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Peer Review

Peer Review

Peer Review

I am curious if any of you have requested a "peer review" or performed one for someone else. I don't mean that you have reviewed someone elses work in the course of your job, such as a subordinate or subcontractor's work or shop drawings.  I mean that you actually requested a peer review of your work from a PE outside of your organization for the sole purpose of recieving their professional opinion.  The alternative case that you were requested to give a peer review of someone else's work is also of interest.

I am wondering if you would share the circumstances with us, briefly?  Did you ask for the review because the problem was unusual for your field?  Did you think the process was useful?  Would you use it again? Was the effort worth the expense (or fee)?  Were you concerned about liability?  Under what circumstances would you decline to perform a peer review?  

My only reason for asking it to generate an interesting discussion I haven't seen here yet.

RE: Peer Review

I personally, and this is just one persons opinion, do not believe in peer reviews. I feel reviews should be left up to the "higher-ups". "Subordinates should not review subordinates" for the simple fact that one confrontational moment could be carried into the reviewing process by a "grudge" holder. I've seen this up close and personal. Although my "grudge" holder scored me very low, I still came out "smelling like a rose" because of my work repertoire with the rest of our group. Another factor is the review process itself. All but the reviewed individual get together and come up with a score. Then "John-Does" buddy tells him everything that was said in this "confidential" meeting and the "bashing" begins. This is not supposed to happen in a "Perfect World" scenario, but face it, we are human beings with real world friendships. I have never worked a job where I could "tolerate" everyone that I worked along side of. Grant it I could work with them, but thats what we are paid for. Outside of that some individuals just have a way of getting "under your skin". All of this said, I'll reiterate my first statement " I personaly don't believe in peer reviews."

Roy Gariepy
Maintenance and Reliability Dept.
Bayer Corporation  Dorlastan Fibers Div.
Goose Creek, South Carolina  USA

RE: Peer Review


Sorry for the confusion, but the INTENT of my question was not performance reviews, but peer review of ones work product.  An outside evaluation or checking of a particular work project, for the purpose of either checking for design concept errors or major theory blunders.  I should have been a little clearer.  

RE: Peer Review

In the northeast US, it is required for certain size buildings to have a peer review performed. This is an independent design check hired directly by the owner, and is quite common here.

For the most part, these reviews pick up minor items that were overlooked on the Construction Documents. Sometimes you can get into trouble if you're design approaches differ from the reviewer's.  I wouldn't woory so much about the reviewer beign spiteful...what comes around goes around, and most engineer's are aware of this.

I've also done informal peer reviews on aspects of certain projects (if I felt unsure of the design). I have friends in the business that will do this on an hourly basis, and is usually a couple of hours at a time. Again, pick someone with similar design philosphies.

I wouldn't get involved with peer reviews if you weren't comfortable with the design.  For example, if the project is a 40'x40' bay two-way concrete slab with partial truck loading, and your normal designs are wood-framed homes, then I would shy away.  Also, these reviews do take time, so if the project is large and it detracts from your steady-paying jobs, then I would decline.

If nothing else, its always good to have another set of eyes look over the project.

RE: Peer Review

Ooops, my mistake.That goes to prove the saying "The english language is one of the most difficult to learn because of the multiple meanings of certain words and phrases."

Roy Gariepy
Maintenance and Reliability Dept.
Bayer Corporation  Dorlastan Fibers Div.
Goose Creek, South Carolina  USA

RE: Peer Review

I work in the nuclear industry in the UK and we sometimes use independent technical assessors to increase confidence in the adequacy of the final design. Basically it allows us to say that we have used diverse calculation methods to substantiate the design.

The reasons we do it are numerous: not enough in-house people available to do normal checking, lack of in-house experience, a desire to ensure that the design intent meets the specified requirements (for safety and operational performance) throughout the design life.

Liability should always remain with the organisation contracting the work, although I think the situation where someone did 'informal' peer review is a slippery slope.

If you cannot guarantee that the person/organisation has the time to devote to the review then I would not use them. Consequently I think the only time you could refuse to carry out (or endorse) a review is if you were not competent in the area required or if you were pressurised over time or your conclusions.

RE: Peer Review

per reviews is the norm in south florida for high rise buildings. the city will retain an independent consulting firm to do the review for them befor approving Permits.


RE: Peer Review

I was called in to review the work of a design firm after they had been charged and convicted of negligence.  The authorities wanted an independent assessment of all projects done by the offending firm during its period of negligence.  

Sometimes I wonder if I am fearless or just plain stoopid.

I got the engineer on his feet again, and helped to save the company's reputation.  In my professional career it was one of the finest things I ever did.  

He has since left the firm.  Unfortunately the firm did not appreciate my efforts.  They would not admit they played a major role in creating an environment for sloppy work.  

RE: Peer Review


Without naming names or getting too specific, perhaps you could tell us what problems you found and how you recommended they be fixed. Maybe we could all learn from something from your experiance?

RE: Peer Review

My pleasure.

It will take a moment to gather my thoughts, then 'll post a reply.

RE: Peer Review

The owners were professional people, but not engineers.  The engineer was an employee.  This distinction is important to note.  The engineer was told what to do and when to do it.  She had to serve more than one master.  As a result, she was under some major stress, with an unmanageable work load.  

No one - and I mean no one - understands what it truly means to be an engineer until she has put her own engineering seal on a document knowing she will be held fully and personally accountable for what her document says.  So because the owners could not understand the engineer's position, they did not respect her position.  Her judgement was frequently over-ruled.  Her character was one of passivity and not aggression.  A great gal to work with, but a push-over when hard-nosed decisions had to be made.  Maybe a little too young.  Maybe not enough experience.  Not well organized.  Not well focussed.

One of her designs failed.

The disciplinary action took several years to conclude.  During this time her health declined.  Experts had to be hired for testimony.  Lawyers were summoned.  The owners distanced themselves from the engineer.  A verdict of guilty was pronounced.  Then the civil suit began.  In an attempt to elevate his own status, a local engineer spread word of the company's shame, making sure to include my name.

The recommendations read something like this:

1. Get copies of all legal documents pertaining to the regulation of the engineering profession.  Read them regularly and make sure you understand them clearly.

2. Get copies of all the latest codes pertaining to the work being done.  Make sure you understand them.

3. Be sure to have suffient texts to support your practice.  Your library can never be too big.  Add to it regularly and keep it up to date.

4. Have all designs reviewed by another party.

5. Prepare written design guidelines & procedures.  Make a list of all things which must be shown on a drawing.  Pin it to the wall.

6. Never allow a schedule to dictate substandard work.

7. Never think there are only 7 rules.

It was my greatest pleasure to see the engineer get herself turned around.  The learning experience went both ways.  Later, she helped me get through some tough times.  I too benefitted immensely from the experience.  Today there is no engineer I would trust more than her.

RE: Peer Review


     What you say about the Englilsh language is true but consider Chinese and Vietnamese where the word "ma" has six different meanings in one language and five in the other depending on how it is pronounced (short and quick, long and drug out, rising inflection, falling inflection etc.)  About four of thes meaning are common to both languages  It can mean horse, ghost, graveyard, young rice plant and other stuff I can't remember.

     I had a Chinese roommate one summer in summer school and he said that he grew up speaking Chinese to refugees that his parents would sponsor in their hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi but after one year of college he had lost the inflection to the point that the new refugees would laugh at his pronunciation.

     English is tricky but thanks to lots of foreign words in the mix it has a lot more expressive ways of saying things than some languages that are more "pure" ie isolated from outside influences for the last thousand years.

Dave Adkins

RE: Peer Review


Thanks for sharing the story and the recommendations.  After such a rocky start and then to end up as a mentor shows how, with a little attention to detail things can be turned around.  Failures are certainly a hard and costly way to learn, but the lessons are never forgotten.  Someone once told me that contract provisions are written based more on trying to avoid past mistakes then on tring to get the present job done.


RE: Peer Review


So what happened to the owners, who are not engineers? Were they culpable?  I ask because I think this is an interesting legal problem.  To be honest, sometimes I don't think nonengineers should be able to own an engineering company.  I know, I know, engineers should be responsible enough to tell employers to pound salt if they suggest they do something unsafe. But how in the world can a nonengineer direct the work of an engineer effectively?  In my opinion if your friend's employers were directing her in engineering decisions they should have been found guilty of practicing engineering without a license.  Whoops, I guess this doesn't have much to do with peer review, so if interested maybe we could start a new thread.

BTW, I think peer review is a good idea in general.

RE: Peer Review

Hi rkillian:

jheidt2543 has asked one hell of a question.  

Some of the other responses were eye-openers for me.  I was surprised to see some places have made peer review a requirement.

I have no problem at all with peer review.  Working alone is very dangerous.

But sure, let's continue the discussion.  For now I have to go.

RE: Peer Review


In most industrial situations it is routine for non-engineer managers to be in authority over engineers.  The majority of industrial engineers are not registered (licensed) either!  However, in the registered (licensed) world, if a firm is offering engineering services they must have a registered (licensed) engineer on staff.  In many states, their registration law requires the firm to have a license too.  So, in watermelon's case, the firm should have been centured, althought we don't know all the facts.

RE: Peer Review

Lots of questions and lots of thoughts on a complicated and wide-ranging topic.

To focus on one item:

Engineers working for non-engineers is commonplace.  I've held several positions where I had to work for a non-engineer.  Generally, I didn't like it.  Too often I had to explain the differences between stress and strain.  

So I quit and went into private practice.  So now, I'm working for non-engineers day in and day out.  :)   Regretably, non-engineers are a fact of life.  And, they do have the right to hire engineers.

After all these years the only advice I can give to my working brothers is:

Do an honest self-appraisal.  Do it regularly.  Be sure you know your limitations.  Be well aware of your strengths.  Never allow a compromise on any engineering principle.

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