Look before you sign on that dotted line

By: Vollie Brink.

Do those in the business who sign documents, certificates of compliance and drawings realise the implications, the consequences and the potential legal implications of doing so?


I come across documents and drawings where people have signed ‘approved’ and ‘checked by’ on the drawings, but eventually the drawing is found to be wrong: the signatory has moved on to another company and takes no responsibility for the incorrect design.


The SANS 10400 application form requires the ‘responsible person’ to sign and have PI insurance, which implies that the person who signed is responsible for the design even when they have moved to another company. Yet this is not applied.

Some people leave a trail of signed off jobs behind, but the jobs have failed. When confronted with this, they just shrug and do the same at the new employer where new jobs are concerned. Many of these situations are in fact latent defects and sometimes only manifest years after the project was completed. There have been some serious failures of structures and even water and drainage systems; in every incident the first question was, “Who signed for the design?” and then, “Who was responsible for the construction?” Here the signatory is very important.

I know of a situation where an accident occurred on a road 20 years after its completion. The designer of the culvert that caused the accident was held responsible. This shows that approval for designs is in fact long-lasting.

Many years ago, an incident was featured in Plumbing Africa where a structural project failed and collapsed. The builder took both the architect and the engineer to court and said both professionals had inspected the works and approved it. He deemed that they were responsible. However, the builder was ultimately held responsible as he performed the work and the architect and the engineer could not have detected the inherent problem by visual inspection.

Another instance involved a building burning down where a wooden sleeper had been used in a fireplace. Ultimately the builder was held responsible as he was deemed to have been able to foresee that the wooden sleeper posed a fire hazard.

In terms of installation instructions, the manufacturer’s role is critical and must never be disregarded, because it can jeopardize the guarantee applicable to the material, the equipment or the fixtures, and in particular a geyser, pump or bulk hot water system and piping.

It is for this reason I always insist that the manufacturer must be involved in the selection and installation of their product, and even how it must be designed. The manufacturer needs to conduct inspections during the contract period, and at contract completion they then issue both a close of contract and a guarantee to the contractor. Contractors are the only individuals who can obtain guarantees, because they procured the product from the manufacturer and need to hand it over to the owner.

Any instruction, site instruction, drawing or document must be approved by the individual who issues it. It is a legal requirement that it needs to be signed by the receiver, and this carries legal implications for both the receiver and the issuer.

I do not have a legal background — I have had some experiences and learned a few lessons along the way. Every written document has unavoidable implications.

I always say to the people in the office, “Your pen is your best weapon and your friend.”

In the final instance, I want to caution you to not just sign: check what you are signing off, as your signature can get you into deep trouble.

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