannot define the contract responsibility of each of the parties in usual construction. General references requiring compliance with the Code in the project specifications should be avoided since the contractor is rarely in a position to accept responsibility for design details or construction requirements that depend on a detailed knowledge of the design.” [emphasis added]

Commentary for Section 107.2.2 of IBC 2009:

“The construction documents are required to be of a quality and detail such that the building official can determine that the work conforms to the code and other applicable laws and regulations. General statements on the documents, such as “all work must comply with the International Building Code,” are not an acceptable substitute for showing the required information.” [emphasis added]

There are a few direct references to contractor responsibility in ACI 318-11, primarily related to formwork, such as the following: — Before starting construction, the contractor shall develop a procedure and schedule for removal of shores and installation of reshores and for calculating the loads transferred to the structure during the process.

The building code requirements are intended to be met by a licensed design professional, and not intended as a project specification reference in which the contractors are to seek out and determine which provisions they are responsible for. The Introduction to ACI 318-11 states this clearly: "Generally, the contract documents should contain all of the necessary requirements to ensure compliance with the Code. In part, this can be accomplished by reference to specific Code sections in the project specifications. Other ACI publications, such as ‘Specifications for Structural Concrete (ACI 301)’ are written specifically for use as contract documents for construction."

There is no general agreement in the concrete industry as to which provisions of ACI 318 apply to the contractor. The ongoing reorganization of ACI 318 may result in construction requirements all being included in one section of ACI 318-14. This chapter would list information required to be included in the construction documents and would provide contractors with easier access to their ACI 318 construction requirements.1

Problems exacerbated in RFI responses

Requests for information (RFIs) are common to all concrete construction projects. However, when contracts contain language such as “Perform work in accordance with ACI 318-11” the contractor's requests for information (RFIs) are sometimes answered by the licensed design professional by referencing ACI 318 sections. Thus the contractor is expected to interpret that section.

For instance on one project, the contractor submitted an RFI asking for information about lap splice length and location for a grade beam. The response was to "refer to ACI 318, all these requirements are there." The contractor had the reinforcing steel shop drawing detailer select a lap splice length and location and highlight it on the drawing. The placing and fabrication drawings were approved. However during a site visit, after the reinforcing steel was set, the contractor was informed that the grade beam was designed as a tension tie member and that the splices had to be staggered in accordance with the Code.

Even though section 1.2 in ACI 318 requires the contract documents to show "location and length of lap splices" the contractor was responsible for performing the extra work in removing and replacing the steel so that the lap splices were staggered.

Broader responses to inclusion of Code requirements in contract documents

Excluding contract document Code references in a bid solves the problem, but with a very big if — If the contractor gets the job. In the current economy, many contractors are not willing to risk losing a contract by taking this step. They may elect not to exclude the Code references and take a chance that this won’t cause problems during construction.

If the Code references are left in the specifications but the specifications also reference ACI 301, “Specifications for Structural Concrete,” contractors have another option when referred to ACI 318 in response to an RFI. They can state that applying most of ACI 318 requires engineering knowledge their firm does not possess, and that they are not licensed to provide such knowledge. They can then add that they will meet the requirements of ACI 301, which is directed to the contractor. One response from the structural engineer to this tactic has been telling the contractor to hire a licensed design professional. In that case, however, the contractor has still gone on record as not being willing to interpret the structural engineer’s design intent by studying ACI 318.

The construction climate has changed dramatically in the past several years, as members of the construction team seek to reduce liability exposure. Contractors, especially, need to be wary of contract documents that transfer design risk to them.

1. Dolan, Charles W., and Poston, Randall W., “The Reorganized ACI 318 Code Structure,” Concrete International, Oct. 2010, pp. 37-39.

Note: ACI 318 and ACI 301 can be purchased at
IBC 2007 can be purchased at