Key Points:

Queensland engineers should check that anyone providing a professional engineering service is either registered, or being supervised by a registered engineer.

The Board of Professional Engineers Queensland has recently been very active in enforcing compliance with the Professional Engineers Act (Qld) 2002, particularly in respect of registration, provision of engineering services by unregistered interstate and overseas engineers, and supervision of unregistered engineers.

In this article we will consider the lessons to be drawn from these cases, affecting engineers both in private practice and those employed by a company or government department.

Providing services outside of an engineer's field of registration

One of the principal obligations under the Act is that engineers who are not registered in Queensland must not carry out professional engineering services (section 115), which are defined broadly as:

"an engineering service that requires, or is based on, the application of engineering principles and data to a design, or to a construction, production, operation and maintenance activity, relating to engineering and does not include an engineering service that is provided only in accordance with a prescriptive standard".

In addition, registered professional engineers (an RPEQ) are only to provide such services in their relevant fields of registration such as civil, mechanical, structural etc.

In April this year, following an investigation by the Board, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal disciplined a registered civil engineer who had approved and certified a design for a structure for a university research facility (Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland v Moodie [2015] QCAT 127).

The engineer had simply relied upon the structural drawings prepared by an employee, although neither had the appropriate structural engineering registration. The design had a number of defects relating to incorrect calculations and did not comply with the relevant Australian standard and the Building Code of Australia. A fine of $5,000 was imposed as well as a costs order which amounted to $15,000.

Interstate engineers not registered in Queensland

The Board has also expressed its position that engineers who provide professional engineering services outside of Queensland for Queensland projects must be registered under the Act. The Board's view is also supported by the Code of Practice for Registered Professional Engineers in Queensland which at paragraph 2.2 says:

"If professional engineering services are performed at another office, a temporary office or interstate or overseas, or by an unsupervised person, the registered professional engineer at the Place [Queensland] must accept responsibility for the professional engineering services performed."

Importantly, last year the Act was amended to include a new section 6A to confirm the purported extra-territorial application of the Act.

Another recent case illustrates the crackdown on the provision of services by unregistered interstate engineers (The Board Of Professional Engineers of Queensland v C and H).

Two engineers from NSW prepared a fire engineering report for a property development located in Queensland and this report was provided to the builder of that development. Neither the engineer who prepared the report nor the engineer who supervised and reviewed the report were registered in Queensland (ie. were RPEQs). Furthermore, neither physically attended the building site. It is also noteworthy that both engineers were highly qualified and no safety issues were expressed regarding the report.

Nonetheless, the engineers pleaded guilty to contravening section 115 of the Act by carrying out professional engineering services when unregistered, and fines and costs orders were imposed on both by the Magistrate.

A case is yet to be run regarding the provision of professional engineering services by an unregistered foreign engineer, but it is clear that the Board views this as requiring registration pursuant to the Act.

Proper supervision of an unregistered person

Notwithstanding the above prohibitions, an unregistered person may carry out professional engineering services where they are properly supervised by an RPEQ (or pursuant to a prescribed standard).

The Board has issued a practice note which sets out the elements of proper supervision:

  • the supervision must be direct;
  • the supervising RPEQ must direct the person in carrying out the service;
  • the supervising RPEQ must oversee the carrying out of the service by the person;
  • the supervising RPEQ must evaluate the carrying out of the service by the person; and
  • the supervising RPEQ must take full professional responsibility for the service.

Some guidance as to the supervision requirements has been provided by a recent case in which an unregistered person working in Queensland was engaged to design a slab and footing system and first floor beam and framing system for a residential property in Brisbane. The supervising RPEQ was based in Victoria.

While it is clear that supervision can be done remotely, providing there is sufficient communication between the supervising RPEQ and the unregistered person, the only evidence of supervision in this case was an email certification and provision of the design drawings for the RPEQ to review. There was no clear evidence of regular communications between the pair and the Magistrate found this suggested there was no direct supervision. A fine of $5,000 and a costs order for $25,000 were imposed.

Key questions for engineers

The regulatory issues raised above are relevant to engineers in private practice as well as those carrying out professional engineering services while employed by a company or government department where those services relate to Queensland projects.

The important questions that need to be asked are:

  • Is the service being provided a professional engineering service under the Act?
  • If so, is the person carrying out those services an RPEQ or, alternatively, are they being supervised by an RPEQ?