Canadian Consulting Engineer

Feature

Who’s Responsible?

John Clague of APEGBC weighs the question of whether engineering companies as well as individual engineers should be certified to practice.


John Clague, Ph.D., P.Geo., has been a geoscientist for 24 years. An author, consultant, and media spokesperson, he teaches at the Department of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He is also the 2014-2015 President of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC). CCE spoke to him in May just after he returned from a trip to Chile.

Q. In APEGBC’s Innovation magazine you said that one of your priorities for your term of office at the association is to explore the possible benefits of regulating companies as well as individual engineers. In Ontario and Saskatchewan consulting engineering firms already have to register for Certificates of Authorization in order to practice. Is that not the case with APEGBC?
Certificates of Authorization were introduced into our province’s Engineers and Geoscientists Act about 12 years ago, but for some strange reason we don’t have a provision that would make it illegal for companies to practise without that certificate. I don’t understand why that provision was not included when the Act change was approved. We’ve looked at the question periodically and know that there might be resistance from some of the companies. It’s a very complex issue, especially since our level of authority is unclear without that provision. So at present we’re only able to regulate individuals. We can’t regulate companies.
Instead, APEGBC has approached the issue through our OQM — Organizational Quality Management — program. We introduced it three years ago as a voluntary program targeted at companies.
The OQM program is intended to help companies use structured standards of practice or quality management programs. We provide certification to the companies and organizations on a cost recovery basis. Much to our pleasure the program has been a tremendous success. Right now over 300 organizations are participating, including — with one exception — the 25 largest employers in engineering and goescience in B.C.
It’s not just big companies. We have had buy-in from firms with one to two employees as well. So this success has allowed us to achieve our objective, which is to ensure that companies are abiding by the highest standards of quality management in engineering. And we’ve done this with the enthusiastic cooperation of companies.

Q.  Is the goal to provide the public with more assurance?
Yes, that’s the intent. Before this program, I often felt that we are only regulators in part. We are regulating individuals, but companies have a huge role. You see that when we have disasters — for example, the Mount Polley tailings pond breach. There were individuals involved in that, but companies were involved as well.
Who is responsible when you have a disaster like that? Or when you have a situation as in Ontario with the Elliot Lake Mall collapse? Individuals? Companies? Or both? If you are going to be a strong regulator you need to have some control over companies as well as individuals. At present we’re making some progress with OQM and we’re getting good feedback from companies. They feel this is a very valuable program.    cce