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The circumstances surrounding this discussion was the tragedy of Grenfell Towers and my personal observation that some of the alleged decision makers, had no technical qualifications to make decisions on public safety. I am wondering how far the inquiry will go to reveal that issue.
As I currently work in Canada we do have an act of law governing the conduct of its licenced Engineers and this makes the Engineer have some higher degree of responsibility for public safety.
1) Given the impact of Grenfell, does EC(UK) have to now start considering licencing? What are the perceived hurdles to achieve this?
2) If not. What can we do within our profession to improve pubic safety with an objective to prevent another 'Grenfell' ?
I am Interested to get IET members responses.
A very good question and one that has been discussed in part elsewhere in other threads. I can only give my personal viewpoint but will chip in with an answer.
First the IET can't go it alone and start licencing engineers as it needs to be all of the Professional Engineering Institutes (PEIs) which puts it in the lap of EC(UK). The Engineering Council website states "The Engineering Council is the UK regulatory body for the engineering profession" and as such would endorse the view that it is their responsibility, but the licencing of engineers requires two things - first the granting of the licence to the engineers (which you could argue is already in place with EngTech, IEng, CEng and ICTTech) but crucially secondly the legislation in place to prevent unlicenced engineers practicing. This latter is something that is not in place in Britain at present. Perhaps the outcome of the enquiry will change the mood in the country to make it politically desirable.
At present I am doubtful that there are enough registered engineers of the various grades to cope with such legislation (i.e. do the volume of work that would be required to be completed by licenced engineers) so what needs to happen is an increase in registered engineers, particularly engineers in the earlier stages of their careers who I believe are currently under-represented, and to cope with this we would need a big increase in volunteers to help deal with the increase in applications.
Just my two-pennyworth.
I agree pretty much with Alasdair. I'm a student engineer registered with the IET but there are a lot of engineers in the UK that aren't professionally registered and some don't even have "engineer" in their job role so with that in mind I think the overhaul would be too large and that deciding who was or wasn't up to the standard would be an impossible task. However, I think incidents like the Grenfell Tower fire can be prevented with independent, third-party checks every 6 months to a year say, of those in management at engineering companies and to follow up the quality management procedures that go into projects to ensure the safety of the public. I know it happens at my company but we mainly build safety-critical systems, whether the same intensive checks are done everywhere in engineering, I'm not so sure.
Take for example Grenfell, the Civil Engineer who designed this buidling would have to be consulted as to whether the changes made are appropriate and do not affect the codes and regulations. The public is therefore protected through that Engineer who carries full liability. A person who has a degree in medieval tapestry is not an approriate person to make that call ( I do generalise somewhat here to make a point and apologies if you enjoy tapestry !)
There are some interesting points to note in Canada and I think are primarily associated with licensing:
1) There are many more licenced women engineers than the UK. It seems to be a more attractive career and its refreshing to work my female counterparts. This is benefical dimension in itself.
2) The status of the engineer as a professional is raised well beyond that of the UK , primarily because it is a protected title which is accompanied with the appropriate qualifications.
3) Public are aware of the importance of the role of the Engineer and how difficult it is to attain this.
4) There are number of Engineers in both provincial and federal government . In fact Julie Payette our new Governor General ( essentially the spokesperson for the Queen) is a licensed engineer and astronaut; how amazing is that!
5) There is a mandatory legal and professional ethics exam that all must pass to become licensed. Interestingly enough, many of the case studies and examples are British. So in my humble opinion this is where the IET should be mandating new requirements to its members, so as to raise professional standards. But as you correctly point out, perhaps without an act of law this may be a challenge.
Inadequate numbers in our field, of course why would you enter a field that was seemingly unsexy, low paid and had a poor public perception. That's a bit of a chicken and egg dillema which has been kicking around for years, but until you raise that public profile it will not be conquered.
UK government perception - Canadian Engineering bodies are very active courting MP's in fact the local chapters have a budget just for this in the fedearl and provinical capitals and they have their own sub-committees organising attendance and discussion. That seems to work very well.
From a distant perspective , I see the band-aids going in , external bodies certifying engineers and a rampant health and safety executive imposing more national regulations. When in fact all we need to do is to licence individuals to practice and make them accountable for their actions, essentially cutting the bureacratic red tape and taxes.
A Professor in Toronto was quoted as saying the engineering degree was a licence to kill. Here, I think he meant well by emphasing the importance of the knowledge gained and our responsibility to apply this correctly. Essentially many of our disciplines have a degree of public safety involvement ( especially the railways), I think its hard to ever get away from our professional responsibilities and we should naturally accept this.
In response to Scott's and Alasdair's comments ( thanks gentlemen for taking part). The professional engineer can have unlicensed engineers working underneath them as 'engineers in training' or just graduates getting experience, but the Professional Engineer takes full responsibility for their actions and decisions. Interesting to note that the advocacy group OSPE was reporting that there were too many engineers in Ontario and we now have to look at stimulating entrepreneurship and building new markets; I guess this is a nice problem to have as a result of the perception of the Engineer as a profession.
Was that possibly the 'Gravy boat' i.e the slower and larger capacity variant to the 'Gravy train'?
To say that this is a dead issue is possibly more of a convenience to not properly recognise and address the risks that modern engineering brings to society now.
I will let other people enter the debate and give you some peace. Have a great evening. Thanks for your input
Good points from both of you. With regard to protection of the title of 'Engineer' there was a discussion on this matter on a different thread getting on for a year ago, on which I remember a very good explanation was put by Roy Bowdler that legally, because the term engineer was in common usage in Britain, it was not possible to give it protected status. I can't remember the details but I am sure if you are interested you could find it.
I think the parallel with lawyers and doctors is interesting to draw as both of those professions have the ability to have negligent practitioners 'struck off the register'. This by corrollary means that if you are not on the register, you can't practice. I would be quite happy with a similar arrangement for engineers but while the profession is by and large self regulated we are stuck with the differing practices in different sectors. Rail, as Roy says, is very well self regulated with engineers needing to demonstrate competence and having accountability and I worked with a similar regime in the marine industry which again was self regulated (though somewhat more complicated due to the international nature of the business) but each sector regulates itself in a different manner. I don't know how well the building industry is regulated but from news stories arising from the Grenfell fire the answer would appear to be that it varies from location to location.
I don't think that getting more people within the industry to push for licencing is really the answer. What we need is a public perception outside the industry that such a move is necessary. This will then give the political impetus to push for the change.
Have a read of this http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/30944/la_id/1.htm as it gives a more objective analysis and the regulators viewpoint. But you are correct, this clause is widely abused and the regulator wants it struck from the act.
Yes Roy I am !! Happy new year to you. I have heard that retort before: That the boat has sailed? What does that mean exactly? Especially in this modern world
Was that possibly the 'Gravy boat' i.e the slower and larger capacity variant to the 'Gravy train'?
All the time the boat is in port, you can discuss all the wonderful things you will be able to do if you reach the promised land. Once the boat has sailed, any further discussion becomes pointless. You no longer have any way of getting there.
- To persuade the public that "engineer" was a specific profession, not just a catch-all word for people who fix things.
- To persuade the government that we even need a licencing scheme for engineers.
- To come up with a sufficiently robust definition of "engineer", and what things are and are not "engineering".
On 3, the government has a lousy track record of defining things properly in legislation. What's to stop employers simply re-naming their job titles from "engineer" to "designer" and claiming that what they do isn't covered by the legislation?
And, when push comes to shove, most of what's being discussed on these forums is primarily a scheme for increasing the salary and status of a small group of people who are members of specific institutions.
Actually I disagree with a connection between public perception and a drive for legal change - I would hope that any change in the law would be driven by a proven opportunity to improve safety by licensing rather than by a public perception that it would improve? (I think for example of the original dangerous dogs act, IMHO a daft piece of legislation that was driven by a false public perception of risk and risk management.)
My personal feeling is that, as Roy describes, there are already legal remedies - including, now, personal liability - against negligence on the part of both employers and employees which covers this issue: including the risk that employers employ incompetent engineers. The rail industry has been mentioned above, it is true that for certain defined implementation actions licensing is in place, but for the vast majority of change activities there are no licensing requirements, but there is clear legislation that safety cases must be in place which include demonstration of staff competence. So people like me go and look at the staff involved to make sure they are competent in their specific roles. Which we'd have to do even if they were licensed as a general purpose engineer.
I'm not against licensing in principle, and for defined processes (like rail signalling systems as mentioned, Gas Safe, Part P) where there are nice clear boundaries and competence requirements I think it's a very good idea. But I've never yet seen a quantified argument that it will support safety if it is applied as a generic process - however that's not to say such an argument doesn't exist!
I'd be very, very wary about drawing conclusions about Grenfell Tower until the public enquiry concludes, but there seems a strong possibility that the building regulations may have been followed to the letter, in which case the engineers involved in the tower design would have been acting perfectly competently (we don't know yet) - certainly if this was the case it would be hard to delicence a licenced engineer for following the statutory regulations! It is well worth reading the interim report on the building regulations review following the fire:
It's very interesting that this broadly recommends moving away from a regulations based approach to a risk-based approach (as we use in the rail industry). I've pasted the detail recommendations regarding competence below - note that the onus is passed to professional bodies!
The task of raising levels of competence and establishing formal accreditation of those engaged at every stage of design, construction, inspection and maintenance of complex and high-risk buildings can and should be led by those professional bodies which cover the sector. The system needs to be designed to ensure that competence is measured, is made transparent to those engaging the individuals and has a means of recourse in the event that work delivered is substandard. This is a challenge to the current less rigorous and disjointed approach to registration or certification which allows many individuals to practice with questionable qualifications or without a requirement for competence to be assessed and accredited.
Recommendation: There is a need to be certain that those working on the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of complex and high-risk buildings are suitably qualified. The professional and accreditation bodies have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are capable of establishing a robust, comprehensive and coherent system covering all disciplines for work on such buildings. If they are able to come together and develop a joined up system covering all levels of qualification in relevant disciplines, this will provide the framework for regulation to mandate the use of suitable, qualified professionals who can demonstrate that their skills are up to date. This should cover as a minimum:
• those installing and maintaining fire safety systems and other safety-critical systems;
• fire engineers;
• fire risk assessors;
• fire safety enforcing officers; and
• building control inspectors.
I would ask these bodies to work together now to propose such a system as soon as practicable.
I will launch this work at a summit in early 2018.
In response to the complex definition; this is an excerpt from the Canadian act: "“practice of professional engineering” means any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, or the managing of any such act; (“exercice de la profession d’ingénieur”).... Not overly complex but quite broad.
With regards to salary - Well that would be economics of supply and demand. Nothing unusual there.
In terms of importance, then take a look at the obligations above, the title comes with some professional liability.
But more importantly, this is not a push for increased salaries, this is a question on whether the engineering bodies should be adapting to the increased risks presented to the public from the complexities of engineering. We are starting to move into a very different world. Are we really prepared for that ? Is the public protected sufficiently?
I would suggest there is more to do.
Principes d’ingénierie : application professionnelle des principes des mathématiques, de la chimie, de la physique ou de toute matière appliquée connexe.
Engineering principles: the professional application of mathematical principles, chemistry, physics or any applied or related matters.
We are sort of drifting off topic. They key point here is that an ex- British dominion has successfully implemented a licensing scheme to full effect and has certainly maintained and raised standards of engineering. The result can be seen in the number of entries into the profession, how the public view the profession and I would say the number of women represented. For example Ottawa has a population of approx 1 million people, within that there are 8,500 licensed professional engineers. Don't quote me on this but I think of that 8,500, 17% are women. In 2016 it was 12.8% of 288,870 practising engineers in the entire country.
Re your last paragraph: Be careful that correlation does not necessarily imply causation...I'm not saying these factors aren't related, but it would need to be proven that they are.
Simon, no, but it does keep the inexperienced and untrained out of the profession who would normally be allowed to masquerade as engineers. But the corollary is that how many lives have been lost through non-registered engineers; the evidence of this being that many key UK employers are actually implementing their own 'back-door' licencing as a reaction to some significant failing in the profession. This may even become a more dangerous situation as we can have widely varying standards between employers.
I am not saying this is perfect by all means, but it is a system that works well and raises the standards of the profession.
Improvement of the environment - Yes this would be safeguarding the public so would be top of the agenda.
Economic gain - You have licenced individuals that have been assesed and legally mandated to follow an act of law and a code of ethics, they are certainly a marketable commodity around the world and I have bumped into licensed professionals in a number of countries. Could I quantify that economic benefit? No. I suspect that it would be just as difficult to quantify within the UK.
I don't think there can be much doubt that extension of the principle to engineering would produce similar benefits. Why should we be more ready to allow those who have not demonstrated their competence and professionalism to undertake safety or mission critical tasks in engineering than we are in medicine or law, when the impact is at least as wide sweeping?
People (on this forum and elsewhere) have been whingeing and moaning for many years about the lack of compulsory registration, and convinced nobody but themselves.
I do strongly agree with Simon's point that most people I have seen raise this issue do so in the belief that it will benefit them financially (by the way, personally I don't think it will, but I've explained that several times elsewhere so I'm not going to again now!), but I think Roy's post's are very clear that this is not the point from which he is arguing. Like SImon I get hugely frustrated when people say "I'm only raising it for the public good / the good of the profession" when actually they are after their own ends.
It is a very complex issue - for a start, what do we mean by "engineering"? - and certainly for myself I am not aware of anything like enough evidence to draw any conclusions yet.
One point I will throw in quickly before getting back to work: As a manager and assessor of safety critical projects for nigh on 25 years now I have never had a problem where engineers have misrepresented themselves which has led to a safety risk. I have had plenty of issues with engineers who have good evidence of competence making mistakes (I've done it myself), but that's why we have structures such as IEC 61508 and (in my field) EN 50126 to work in to guard against this - and, incidentally, to manage engineers' competence. So this is why I tend not to see it us our biggest problem. I'm much more concerned about unqualified managers - that's where I have seen engineering disasters most nearly occur! But. as I say, I'm always open to new evidence - the fact that I work in a highly safety-critical field may distort my view of the issue. (I'm aware that there is more to licensing than checking of qualifications, I just wanted to pick this one point for now.)
Hi Gareth, Are you by any chance the Gareth Wood that worked with me and years back? Your description of the Canadian issues is very interesting and I'm with you completely that all of the issues we've both mentioned are utterly tied up with the recognition - both publicly and at government level - of the engineer. The UK is appalling on this front being one of the only countries not to protect the title engineer, and constantly perceiving engineers as being tradesman level technicians, in contrast to those professions where the title is protected (solicitor, accountant, doctor etc.). However, from your description, I would say there's not a great deal of difference in principle between the Canadian licensed engineer and the UK C.Eng or I. Eng. There may be differences in the detailed criteria, but the principle appears similar. And, as a Professional Registration Interviewer, I know for certain that, among the criteria is the whole concept that you are fully responsible for your engineering judgement and decisions. One of the key areas of focus is to examine how you would deal with a situation where your employer or client did not accept your engineering judgement or decision - or whether you would allow employer or client pressure to persuade you to go against that judgement. The problem lies with that public and governmental perception, and the fact that the principles applied by the PEIs are not ensconced in law - if there is evidence that a Professionally Registered engineer had not been ethical, or had been negligent, the registration can and will be withdrawn. The problem is that has no meaning in law - it does not prevent you practicing, but I don't believe there are any people in the engineering community (or at least the PEI community) who don't believe that it should do. As you say, all apart from providing assurance of high quality, conscientious and ethical engineering, this failure of government and the public to recognise the true nature of a professional engineer, it robs the profession of its attraction to potential entrants into the profession. As for being able to be penalised legally for malpractice, whilst our law doesn't remove your right to practice, which it clearly should do, it does provide the ability to take action against an individual guilty of malpractice. It's a very clear situation for someone such as me who operates my own company providing engineering services to clients, my company (which I'm my case equals me, as sole director and employee) is liable for that, can be sued for negligence and has to carry Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance. However, there is also a clear legal principle that even an employee can be responsible both in civil law and criminally for negligence if they are employed as, and claim to be, the person who holds the greatest competence to ensure that what they do is carried out diligently, hence, as my client's Project Engineer, because I hold a higher level of knowledge and competence in my specialist field than my client (or the manager in my client organisation) I can definitely end up in the dock answering for my negligence. This would be equally true if I were an employee with greater competence/knowledge than my manager or other people in the employer organisation. My manager, or the employing organisation may end up there alongside me for failing to check my competence, etc. but I would be seen to be culpable by failing to use the engineering judgement I was specifically employed to provide. As Project Engineer, every time I sign to accept design or construction from a contractor, I am exposing myself to the risk of being prosecuted if I have been negligent in doing so. I do so willingly as that is what I consider comes with operating as a Chartered Engineer. What is less certain is whether the justice system or the Civil authorities invoke that law as often as they should, and that brings us back to government and the public not treating engineers in the same way as solicitors, doctors or accountants. So, I still don't believe that the engineering community itself, it in particular the PEIs can or need to introduce new ways to validate Professional Engineers or the way that they practice, what exists already provides the mechanism for that, the change that's required has to come from the public at large and in particular the government. Unfortunately, at the recent annual Fellows event at the IET, I specifically asked the question as to whether efforts were still being made to bring government round to the concept of a protected title which would carry all of the above with it, plus raise the perception of engineer status, and whether it was felt we might ever achieve that breakthrough, the answer I received was that that boat had left long ago, and that it was clear they were never going to be able to persuade government that this should be introduced in the UK. So it's a British Disease, and those who engage with government believe it's incurable.
A very complete response to a complex subject