CTV and ethics


When I started this job in Feb 2015, I was very aware of dam­age to en­gi­neers’ rep­u­ta­tion wrought by the CTV Build­ing tragedy. I knew that some mem­bers were un­happy with the way it had played out in the pub­lic do­main and felt en­gi­neers’ pro­fes­sion­al­ism had been tar­nished. But I also knew that this tragedy could be a cat­a­lyst for change and a re­newed fo­cus on what it means to be pro­fes­sional. And I knew our Gov­ern­ing Board was se­ri­ous about rais­ing the bar for en­gi­neers.

En­gi­neer­ing New Zealand to­day is a very dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion from the IPENZ that re­sponded to the Can­ter­bury earth­quake se­quence. The changes we’ve made re­flect our mem­bers’ de­sire for us to stand up more strongly for pro­fes­sion­al­ism and stan­dards. Our cred­i­bil­ity de­pends on this. Over the past few years our mem­bers have elected Board mem­bers who, over the past three years, have guided a mas­sive process of change. At the heart of all our change is a new fo­cus on what it means to be pro­fes­sional.

One of the rea­sons this role in­ter­ested me is that as a lawyer, I am a pro­fes­sional. I un­der­stand what that means. For me it is about hav­ing an in­ter­nal com­pass to cal­i­brate my be­hav­iour. It’s that sense of know­ing in my gut that I’m do­ing the right thing, even when it’s hard – and equally that sense of un­ease when I do or see some­thing out of kil­ter. But no one’s sense of pro­fes­sion­al­ism is ab­so­lute. We mea­sure it ex­plic­itly and im­plic­itly against those around us – against what oth­ers are ap­plauded for and what they get away with. Strong personalities or cul­tures can in­flu­ence in­di­vid­u­als if they don’t have a clear stan­dard by which to mea­sure them­selves.

One of the roles of a pro­fes­sional body is to set those stan­dards – and to make sure ev­ery­one knows what they are. And to re­spond ap­pro­pri­ately when those stan­dards are not met. That’s why reg­u­la­tion – whether self-reg­u­la­tion or govern­ment reg­u­la­tion – is al­ways evolv­ing. As we re­spond to events, we learn. We see how, ret­ro­spec­tively, reg­u­la­tion might have pre­vented them. In a healthy sys­tem, our learn­ing in­forms reg­u­la­tory change.

Since the CTV Build­ing tragedy, we’ve done a huge amount of re­flec­tion about what hap­pened. There were en­gi­neer­ing fail­ures. The re­port pro­duced by Beca as part of the Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion makes that clear, as did the Royal Com­mis­sion. And we also know that the pub­lic hasn’t seen en­gi­neers be­ing held to ac­count. We ran a com­plaints process against David Hard­ing, the en­gi­neer who de­signed the build­ing, that

found he had breached what was then our Code of Ethics. But, in the mean­time, Mr Hard­ing re­signed his mem­ber­ship, which meant we had no power to make any orders against him. His em­ployer, Alan Reay, re­signed his mem­ber­ship be­fore a com­plaints process against him was com­plete, which meant that process was stopped.

We have closed the loop­hole that let mem­bers re­sign to avoid a com­plaints process. And in 2016, we re­leased a new Code of Eth­i­cal Con­duct that in­cludes new obli­ga­tions for mem­bers. En­gi­neers have a new obli­ga­tion to re­port po­ten­tial ad­verse con­se­quences for peo­ple’s health and safety and for the en­vi­ron­ment. This means that they must take ac­tion if they ob­serve some­thing of con­cern. For ex­am­ple, they see po­ten­tial de­sign flaws in a build­ing un­der con­struc­tion, or poor con­struc­tion prac­tices that threaten health and safety. And if an en­gi­neer sus­pects another en­gi­neer has sig­nif­i­cantly breached the Code, they must re­port this too.

The new Code makes ex­pec­ta­tions of en­gi­neers’ be­hav­iour more ex­plicit. The Code sets out en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion­als’ duty to the pub­lic and to each other. It puts obli­ga­tions on en­gi­neers that are above com­mon law – obli­ga­tions that are at the heart of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. It makes ex­plicit en­gi­neers’ obli­ga­tion to keep their knowl­edge and skills up to date, and to treat oth­ers with re­spect and cour­tesy.

This year, we take another step, in­tro­duc­ing a for­mal an­nual com­mit­ment to ethics and learn­ing for all our mem­bers. Mem­bers will pledge to up­hold the Code of Eth­i­cal Con­duct and they will at­test to hav­ing done 40 hours of con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment in the pre­vi­ous year. This is a big change for us and it re­flects mem­bers’ de­sire for us to raise the bar of what it means to be pro­fes­sional. Our mem­bers sup­port these changes be­cause they take their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously, and want to be ac­count­able to these stan­dards.

We have strength­ened the Char­tered Pro­fes­sional En­gi­neer assess­ment process for struc­tural en­gi­neers. This in­cludes up­dat­ing the tech­ni­cal guide­lines that we as­sess en­gi­neers against, and more tar­geted and spe­cific assess­ment of struc­tural en­gi­neers.

We con­tinue to look at the broader reg­u­la­tory pic­ture and how it needs to change. We think there is room to tighten reg­u­la­tion of work that in­ti­mately af­fects peo­ple’s health and safety. En­gi­neer­ing New Zealand is ac­tively lob­by­ing for task- based li­cenc­ing of en­gi­neers for safety- crit­i­cal work. This means re­strict­ing safe­ty­crit­i­cal de­sign to en­gi­neers specif­i­cally li­censed to do this work. We’d like to see this ex­tend to other types of safety- crit­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing such as fire, geotech­ni­cal and food- process en­gi­neer­ing as well as struc­tural en­gi­neer­ing.

Our new mem­ber­ship struc­ture, which came into force on 1 Oc­to­ber 2017, is de­signed to work with this kind of oc­cu­pa­tional reg­u­la­tion. It pro­vides a clear path­way that caters for ev­ery stage of an en­gi­neer’s work­ing life.

Some of you will read this and think “so what?” You’ll be fo­cused on ac­count­abil­ity for the CTV Build­ing tragedy. Ev­ery day we are con­scious of the grief and suf­fer­ing that tragedy caused, and noth­ing we can do will ame­lio­rate that. We work in that shadow. To­day, from where I sit, the best thing we as a pro­fes­sional body can do to hon­our what we have learned is to pull ev­ery lever we have to stop it hap­pen­ing again. None of us are happy with how the ac­count­abil­ity pro­cesses played out. But we can’t turn back time. We can only make sure our pro­cesses are strong and just, that we con­tinue to lobby for more tar­geted govern­ment reg­u­la­tion of safety- crit­i­cal work, and that our mem­bers work from a high bar of pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

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