01 Dec Board v N
This was an internal disciplinary proceeding brought by the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland (Board) against a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) (de-identified as N).
N had 10 years’ plus experience as a RPEQ.
Background of notification
In early 2018, the Board received a complaint from a representative of a resort located in Queensland. The complaint alleged that N had provided ‘professional engineering services’ for the resort namely, the design and certification of a roof structure for the resort.
The complaint alleged that the as-constructed roof structure which N had designed and certified by way of Form 15 and Form 16 certificates, deflected when vinyl shade sails were affixed and tensioned to it thereby indicating that the roof structure was not capable of bearing the loads applied to it by the shade sails.
The resort sought N’s assistance to rectify the observed deflection. Initially N agreed and did provide some assistance. However, a short while after, N declined to provide any further assistance and terminated his contract with the resort.
Consequently, the resort was left with the cost of rectifying the structure.
Conduct of N
N maintained that there had been a miscommunication and/or misunderstanding in relation to his engagement.
N stated that he was not privy to relevant communications between the builder and the shade sail contractor. N maintained that he understood that the structure which he was required to design and certify (Portal Frame) was a frame for a fabric or plastic membrane to be placed over (rather than tensioned onto).
N maintained that his conduct as a RPEQ was appropriate in the circumstances of the limited engagement. N acknowledged a miscommunication in the course of providing the services and asserted that the absence of a clear scope of works contributed to the circumstances giving rise to the investigation by the Board.
The issue before the Board was whether N’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 decided to caution N under section 73(2)(c) of the Act.
The Board considered the submissions provided by N. However, the Board ultimately placed more weight on the evidence provided by the Board’s appointed expert.
The Board’s expert concluded that:
- There was sufficient information available to show a vinyl membrane/sail was intended to be installed; and
- N’s conduct in relation to the professional engineering services he provided to the complainant can be reasonably assessed as falling short of what the public or his professional peers would expect.
The Board also agreed that even if it can be shown N was not initially aware a membrane/sail was to be attached to his design, there was ample opportunity for him to become aware and advise the relevant parties prior to the framework inspection (Form 16) being issued.
Lessons for the profession
RPEQs should always take care when carrying out professional engineering services, this includes services which may be considered minor with limited financial value (i.e. small scale, low value projects).
RPEQs’ professional responsibilities are not diminished simply by a project being of a small scale or of a low value.
Good communication is critical from the start to the finish of a project, as is having a thorough understanding of the scope of works.