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ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY
6

ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

(OP)
Hi,

I am a new structural engineer in a design office. I am assigned design tasks where I prepare calculations and drawings of structural members (I am not a PE).

The senior engineer (PE who I directly report to but he does not stamp drawings) does not ask me for calculations if I do not provide them to him. However, he talks to me about what to be done and sees the calculations on my screen.

The head of the structural department talks to the senior engineer and stamps the drawings.

My question is, who is responsible if any failure happens due to mistakes in calculations? Is there a reference in the Building Code or anywhere else about such a situation?

Thanks.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

I don't know about a reference but I vote for the stamping engineer being responsible as well as the firm as a whole if QC practices are found to be lacking. I'll not put on airs though, the process that you've described sounds pretty typical to me. I've occupied all three of roles that you described. Personally I'd like to see your supervisor stamp the drawings as he's surely the best option for someone who:

a) Has a stamp to use and;

b) Genuinely understands the work in a meaningful way.

There must be some nuance of insurance or process that makes that not universally the case. Hopefully someone else can elaborate upon that.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

I would suggest the head of the structural dept...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

In terms of individual responsibility and accountability, it will be the engineer of record - the engineer who affixes his/her seal to the drawing/calc package/other deliverable.

As KootK mentioned, that setup is pretty typical. The first firm I worked for after graduating and getting my EIT didn't have enough people for that many rungs in the ladder, so I would just report to the senior guy in the office and he'd sign it after review (or not, if he was busy). Depending on what what kind of buildings you're designing, the senior guys may not need to see calcs. There's a thread floating around here right now about it. In some cases, they just know what the answer should be, or at least know roughly what it should be. As long as the answer you put in front of them is within that realm of plausibility, they say okay and keep moving.

KootK - I had an internship in college where all of the design work went through a single person in the office. There were 3 or 4 PEs under him, a couple of grad engineering/EITs under them, and a handful of us interns just generally getting in the way. I was informed that the insurance policy named him specifically and that all work had to be sealed by him to be covered. I guess they got a break due to his experience level?

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

My speculation is:
Everyone is probably covered under a single policy for the firm. The head of the department is likely some sort of "officer" named on the policy with the supervisor being a "member" of sorts. Your name is probably not mentioned on the policy, but covered as an employee.

In terms of responsibility, it will trickle down the same way as above. However, I do believe you will have some responsibility if a failure occurs. I suspect this based on the Station Square collapse and (I think) Mount Polley where the EIT was named in the suite/discipline hearing. Obviously other factors in those two examples. However, I think it does speak to *everyone* having responsibility and that *everyone* should carry out their work like they are sealing the design. I don't think you can equate it to dollars, cents, and seniority.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

In the US, it it the engineer of record who is responsible for everything. If he didn't properly supervise your work, that's his fault because it was part of his (or her) responsibility.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

That doesn't mean you are not liable... even your employer can sue you... may not be any merit to it, but he still can...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

Agree with JoshPlum....the engineer who seals the design based on your calculations is responsible for your work. The term used in the statutes of most states in the US is "Engineer in Responsible Charge". You are not the engineer in responsible charge...he/she is. If he/she does not review your calcs....his bad. Remember...one day you'll have that responsibilty. Don't take it lightly.

I see that you're in Canada.....not much different than US in that respect.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

(OP)
Thank you all. I noticed from my observation that when a problem happens (like missing details in the drawings or mistakes in the calculation), the senior engineers immediately start blaming the junior engineers for not doing it right. This gives me an indication that if something serious happens, the junior engineers will be blamed for that. I believe many senior engineers have backup plans to cover themselves in case of failure of a structural member (is this true?). How can they sleep without checking the calculations another junior engineer did??
That's why the process is not clear for me on who is responsible in case of structural failure. Also, I want to know how to protect myself in case a mistake happens? This is something serious that makes me feel anxious.
Thanks again!

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

dik -

The engineers working for the company might have some liability. But, much, much less. And, not to the client or to the public. By stamping the drawing the EOR has taken legal and financial responsibility for the work. That and the contract that was signed with the client.

I think you're likely right though, the company or EOR could probably sue you if you misled them in some way about the work you were doing. That would be a challenging thing to do.






RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

Who is to blame depends on what the judge says. Generally it is your employer and their insurer that carries the financial bag, but in terms of the moral blame, whose name end up in the papers as the guy who screwed up, you most certainly will be thrown under the bus as no boss will endure being morally at fault when there is a subordinate to whom they can offload that burden.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

Think you be liable for negligence, think willfully misleading the reviewing engineer in your calcs. Otherwise probably not very liable.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

The answer you don’t want - each and every one of you.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

(OP)
But why would someone mislead the senior engineer and design a member to fail? And how to mislead the engineer? If there is something not clear, it is the senior engineer to check and ask for clarifications. Otherwise, there is no point in the senior engineer reviewing calculations.
In some situations, the senior engineer does not ask for the calculations. He just asks for the design. In such situations, he does not even look into the calculations (which is part of his role). This is vague.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

6

Quote (OP)

I noticed from my observation that when a problem happens (like missing details in the drawings or mistakes in the calculation), the senior engineers immediately start blaming the junior engineers for not doing it right.

You're probably just witnessing the normal phenomenon of fecal matter flowing downhill. Normally that's an internal thing and not shown to external parties. In my personal opinion, there are few jobs more difficult to do than managing the efforts of other people in the development of a quality technical product. So I kinda get this.

Quote (OP)

I believe many senior engineers have backup plans to cover themselves in case of failure of a structural member (is this true?)

I feel that it is very rarely the case that senior engineers preemptively lay the groundwork to shift liability to their junior help. I've no doubt that it's happened on occasion, in desperate situations, but I'd not lose any sleep thinking that your leaders are out to get you in this way. In most jurisdictions, attempting to shift blame to unlicensed helpers would be courtroom suicide as it screams inadequate supervision and quality control.

Quote (OP)

How can they sleep without checking the calculations another junior engineer did??

With great difficulty in some instances and comfortably, on a mattress filled with cash, in others. It depends very much on the constitution of the particular senior engineer in question. I tell my junior engineers exactly what I've stated here on many occasion: yeah, I'll spot check some numbers but 80% of my confidence in your work will come down to:

1) Based on our past work and conversations, do I get a sense that you "get it" and have adequate "structural vision" and a sense for load paths;

2) Do the answers that you've generated look like the answers I expected long before you got started.

3) Do I trust that you are ethical enough to seek help when you recognize that you're working outside of your comfort zone?

Junior structural engineers are often astonished at the extent to which their work is not checked in detail numerically. I sure know that I was. Sadly, there usually is not sufficient fee or time available for detailed checking of that kind.

I used to run a little program within my own group that we jokingly called "Nerds Anonymous". Every Monday, I'd generate a new mini-design question for everybody to noodle on over the next week. Then, on the following Monday, we'd review our answers together and go over the nuances of the problem. I'd make a point of trying to generate questions that were simple enough to almost be done in one's head but, at the same time, highlighted meaningful issues in design practice that tend to trip people up. This process served me very well since, through the course of these little pow-wows, I was able to quickly gain a sense for people's strength and weaknesses. As you'd expect, it wound up burning about about [45 minutes x 4 engineers / week] worth of billable time and my own supervisor didn't love that. I didn't sweat that though since I felt the improved morale and trust more than offset the cost of the time.

Quote (OP)

Also, I want to know how to protect myself in case a mistake happens?

1) Communicate copiously and with integrity.

2) Don't let your ego prevent you from asking for help when you need it.

3) When you ask questions, keep drilling down until the answers truly make sense to you. Demand that your mentors truly convince you of things by force of logic before giving in to their direction. Or, at the least, insist that they convince you after the job goes out as follow up. A mentor that can't, or won't, do this isn't worthy of the role.

4) Be sure to get yourself a good mentor or six.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

Good advice KootK...

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

I work in the litigation realm, daily. Attorneys tend to chase the money, not the actual person who did the design or calculations. They chase the insurance of the company.

Yes, your own company can sue you; however, that rarely happens and is almost never successful. They have the responsibility to mentor and protect younger engineers.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY


When I mentioned the Head of the Structural Dept, the OP noted that he was the guy doing the sealing...

Quote (The engineers working for the company might have some liability. But, much, much less.)


Not quite correct... no change in liability, just a smaller 'target'. Ron, I'm not aware of where an employee was named and it wasn't successful... mostly negligence... Can you cite something?

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

dik...individual engineers are often named in litigation; however, they usually have few assets and many times have no individual professional liability insurance. The attorneys usually will keep them in the litigation but not actively pursue anything from them as there are more lucrative targets in the company's insurance. There is an implied indemnity for employees that are covered by a professional liability policy of the company. If there is clear negligence on the part of the engineer, that makes them a bigger target so their license is on the line at that point. That's usually more important than a piddling settlement they might get out us poor engineers!

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

For what it's worth, when I did my British Columbia OQM training, EGBC was very clear about their intention for direct supervision and who should be sealing the drawings. They understand that it is somewhat an industry standard for an upper-level senior folks to seal work that they "supervised" through a layer or three of other engineers, but they want that to change (at least in BC). Their intent is that the P.Eng with the lowest level of seniority (closest to the direct completion of the work) should seal the work and take responsibility for it.

Not sure how quickly that will change in BC, but that's the direction that they wanted things to go in when I did the training in 2019.

RE: ENGINEERING RESPONSIBILITY

@Ron: Yup... just not big enough to be targets... but, liable, nonetheless... I'm not arguing because I want to (I do sometimes)... it's just to make sure everyone knows that they cannot hang their hat on being out in the clear... also, be cautious about being the 'only technical guy' in the room... and just thought of a third one... don't attend meetings where the client or contractor has his lawyer present, without some representation, yourself...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

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