This article originally published by Doug Dingwall for the Canberra Times on the 1st of November 2017. Click here to read the original.
The ACT government needs to act on a five-year-old promise to make construction projects safer by creating a register for engineers, a professional peak body says.
Engineers Australia has called for the government to adopt the safeguard, which it says will prevent accidents and allow greater scrutiny of people hired to engineering work.
Canberra division manager Keely Quinn said despite making a commitment, the government’s inaction had left the ACT without a registration scheme.
Her comments come after the government said its safety watchdog would not launch a prosecution over the 2010 Gungahlin Drive extension bridge collapse that hospitalised nine workers, an incident blamed partly on engineering problems.
“When you don’t have safeguards in place, you open yourself up to risk in the construction and design of buildings here,” she said.
But the ACT government said a register alone would not improve standards.
The delay comes despite a recommendation from a 2012 construction safety report to create a register until a national scheme had arrived, after it found that many of the ACT’s worst construction accidents “had an engineering aspect to them, if not an engineering issue at their very core.”
Engineering problems contributed to the Barton Highway bridge collapse, the Belconnen wall collapse and the Marcus Clarke Street slab collapse, the Getting Home Safely report said.
It also raised reports that inappropriately qualified or poorly experienced engineers were signing off on structures outside their expertise, and noted anecdotal evidence that some had approved work on buildings they had not seen.
There were no laws in the ACT to prevent an unqualified person from practising as an engineer, the report said.
Ms Quinn said matters other than a registration scheme had taken priority for the government.
“If they were serious about the register it would have been done by now. If they are serious now, we’re happy to work with them,” she said.
The ACT government in 2012 agreed to the report’s recommendation that a scheme be set up as soon as possible, and before a deadline of June 2014.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said as recently as October 2016 the government was “progressing” the register.
Ms Quinn also called for the ACT to speed up its appointment of a chief engineer, after WorkSafe ACT said it would not pursue a prosecution over the Gungahlin Drive extension bridge collapse following delays caused partly by a lack of expert opinion.
The ACT government committed to appointing a chief engineer before the 2016 election and expects to fill the role next year.
Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman said the government was considering an engineer’s register under building regulation reforms.
“Registration needs to be integrated into a regulatory system with clear and enforceable obligations on practitioners and ongoing monitoring and compliance activity,” he said.
“It is proposed that new documentation standards and auditing will help to identify the best way to bring relevant engineers into the regulatory system.”
The union representing engineers, Professionals Australia, said it agreed it was time to introduce registration.
ACT director Dave Smith said it would meet Mr Barr about the matter in late November.
“We don’t want to wait for another coronial inquest. It’s not difficult. Queensland have a scheme in place and Victoria is close to finalising a scheme. A scheme that mirrors those schemes makes sense but more importantly it will recognise and enforce competence. It will save lives,” he said.
“A good starting point would be to actively encourage and recognise registration within the government’s own engineering workforce.”