Boost your image and lower your risk: Managing project photos
We love it when great firms want to do even better. AXA XL’s Design Professional team recently heard from an architect who asked what more his firm could do to lower its risk when taking and distributing project photos. “They’re already doing some smart things,” Randy Lewis, Vice President, Loss Prevention and Client Education or AXA XL’s Design Professional group, says. “They wanted to see if there was room for improvement.” Like many design firms, this one uses photos in a variety of ways. The firm documents work on the site to supplement construction observation reports and to keep the owner and the firm’s staff informed of progress on the site. They send photos to the general contractor and the client. And they use progress images in marketing mailings, on their website and in promotional materials.
The architect admits that some images are of the “digital tourist” variety that they simply file away. Lewis says that many firms do just that: save all the images into an electronic file/archive and move onto the next project. Usually, that’s that…except if there’s a dispute and those pictures later reveal a problem the photographer hadn’t spotted when snapping the photo. “Photos are discoverable in the event of a lawsuit, whether they’re stored in the cloud, on a firm’s server or on a cellphone,” Lewis says.
Lewis says that, ideally, A/Es should be circumspect about how many pictures they take and why. “Every photo should have a purpose,” Lewis says, “which is usually to support field report narratives. When you’re taking a photo, always consider what’s in the field of view.” He adds that A/Es can and should augment their site reports with photos of deviations from the plans and specifications, as well as areas where significant progress has been made since the previous visit, and overall progress of the construction. All photos should be time and date stamped.
Lewis understands the temptation to take lots of pictures of the project. “The problem is, you have to do something with those pictures,” he says. “Someone needs to look at them—and quickly—even if you think they’ll never again see the light of day.” He recommends that every firm establish a protocol to require a qualified person to examine each and every image. The idea is to decide whether the photo serves a purpose and, if it doesn’t, dispose of the image or put it in a “pending folder” for review at project closeout to determine if it should be kept or deleted. Most photos that aren’t relevant to your site visit should be deleted in strict accordance with your firm’s record retention policy and assuming that there is no claim, or the potential for a claim, on the project.
“As with any information gained on a site visit, if you see a problem, you must address it,” Lewis says. “If you see nonconforming work or a possible unsafe condition or situation, say something to the contractor, document your observations and report them to the owner.” Our architect says that during weekly video conferencing project meetings, the contractor often shows a selection of progress photos. While the design staff doesn't download the images, they may take screen shots to share progress with other in the office. He writes, "Do you have any suggestions on how we should curate these photographs to maintain a balance between keeping a project record and exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks?"
Lewis suggests that these images be shared with others in the office, as intended, saved in a file identified as photos taken by the contractor, and maintained in accordance with the firm’s document retention policy. “Again, if you see a problem, address it immediately,” he says.