Engineers fined over inadequate building designs in New Zealand

©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier
Following a long and complex inquiry, New Zealand’s engineering professional body, Engineering New Zealand, has fined two engineers for signing off inadequate designs for six buildings in Masterton, New Zealand.

The body, which acts as the registration authority for Chartered Professional Engineers, said today that a Disciplinary Committee had upheld two complaints dating back to 2015.

The complaints led to a government-commissioned review that found structural deficiencies in the buildings owned by community-owned property developer, the Masterton Trust Lands Trust.

The Disciplinary Committee ordered engineer Kevin O’Connor to pay a fine and costs totalling NZ$38,500 in relation to the designs of five of the six buildings. Its decisions were made in June, but O’Connor received name suppression while court proceedings resolved.

The committee found O’Connor’s review of the designs before signing PS1s were “high-level and often relied on reviews carried out by other engineers”, Engineering New Zealand said. PS1s indicate to building consenting authorities that certain design work complies with the Building Code and other relevant standards.

The committee said there was no evidence O’Connor was justified in signing the PS1s and was concerned there was a “pattern of behaviour over a sustained period”.

In an agreed statement of facts, O’Connor accepted the designs were inadequate and not in accordance with the standards reasonably expected of a Chartered Professional Engineer, Engineering New Zealand said.

The committee said the engineer responsible for the sixth design also “performed engineering services in a negligent manner”. However, the matter appeared to be an isolated incident and the engineer was ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling NZ$8,500.

Concerns about the Masterton buildings were first brought to Engineering New Zealand’s attention in 2015. At the time, the body notified the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as the regulatory authority. A review commissioned by MBIE and Masterton Trust Lands Trust found structural deficiencies in the six buildings.

Engineering New Zealand Chief Executive Richard Templer said the inquiry was “involved and complex”, requiring six Investigating Committee reports, expert advice and two final Disciplinary Committee decisions.

“Engineers are central in the design of buildings,” Templer said. “Now that the Masterton cases have closed, we are working with the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand and others on a report identifying the main causes of structurally deficient buildings. This report will inform the profession of causes and make recommendations for quality improvements using the findings from our inquiry.”

Engineering New Zealand is also making changes to its accreditation scheme for Chartered Professional Engineers, including stronger assessment criteria and discipline-specific assessment for high-risk sub-disciplines such as structural engineering.

Templer added: “The Masterton buildings weren’t up to scratch and failures such as those observed in these buildings are unacceptable. Engineering New Zealand needs to do what it can to make sure engineers take all necessary steps to provide buildings and structures that are fit for purpose.”

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