14 Dec Board v D
This was a disciplinary proceeding brought by the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland (Board) against a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) (de-identified as D)
D had over nine years’ experience as a RPEQ.
Background of Complaint
In late 2018, the Board received a complaint from the owner of a residential property in Queensland (Complainant). The Complainant alleged that D had been engaged by the Complainant’s neighbour (N) to certify (in a Form 16) a constructed two metre high concrete and steel retaining wall (Retaining Wall). The Retaining Wall bordered their respective properties.
The Retaining Wall was built by N and two of his friends. The Retaining Wall was not an approved design. The Retaining Wall was constructed without Council approval. Neither N nor his friends held any qualifications, licences nor did any have building experience. The Complainant alleged the Retaining Wall was defective.
The Board’s Investigation
The Board’s investigation found:
- N constructed the Retaining Wall with two of his friends.
- Following the construction of the Retaining Wall, N engaged a RPEQ (A) to provide a Form 15 design for a retaining wall. A advised N the Retaining Wall would need to be demolished and rebuilt in accordance with A’s design (the design approved by the Council).
- N then attempted to engage A to certify the Retaining Wall (as constructed). A refused to sign a Form 16. The Retaining Wall had not been demolished and rebuilt in accordance with A’s design.
- Following A’s refusal to certify the Retaining Wall, N engaged D’s company to certify the Retaining Wall.
- N provided D with the Form 15 and designs prepared by A along with photographs of the Retaining Wall. D did not attend the property in person to inspect the Retaining Wall.
- Despite the above, D issued a Form 16 inspection certificate.
- D stated he was not aware A’s design had been provided to N on the condition the Retaining Wall was demolished and rebuilt in accordance with the approved design (A’s design).
- Ultimately, D relied on a signed statutory declaration by N. N’s statutory declaration asserted he had constructed the Retaining Wall (including pier depths and footings)) and had done so in accordance with A’s design.
The Board’s expert (who inspected the wall in person) expressed the opinion:
- The statutory declaration and photographs provided to D were not a sufficient and adequate basis for providing a Form 16 given the obvious defects identified in his inspection.
- There was a serious structural deficiency with the Retaining Wall (as constructed). The deficiency would have been readily apparent to D, had D inspected the Retaining Wall.
The issue before the Board was whether D’s conduct could give rise to a reasonable belief that he failed to achieve the relevant engineering standards in his performance of the ‘professional engineering services’, and accordingly, whether his conduct might constitute ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’ for the purposes of the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Act).
The Board’s Decision
The Board decided to reprimand D under s 73(2)(c) of the Act.
The Board accepted the evidence of the Board’s appointed expert. The Board considered D’s written submissions. The Board considered that D had cooperated fully with the investigation, had expressed remorse and the evidence he provided of how he had changed his work practices as a result.
Lessons for the Profession
RPEQs must be aware of their obligations when providing engineering certifications. RPEQs are reminded of the Board’s Certification by RPEQs Policy.
When certifying building works, RPEQs must inspect the work being certified and satisfy themselves the work has been completed in accordance with the plans / approved design and specifications. RPEQs may delegate inspection to non-RPEQs, however, the RPEQ must exercise their judgement to determine if the delegate is competent to undertake the inspection. Ultimately, RPEQs take full responsibility (through their certification) for the inspections undertaken by others.
A project’s small size or low value will not diminish a RPEQ’s professional responsibilities.
NB: Form 15 and Form 16 certification is not a requirement under the Professional Engineers Act 2002. These forms are required under the Building Regulation 2006 to certify building compliance. However, RPEQs are considered to be competent persons to provide Form 15 and Form 16 certification and in doing so must ensure their conduct meets the standards of the Code of Practice for RPEQs.