Canadian Consulting Engineer

PEO proposes specialty structural engineer designation to Inquiry

As the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake continues, Professional Engineers of Ontario has submitted a list of recommendations that if enacted will have far-reaching effects on structural engineers in the province.

August 21, 2013   Canadian Consulting Engineer

As the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake continues, Professional Engineers of Ontario has submitted a list of recommendations that if enacted will have far-reaching effects on structural engineers in the province.

The submission, made on August 8, is a 28-page document with 11 recommendations in response to concerns expressed at the inquiry. For example, one lawyer noted that the province has no legislative requirements for structural engineering inspections. While the building code legislates for new construction and existing buildings, it leaves the structural assessment of existing buildings unregulated. Yet these are obvioulsy still an area of public safety.

PEO is therefore now proposing that sections of the Building Code and the Engineers’ Act in Ontario should be amended to establish a much tighter regime over structural inspections.

First, PEO wants the provisions in a practice bulletin that PEO already issued after the mall’s collapse to be embedded as a performance standard in the Professional Engineers Act. In other words, rather than a recommendation, the provisions would be a requirement. The performance standard would require an engineer doing a structural inspection to record a long list of observations in a “structural adequacy report.” They would need to declare, for example, areas that were not inspected and why. They would have to recommend any necessary remedial actions and record any limitations and restrictions on their work (presumably any restrictions in scope imposed by a building owner).

PEO also recommends that the structural adequacy report includes disclaimers limiting the liability of the engineer for the contents of the report.

Also, PEO submitted that the association may create specialist licenses, “prescribing the qualifications and requirements for designation as a specialist.” Currently Ontario has no legislative constraints on the areas in which a licensee may practice, and no specialty specific certification procedures.

The submission notes that the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. (APEGBC) established a specialist designation for structural engineering, “Struct.Eng.” in 2001 following the collapse of the Save-on-Foods supermarket in Burnaby. PEO recommends that these individuals designated as structural engineering specialists would be the ones to prepare the structural adequacy reports for examinations of buildings referred to in Division A, Part 1 of the Ontario Building Code.

PEO also recommends that the structural adequacy report be submitted to the chief building official of the relevant municipality so that it would be available for review. This recommendation comes after witnesses at the Inquiry observed “there was a general lack of information about the problems experienced at the Mall. More particularly, professional engineers retained to carry out inspections of various types did not have information about the history of leaking problems, nor did they have copies of prior engineering reports.” Though the mall leaked for 30 years, the series of owners did not pass on the various engineering reports that had been done on to new owners.

Another recommendation is that PEO will publish not only the names of its licensed members, but also the history of any disciplinary measures against the engineer, including current licence suspensions, terminations etc. on its website, searchable by name. Apparently people who dealt with the mall had no idea the licence of the original engineer, John Kadlec, had been revoked. Also, the licence of the last person to examine the mall’s structure before it collapsed in June 2012, Robert Wood of M.R. Wright, had his licence suspended at the time he performed the inspection. But PEO notes that at present there is no obligation for engineers to inform clients that their licence has been suspended. It notes in the submission that while other professions such as lawyers do record a licensee’s discipline history on their websites, other professional engineering associations in Canada generally do not.

The association says it is looking forward to discussing its proposals further in roundtables that are scheduled for October as part of the Inquiry.

To read PEO’s submission to the Inquiry of August 8 and the full list of its recommendations and rationale behind them, click here.


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