18 Sep 2014

New engineering rules need extending

8:53 am on 18 September 2014

Professional engineers want proposed new rules in the sector to be extended to include not only multi-storey buildings, but structures such as bridges and water treatment plants.

38 tonne beam lowered into position for new bridge over main trunk rail line at Manukau

Photo: PHOTO NZ

The government announced changes to tighten up regulations in the sector earlier this month amid concerns about a lack of accountability for those responsible for designing the CTV Building.

115 people died when the building collapsed after the February 2011 earthquake.

The lead structural engineer behind the building, David Harding, and his boss Alan Reay had managed to escaped possible censure by their professional body, the Institute of Professional Engineers, by resigning their membership.

However on Wednesday the High Court in Christchurch ruled a disciplinary hearing against Mr Harding will proceed. Justice Mander said Ipenz had a right to hear complaints against him because they were received while he was still a member.

Speaking after a lecture at Canterbury University on Wednesday night, Ipenz President Kevin Thompson welcomed government plans to make it mandatory for designers of multi-storey buildings to be chartered professional engineers.

He said while this was currently a requirement for those designing houses, there was no such requirement for those designing more complicated structures such as office blocks.

"One would have thought that the most critical buildings are large buildings with heavy construction rather than light timber construction buildings but that's the situation we've arrived at."

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But Mr Thompson said the new rules shouldn't just cover designers of multi-storey buildings.

He said there are plenty of other engineering disciplines where the consequences of getting things wrong can be just as disastrous.

"Bridge design, bridge building. We have water supply and if we get the water supply wrong and it gets contaminated that can seriously hurt people as well. Even software engineering - software engineers can get it wrong and that could have disastrous consequences."

The ruins of the CTV building

The ruins of the CTV building Photo: AFP

The Structural Engineering Society president, Paul Campbell, said a proposal to take disciplinary hearings for the most serious cases away from Ipenz and have them decided by an independent panel makes sense.

"As long as it's transparent, the public can then have confidence that people are being held to account or the investigation is happening with the appropriate rigour. We're reliant on our reputation and we should be held to account."

Mr Campbell said an important change will be requiring engineers to report any concerns they have about another engineer's work.

"Say for example if you see something you don't like, you're duty bound to just talk to them. There may be a perfectly rational explanation, there may not be, there may be a difference of opinion. It's when you're not satisfied that you've got the right answer that you're then duty bound to report it," he said.

Submissions on the changes to the Building Act and the Chartered Professional Engineers Act are open until the end of October.

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