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Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

Short Version:
- Current PE designated as "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for our company wants me designated instead.
- What do I need to know/look into
- Does this change my liability
- Should this change my level of authority
- Should this warrant compensation

A bit more background:
I work for a small company that offers engineering services in South Carolina. I am comfortable with the technical side of engineering and management, but have had very little experience when it comes to legal issues and liability. The state engineering board requires that a company designate an "Engineer in Responsible Charge" in order to obtain and keep a "Certificate of Authorization" (COA) to practice/offer engineering services in the state. Our company's PE, who has been designated as the "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for 15+ yrs, has been seeking to have his name removed from the COA for a few years now. We don't typically work with industries that require PE stamping and there are not many PE's in the company.

Although our current PE is listed as the "Engineer in Responsible Charge" on the COA, his true position in the company puts him pretty far away from any actual engineering work. The work and reviews are carried out by non-PE's, who are all competent and experienced in their fields. I recently obtained my PE license and am being told to put my name on the COA in place of our current PE. I believe it may be because he wants to limit his liability/exposure. I just want to make sure I have my ducks in a row before signing up for anything. I will say I'm closer to the most of the engineering that comes out of the office, but I may not be involved in everything the company does.

Here are my questions:
- What do I need know before signing up as the "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a company?

- What does that title really mean in the eyes of the state engineering board and practically speaking? I'm thinking a large company (a GE, Boeing, etc.) would also have to list a single PE to obtain a COA. That PE certainly wouldn't be expected to review and approve all of the work that company performs would they?

- How does this change my personal responsibility or liability? i.e. Am I now responsible for everything the company does that could be considered engineering?

- We employ engineers from several disciplines (computer, electrical, mechanical, etc). Does the "Engineer is Responsible Charge" inherently take ownership of all engineering?

- I am in a position to oversee and direct engineering reviews within my own division of the company. Do I now need to have oversight into anything that could be considered engineering within the company?

- What defines engineering services legally? We have never worked on a project that required a PE stamp. Most of our work is electro-mechanical design and does not touch the public. When do you cross the line into "Engineering"?

- If the company is sued, am I also likely to get sued for having my name listed as the "Engineer in Responsible Charge" on the COA?

- Should I consider this an increase in responsibility and seek appropriate compensation? Anyone have experience with this scenario?

- Do I need to request a certain level of authority in order to perform the duties of "Engineer in Responsible Charge"? I am not too keen on signing up for liability without having the power to make sure things are done in a way that won't come back to bite me.

Thanks for reading the novel. Your insights are appreciated.

RE: Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

Sounds to me like you work for a bunch of guys who want to play the game both ways and duck the responsibility that goes with it. They can't have it both ways. I am sure that it isn't necessarily the same in the U.S. as it is in Canada, but certainly it ought to be similar to the following extent.

Up here, you either engage in the practice of engineering, or you don't. If you don't, then you don't need the professional licensure. If you do, you do. What it comes down to is this:

(1) Not doing engineering + not having engineering licensure = no problem.
(2) Not doing engineering + having engineering licensure = no problem.
(3) Doing engineering + having engineering licensure = no problem.
(4) Doing engineering + not having engineering licensure = problem.

As I see it, the company you work for either does engineering - if only on occasion - or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there is no need for a PE as an "Engineer In Responsible Charge". If it does, then there is. If the guy who has been that EIRC now no longer wants to be, for whatever reason, including if he just feels like he's too far removed from the technical elements of the work, but they still want *someone* (i.e. *you*) to be, then that suggests to me they still want to be able, as and when required, to do engineering. However, now *you* are in a much more accountable and risky position, not your predecessor. In answer to your questions, I'm not sure exactly how the laws differ down there, but here in Canada, your accountability as a professional for anything bad that happens can be significant and, if push came to shove, it would be more difficult to shield yourself from personal and professional liability under the umbrella of any presumed vicarious liability that one might otherwise expect "The Company" to bear solely.

In Canada, each Provincial jurisdiction has its own self-regulated Association that attempts (usually somewhat poorly) to define what "engineering" is. Presumably, then, so does your State Board. You have already probably concluded that your State Board is in the best position to define more precisely what they believe "engineering" is. Your company's activities either fit that, or they don't.

In my view, you are asking all the right questions and doing all the right things. You absolutely should seek additional compensation if you sign on for this deal, up to and including enough ownership or partnership in the company that you would indeed have authority (though not necessarily sole or majority control) and influence. I wouldn't sign a darn thing until you have legal certainty of the forthcoming of both (compensation + authority over engineering).

I see so many red flags with this I would tread carefully and play out all the outcomes in your mind before signing anything.

RE: Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

Unfortunately South Carolina uses the broad brush approach to defining "Engineer in Responsible Charge". I understand their intent; however, "Engineer in Responsible Charge" is moreso a services or project specific responsibility, not a corporate responsibility except as SC defines it. In my primary licensing state, an "Engineer as Officer" is the qualifying agent for the Certificate of Authorization to practice engineering for the company; however, under that banner, any licensed engineer working for the company can become the "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a project and must take the responsibility for the engineering done on that project.

This opens you to full liability exposure both personally and corporately. You must now decide what is an engineering service that requires a licensed professional engineer's involvement and require that a competent staff be assigned to the engineering services. Under SC law, you would be expected to have your hands in all engineering decisions for your company....an impossible task if you have any level of work beyond what a single person can do.

Make sure your company has full professional liability insurance and that you are specifically a "named insured" on the policy.

RE: Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

I would like to add to Ron's comment. Make sure the company's insurance is adequate to cover the risk of the projects your company performs. Also make sure that the insurance has a "tail". This means that you are covered even if the insurance is later canceled or the company goes out of business.

Every engineer who assumes "Engineer od Record" for a project better have an indemnify, defend and hold blameless agreement with their employer and make sure adequate insurance is in place.

RE: Assuming Role of "Engineer in Responsible Charge" for a Company

This sentence would other me. That is, if any of it involves the typical requirements such as may involve safety, etc.

The work and reviews are carried out by non-PE's, who are all competent and experienced in their fields.

Does any work require a PE signature and seal?

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