Engage The Right Expert
Make sure your engineer has the expertise to be doing the work - before you engage them, writes Mason Reed.
30 November 2020
It is important, when using professional engineering services, that you understand that engineers typically have expertise in only certain types of engineering work.
If you are involved in undertaking land and building developments, you may need the services of several different types of engineers, namely: structural, geotechnical, civil, environmental or fire engineers. Interestingly, all of the various types of engineers likely obtained the same bachelor degree in engineering from university. Generally, it is not until you graduate that you choose a specialist field of engineering and gain your experience (and competence) in that specialised field.
You can obtain recognition as being competent in a certain field of engineering by becoming a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng). In order to obtain CPEng status, engineers need to have gained a sufficient amount of experience and should be able to demonstrate, among other things, that they can undertake “complex engineering” activities relevant to their specialised field of engineering. The existing system is currently being reviewed by Engineering NZ, as it is recognised that the current system is confusing and is not clear to stakeholders (the public and councils) which engineers are “competent” to undertake which type of work.
It is my opinion that this is critically important, as we do not want engineers undertaking work that they do not have the expertise to undertake. This was made clear by the Royal Commission into the collapse of the CTV building, following the Canterbury earthquakes. One of their recommendations was that engineers should operate only within their areas of expertise.
‘If you take advice on engineering matters from an engineer who is not appropriately qualified and experienced in that particular field of engineering, then you do so at your own risk’
What Is A Geotechnical Engineer?
My speciality is geotechnical engineering. Prior to the Canterbury earthquakes, very few people had heard of geotechnical engineers, let alone understood exactly what we do. In a nutshell, geotechnical engineers, with regards to building and land developments, undertake investigations to identify the specific geotechnical hazards that may affect the subject site and provide recommendations to mitigate the effects of any such hazards, for foundation design purposes.
Geotechnical hazards may include: ground movement associated with slope instability; highly compressible soils; and variable non-engineered fill or soils susceptible to swell/shrinkage. Typically, the foundation designer (normally a structural engineer) will design the building foundations based on the recommendations provided by the geotechnical engineer. Geotechnical engineers are also involved in the design of roads, bridges, landfills, dams and other infrastructure. However, these types of projects are typically not of interest to residential and commercial building investors.
Geotechnical engineering is a highly specialised form of engineering that deals with foundation design for buildings. If the engineer gets it wrong, remediation of mistakes can be very expensive. When seeking geotechnical consultancy services, you should satisfy yourself that the engineer is appropriately qualified and experienced.
The Chartered Professional Engineer register on the Engineering NZ website can confirm whether an engineer is chartered and in which field. You should also check the engineer’s credentials. Typically, Chartered Engineers will indicate their particular field of expertise in their post-nominals, for example, CPEng (Geotechnical).
If you take advice on engineering matters from an engineer who is not appropriately qualified and experienced in that particular field of engineering, then you do so at your own risk. For example, you wouldn’t want your house to be wired by the plumber, so why would you want your house foundations to be designed by someone who is relying on geotechnical parameters provided by a “non-geotechnical” professional?