In July 2023, the NSW Government published an Engineering Practice Standard1 draft (EPS), to accompany the Design Building Practitioners Act.
The introduction of the DBPA has triggered a significant transformation in the industry. The EPS is poised to amplify this impact by providing guidelines and standards for Professional Engineers to navigate the delivery of building projects and foster collaborations more effectively, driving the impact even further.
XK’s Founder and Managing Director, Feris Chehade, is an active member of the industry working group established by the Office of the Building Commissioner, who collectively developed this proposed EPS. Its aim is to provide a clear and enforceable standard of what is expected and required of Professional Engineers under the DBPA.
While there is a broad spectrum of quality across the industry, the comprehensive framework will serve the community well with a series of key changes that are set to shape the way engineers approach their work, including ‘fit-for-purpose’ designs, their role during construction phase, and third-party reviews, ensuring a balance between stakeholders’ expectations, professional responsibilities, and legal complexities.
Fit for Purpose
“Designs that are not fit for purpose pose a significant risk to the integrity of a build and often are a key contributor to poor building outcomes… Surveys found that ‘fit for purpose’ was ranked as the most important attribute to the quality of the design2“
For years, engineers and architects have shown reluctance towards contractual clauses involving fit for purpose, primarily due to:
- Undefined or not clearly defined purposes that are too subjective in their interpretation.
- Contractual obligations that extend beyond engineering and architectural design or the defined scope of services
Similarly, insurers have shown resistance to fit for purpose obligations. They have either entirely excluded such clauses from their Professional Indemnity policies or imposed substantial premiums for their inclusion.
As consumers and asset owners, we naturally seek assurance that the products and services we invest in align with their intended functions. Likewise, it’s hard to dispute that designs and advice offered for delivering residential buildings, workplaces, schools, hospitals, or any other spaces shouldn’t adhere to a fit for purpose concept.
Currently, Australian Consumer Law explicitly exempts qualified architects and engineers’ professional services from Fit-for-Purpose Consumer Guarantees. Instead, these professionals are held to a standard to deliver services with due care and skill.
The EPS proposes to now broaden this obligation to Professional Engineers with a focus on “addressing the suitability of a design and not the suitability of the built product2”. Its requirements3 for defining “Fit for Purpose” and requirement for contracts to include a Statement of Purpose appears to be both logical and reasonable. The ‘purpose’ must be explicitly stated and relevant to the services that are being provided.
However, the EPS does recognise that this requirement will increase the cost of professional indemnity insurance for Professional Engineers: “Estimates received placed the expected increase at 10 percent on premiums for professional indemnity insurance as a result of introducing a fit for purpose obligation for design work4.”
In recent years, the construction industry has faced a tighter PI insurance market and a significant increase in insurance premiums. Understanding that fit for purpose obligations are going to add to this financial strain is a considerable consideration for the industry, with many already voicing their concerns about further increases to premiums leading to feasibility challenges for firms. These cost increases will lead to pricing adjustment across the industry and adds to the importance of engineers focusing on innovation, efficiency and waste reduction.
Professional Engineers in Construction Phase
The proposed EPS aims to restore the important role of engineers during the construction phase. It urges engineers to exercise their authority and influence, ensuring that designs are accurately translated into built structures during critical stages of construction.
The EPS mandates on-site inspections to be carried out by registered Professional Engineers. Furthermore, engineers must ensure their designs and specifications allow for sufficient on-site inspections, including identifying where and when work must not proceed until on-site inspections are carried out.
The EPS outlines minimum expectations of Professional Engineers carrying out site inspections and producing reports. While this might seem redundant for those already applying these practices, it may be necessary for achieving consistency across the industry.
However, the first iteration of the EPS appears to lack a framework for setting the frequency and/or minimum inspections required by a Professional Engineer. While a prescriptive approach may not be appropriate, setting a benchmark can only benefit outcomes.
By bridging the gap between conceptualisation and realisation with sufficient site inspections, engineers ensure that potential issues are caught early, mitigating risks and fostering a seamless translation of design into accurate construction.
Coming back to Fit for Purpose, one of the proposed requirements is that “the Professional Engineer should provide guidance to the Building Practitioner, where appropriate, on how to implement the professional engineering work5”.
It goes on to outline the expectation that “Professional Engineers should take reasonable steps to proactively seek to provide this support, rather than waiting to be asked by the Building Practitioner5”.
What does it mean to be proactive as a Professional Engineer in this context and within the constraints of the engagement?
One example may be establishing a project-specific schedule covering all on-site inspection and contractor QA submission required prior to commencing construction works. Right from the start, the Professional Engineer makes it clear to the Building Practitioner which inspections and QA documentation will be required and when.
Other examples may include:
- Inspections of exposed as-built structural elements post casting
- Regular site meetings (in addition to scheduled inspections) during construction
- Rigorous defect rectification management and close out processes.
While the DBPA already requires engineers to stand by their designs, the duty of certifying construction rests with the Building Practitioner. This creates a crucial juncture. This is where the Practice Standard for Professional Engineers has the potential to be the catalyst for change, advocating for a more proactive approach.
Independent Third-Party Reviews for Quality Assurance
Independent third party reviews strengthens quality assurance. They offer an objective lens to engineers’ work, enhancing credibility and accountability. It serves as a quality control measure that promotes compliance and accuracy, reinforcing engineers’ commitment to delivering reliable and robust engineering outcomes.
The EPS mandates that the nominated reviewer must be a registered Professional Engineer and outlines a framework for how the reviewing Professional Engineer should carry out this work, in a similar manner to ACSE’s Practice Note for Structural Peer Reviews6.
Importantly, the EPS maintains a clear focus on the primary purpose of the review: assessing whether the work (designs, reports, calculations and documentation) meets the NCC requirements. This process is intended for compliance, not value engineering.
The first iteration of the EPS does not make independent third party reviews mandatory, positioning it only as “best practice”. It does reinforce the certifier’s authority to request reviews as deemed appropriate, however we believe a framework should be in place to specify when third party reviews should be mandatory.
Towards a Transformed Engineering Landscape
In this evolving landscape, the New Proposed Practice Standard for Professional Engineers is guiding us toward a future where fit for purpose designs are non negotiable and where site inspections are not just routine checks, but strategic interventions that embody excellence and accountability. By embracing these changes, engineers position themselves to elevate the practice of engineering, combining creativity, safety, and legal compliance in every project we undertake.