NZ engineers fined over flawed building designs

Concerns about the buildings were first brought to Engineering New Zealand’s attention in 2015. At the time, Engineering New Zealand notified the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) as the regulatory authority. A review commissioned by MBIE and Masterton Trust Lands Trust – which owns the buildings – found structural deficiencies in the six buildings. Engineering New Zealand also commissioned an inquiry to determine whether any engineers involved met grounds for disciplinary action. A disciplinary committee investigated the cases.

Engineer Kevin O’Connor has been censured and fined, for negligence relating to his involvement in signing PS1 producer statements for five Masterton buildings found to be inadequate. PS1s indicate to building consenting authorities that certain design work complies with the Building Code and other relevant standards.

Another engineer has been fined for his involvement in signing off a sixth design which was also found to be inadequate.

The disciplinary committee found O’Connor’s review of the designs before signing PS1s were high-level and often relied on reviews carried out by other engineers. The committee said there was no evidence Mr O’Connor was justified in signing the PS1s and was concerned there was a “pattern of behaviour over a sustained period”.

In an agreed statement of facts, O’Connor accepted the designs were inadequate and not in accordance with the standards reasonably expected of a chartered professional engineer.

The release of the disciplinary committee’s decisions has concluded the inquiry. Engineering New Zealand Chief Executive Richard Templer said: “This inquiry was involved and complex, requiring six investigating committee reports, expert advice and two final disciplinary committee decisions.”

Disciplinary decisions about chartered professional engineers are made by independent Disciplinary Committees comprising three senior engineers, a lawyer, and a consumer representative, following formal investigations.

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Engineering New Zealand’s disciplinary committee has now ordered O’Connor be censured and pay a fine and costs totalling NZ$38,500 (plus goods and service tax). Although their decisions were made in June, O’Connor’s name was suppressed while court proceedings resolved.

The disciplinary committee said the engineer responsible for the sixth design also “performed engineering services in a negligent manner”. However, the matter appeared to be an isolated incident. The engineer was ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling $8,500 (plus GST).

Templer said: “Engineers are central in the design of buildings. Now that the Masterton cases have closed, we are working with the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand and others on a report identifying the main causes of structurally deficient buildings. This report will inform the profession of causes and make recommendations for quality improvements using the findings from our inquiry.”

Engineering New Zealand is also making changes to its accreditation scheme for chartered professional engineers, including stronger assessment criteria and discipline-specific assessment for high-risk sub-disciplines such as structural engineering.

Templer said: “The Masterton buildings weren’t up to scratch and failures such as those observed in these buildings are unacceptable.

“Engineering New Zealand needs to do what it can to make sure engineers take all necessary steps to provide buildings and structures that are fit for purpose.”

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