Sunday, April 14, 2013

Technical Lawyers: Not Engineers

Those persons with 4 year B.Eng qualifications seem to spend a lot of time complaining about train drivers, plumbers and a variety of other occupational groups or businesses calling themselves engineers. My argument is that these people with the B.Eng are themselves not engineers, and making reference to some qualifying prefix such as graduate, professional or registered is irrelevant.

I reiterate my previous stance: engineers operate at the frontiers of science and technology. I therefore consider it disrespectful  and insulting to my cultural heritage to refer to anyone operating within a regulatory system as an engineer.

Apparently at the end of last year South Australia had an open consultation about the registration of Structural Engineers with respect to the Development Act & Regulations. It wasn't very open, nor very public, and very few people were aware of such: some of the submitted comments criticised this aspect of the proposal. I became aware via eNews, an email newsletter published by Engineers Australia, after commentary had closed. They (IEAust, via the mechanical branch for some reason) had apparently contributed to commentary on the proposal, but were disappointed that it didn't extend to all engineering disciplines.

This is where I have issue. It is not about engineering, and no engineering is involved. Language has not kept pace with developments. Building Surveyors, either working for city council or as private certifiers are always telling people to go get engineers report, get engineers calculations, or certificate of an independent technical expert. That "independence" is one of the major criticisms of the proposal. If I understood the commentary (I haven't found the actual proposal yet), it seems reference to independent technical expert will be removed from the Act/Regulations and self-certification by registered engineers will be permitted. Now that I oppose: both Queensland with its RPEQ's and Victoria with its RBP(engineer) seem to have a proliferation of consultants charging extortionate fees for filling in silly forms and rubber stamping, and self-certification seems out off control. I am aware of this because agents for manufactured structural products hit obstacles in South Australia, when the self-certified products are rejected due to lack of independence, then when independently reviewed the products are found less than compliant with the national codes. If have access to the original calculations these are found wanting and deficient.

One of the main arguments put forward for registration of professional engineers is the asymmetry of knowledge between the supplier and the buyer. However I am beginning to think this is a nonsense argument. In fact after the past 12 months I am gaining considerable dislike for regulations and regulators. From the start of my career I have always found the regulations to be deficient and inadequate and blind compliance to pose a serious hazardous. However I mostly encounter people who have scant regard for regulations and do what they want. These people have either built something without development approval, or have submitted a proposal for development approval without proper design. Consequently they are only seeking engineering services because the city council has told them to get engineering calculations.

I also have been informed by some council building surveyors that often they ask for engineering, as it is often the best chance they have of getting some decent drawings. It doesn't always work though, and the engineers just do the numbers, providing the Calc's-for-Council (CfC) that have been requested. The city/district councils are part of the problem here. It is difficult for engineers to get their client to go and get some decent architectural drawings, when they insist that the scribble they have produced is good enough for council and council just wants some calculations. That also poses a hindrance towards the engineers producing drawings and getting paid for. So documentation for development approval is relatively dismal, even though there are some specific schedules for drawings in the SA Development Regulations. I contend that none of this constitutes engineering.

Engineering for the most part is concerned with controlling inputs so as to have a high level of confidence about the expected output.

Therefore for the building surveyor, to declare remove the illegal construction or submit a Development Application, with an engineers report, is nonsense. If the structure is built already then there can be no engineering, as already failed to control the inputs, and therefore have no certainty about the existing construction. Persons with engineering qualifications can go to site, kick dirt, kick walls with calibrated steel cap boots, and may be use ESP, but fundamentally what they see is irrelevant. Engineering as it as become is not about properties that can be seen: it is about physical properties which have to be measured under controlled conditions and systems installed following controlled processes, and then operated in controlled manner. The building industry may be regulated, but it certainly is not controlled  It is not engineers who are required to improve administration and implementation of regulations.

There was an article a few years back published in Engineering World, a publication of Engineers Australia, the article was a reprint of an article from an American Journal. The article was about the American licensing system for engineers. This system apparently has an industry exemption clause, and due to the BP oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there have been calls to remove the industry exemption. What was interesting is that those opposed to removing the exemption were in the aerospace industry. Now the aerospace industry I would place as operating close to the frontiers of science and technology. Those working in such industry more likely to get double degrees in science and engineering, pursue masters and doctorates rather than get a P.E license. But even with the industry exemption, many did pursue P.E licenses, as a matter of personal development and as a benefit to career progression. But once again I contend that these people with the P.E license are not carrying out engineering. The FE/PE examinations are not about engineering, they are about the established science and application to established technologies. This established body of knowledge is more along the lines of technical law, than science, and the practitioners are more technical lawyers than engineers.

If the design and construction of bridges and buildings, cars and locomotives, aircraft and ships were at the frontiers of technology, then the community wouldn't have any issues or problems. Operating at the frontiers of science and technology I would have expectations that a bridge or building would collapse, because have no means of predicting the performance of such structure before construction. But bridges and buildings are not at the frontiers of science and technology, and neither are deep sea oil rigs. Consequently when bridges and buildings collapse unexpectedly there is a public out cry of something gone wrong: the established science and technology have not been properly applied. The peoples law has been breached, the technical law has not been applied.

Then again when buildings collapse during hurricanes and earthquakes, there is another issue at play: and that is the public having reasonable expectations of performance. Buildings cannot be made flood proof, hurricane proof, nor earthquake proof. So called engineers running around using fear to get the community to restrict practice of engineering to a limited few, whilst declaring they can provide resistant buildings, is not acceptable behaviour and is irresponsible. It is false, they cannot provide earthquake resistant buildings, it is neither practical, economical or possible. The magnitude of the forces that will be experienced are uncertain, and therefore the adopted design forces always have the probability of being exceeded. If it was possible to predict the absolute maximum force exerted by hurricanes, flood waters and hurricanes posed on this planet, it would just be uneconomical and impractical to resist the forces, and doing so would typically deny many from access to buildings and other amenities in the first place.

Whilst the Insurance council of Australia would prefer buildings to be stronger and less prone to failure: doing so would increase initial cost of buildings and so deny many people from having a building in the first place. More than anything however the issue is one of design philosophy.

Current structural design thinking is too simplistic: make the resistance of the structure greater than the forces exerted. Whilst calculating these forces and resistances may be complex, it doesn't require much thought, and today a brain dead unimaginative block of silicon can do the calculations (eg. a computer). Good design requires imagination, and qualitative appreciation of science, not just ability with arithmetic, which has really been the traditional basis of selecting engineers.

In the past engineering calculations required people who understood the mathematical expressions and could substitute numbers into them. Crunching the numbers however, and substituting one mathematical expression into another does not however constitute an understanding of the science and the real world phenomena embodied in and modelled by the mathematical expressions. To put it simply many of the so called engineers of the past were little more than human calculators or human computers: they were not designers, they did not have ingenuity, they did not have vision, and they were not leaders.

Clearly therefore with the introduction of electronic calculators, followed by the personal computer, many of these human calculators will find themselves displaced from employment: for they have little to contribute to their employing organisations, and little to contribute to industry and society in general. Their real trade was never engineering but human calculator: biological number cruncher. They were and are one of many cogs required to get the number crunching job done in reasonable time frame.

Now time frames and effort seem to be something both the public and building surveyors fail to understand. The engineering effort for a given structural form is the same irrespective of the size. A small garden shed requires as much engineering effort as a large industrial shed if they both have the same structural form. The cost of the engineering effort for a small structure (eg. garden shed) is likely to exceed the cost of the building, as a consequence it is important that such structures are designed and documented once and then built many times.

Owners and builders often draw up small structures and dump into council for development, expecting quick approval because many such similar structures already in the built environment. They are told to go get engineering. This is nonsense, and otherwise an irritation to the people concerned who don't see why they need to pay for engineering. To a certain extent they are right. There is no engineering involved: their is no frontier of science and technology to push forward. There is no scientific or technological hurdle to jump, just a regulatory obstruction.

The obstruction does not impose a need for engineering, it imposes a requirement for evidence-of-suitability. As far as the development Act/regulations are concerned suitability is defined solely in terms of compliance with the Building Rules, and the Building Rules are defined to be the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Now something which is 100% compliant with the BCA, and which has only been assessed against the BCA criteria can be extremely defective and unsuitable for purpose: but the regulations and regulators do not care about that. The regulators consider themselves in the clear from responsibility for failures, if they enforce compliance with irrelevant and inadequate regulations. These regulators need a wake up call. When there is a failure, compliance with regulations may be looked at first: but then the regulations are brought into question and so are individuals. If the science of the day clearly shows that a regulation is inadequate, and that any person trained in such science should reasonably be expected to be aware of such inadequacy, then that individual may still be held accountable for the failure.

For example AS4100 steel structures code does not give consideration to direct torsional stresses or actions: for that matter it only gives token consideration to direct shear and that's a more fundamental issue than torsion. As a consequence of such deficiency in the code, a steel structure may well be 100% compliant with AS4100 but defective and unsuitable for purpose because it is over stressed in Torsion. This is especially a danger with modern 3D structural analysis software which code checks to AS4100, and otherwise ignores the torsion in the members: the torsion resulting because of the default fully rigid connections between all members. Similarly the ASI connection manuals are not called up by AS4100 nor by the BCA. Consequently a steel structure may be defective due to inadequate assessment of the connections, resulting in localised deformation of the connected members.

Now some people, engineers included have the view if something was important then it would be in the code, if not in the code then not important, then can be ignored. This can result in conflict between designer, client and regulator. Often owners, especially pushy developers, take drawings to the council and ask what is required to get approval. Strictly under the independence requirements of the development act/regulations the council should keep its mouth shut: but often they give design advice. However the developer and the council are not fully informed individuals with respect to the project: their views are therefore often flawed. The developer returns to the engineer, and says I only need to do this to get approval, your design is over conservative. The engineers response often being: if you prefer the councils design, then go get the council to design it and take full responsibility for it. Whilst I'm designing it and taking responsibility, this is what it shall be. Regulations do not equate to quality design, nor design suitable for purpose.

At best regulations only cover the most critical 20% of the critical characteristics or features which need to be considered to achieve a quality design. Ignoring the remaining 80% can still result in a defective design. Also as a legal imposition the regulations are poorly worded and poorly structured, and place people at risk.

That AS4100 is inadequate would not be a major issue if the Development Act/Regulations via the BCA did not give it legal standing. The problem is that the BCA calls AS4100 up as a deemed-to-satisfy provision. Still not a major problem, something which complies with a deemed-to-satisfy provision may still be considered defective because it fails to meet the BCA performance criteria. The problem arises however because the BCA states that if meet the deemed-to-satisfy provisions, then the design is deemed to satisfy the BCA performance requirements, and therefore is BCA compliant. The problem is that a structure merely compliant with AS4100 does not necessarily meet the BCA performance criteria, and may be otherwise be defective.

If the BCA was worded differently then a steel structure can be rejected for failing to meet the BCA performance requirements whilst it otherwise meets AS4100. The designer can then be required to follow various industry manuals, and the basic technical science (engineering science if you like, I prefer you didn't). Unfortunately its not appropriately.

At one point the ABCB was lauding the BCA as one of the few performance based codes in the world, and world leader. The BCA is not performance based. The BCA is very close to being a heap of irrelevant rubbish. For a building code the BCA has very little content to do with buildings  The ABCB would like the BCA, or the now national construction code (NCC) to be the single point of reference for the built environment. Such would be extremely hazardous. The BCA is only concerned with habitable buildings, anything not considered habitable is a class 10 building. If a building is class 10, then reference is made to BCA volume 2, this volume is little more than a prescriptive design-solution for houses, and typically has fewer generic performance criteria than BCA volume 1.

Clearly BCA volume 2 is inadequate for the design of highway and railway bridges, as it is equally inadequate for the design of sports safety nets, solar panels,, wind turbines, power stations, oil refineries, tall radio antenna, radar dishes, large scale optical telescopes, water tanks and tall water cooling towers, industrial chimney's and a multitude of other small to very large structures to be found in the built environment.

The federal government is pushing solar energy, there is a national standard for solar panel installations, which as far as I can tell largely covers the efficiency of the installation and safety of the electrical systems. There is a blind statement by the Clean Energy Council, that a solar panel installation shall comply with AS1170.2 This is not possible, as AS1170.2 does not contain adequate information to derive a pressure coefficient for the solar panels. On SEAint listserver I may have suggested that failing access to other information about flat plates then the pressure coefficients for mono-slope canopies are the nearest data available. However, if check the tables in AS1170.2, will find these tables are only valid for a h/d ratio less than or equal to one: that is a system which spans further than its height. An individual panel mounted so that people have access under so that can maintain with out shutting system down, will have a h/d ratio greater than 1: it is higher than it spans. The tables in AS1170.2 are not adequate, and therefore it is unknown whether the use of the table will provide a conservative estimate of pressure on the roof structure or unconservative estimate.

Now none of this would really matter, but some tin pot dictator figured their concepts of suitability of purpose should be written into law. For the most part suitability is dictated by insurance companies, who are unwillingly to pay out for replacement. So if a structure does not comply with the BCA, then chances are the insurance companies will not pay out for insurance if failure occurs. But here's the problem. The BCA is not adequate to determine the suitability of solar panel installation: not panels in isolation, not panels attached to the roof of an enclosed building, and not solar panels attached to a canopy roof such as verandah or carport. The latter in particular are becoming common, because verandahs and other canopies are often larger than the house, or otherwise cast a shadow on the house roof. Gable veradahs in particular form a valley between the verandah and house roof, so the house roof is in shade, with the outer face of the verandah roof facing the sun.

Now Queensland building authority has recognised the limitations of the AS1170.2 and with the James Cook University tropical cyclone research centre, they have conducted testing for solar panels mounted to roofs of enclosed buildings. This research mostly repeats research done elsewhere, though it seems more concerned with the pressure on the building roof than the pressures on the solar panels: so its use for assessing connection of solar panels is questionable. None the less it is a start, however still need research done for solar panels mounted on free roofs or canopies. Now such research should not be done by a single state: it is a national issue: AS1170.2 is national, the BCA is national, and it is the federal government pushing solar panels. More importantly the IEAust is national, it is supposed to be a learned society, so why hasn't the structural college identified the inadequacy of both AS1170.2 and the BCA? What kind of learned society is the IEAust? Recently it has stated that it will re-establish its learned society function, and start publishing technical notes, and its first technical note, now what would be expect that to be? Can't guess. Well its to be on mergers and acquisitions: good physics there. The IEAust is not an institution of engineers, of applied scientists, of technical scientists, its more an institute of managers and accountants.
Even worst last year the manager responsible for chartered status explictly stated we were all mistaken if we thought CP.Eng and NPER were concerned with technical competence: it is not. CP.Eng and NPER are concerned only with professionalism and ethics. Nice considerations may be if operating at the frontiers of science and technology: however it would be even nicer to know they were technically competent before they got there.

The regulators and the community are concerned with technical competence. Like the recent brick wall collapse in Victoria: they are all out looking for a scape goat: who to hold responsible. All parties involved are responsible. And most especially, and currently most vocal building union, which operates offices directly across the road from the accident. Competent trades people do not merely do, they question what they are being requested to do. They didn't merely place a hoarding in front of the wall they attached it to the wall: now what exactly was the point and purpose of that hoarding, and why was it higher than the wall? Relatively simple questions, and part of the answer is to protect the public from construction works. Now what code of practice controls adequacy of structures during construction and/or demolition works? Further more who is in charge and control of such works?

Declaring that a registered or licensed engineer has to be responsible in charge doesn't work. It hasn't worked in the USA, in the past few years there have been several collapses of construction cranes, and tunnel roof collapses. Similarly it hasn't worked in Queensland with bridges collapsing during construction, and now clearly RBP(engineer) not working in Victoria.

The issue is not about a one off assessment for registration or a license, nor is it about some silly continuing professional development (CPD) requirements. The issue concerns specific job functions, and an established body of knowledge required to full fill that job function. That body of knowledge is largely technical science and technical law. With respect to buildings those in the know about the technical law are Building Surveyors. In the past these building surveyors worked for government authorities and either had education in architecture or engineering, and chose to specialise in the regulations, in technical law. Now Building Surveyors have their own qualification framework, and as a consequence they have little experience in design, and not particularly significant knowledge of the science behind the regulations. The building surveyors potentially pose a hazard, and building survey technicians a greater hazard. This is why the regulations make reference to certificates from independent technical experts for certain areas of practice, such as the structure.

Assessment and regulations hinder design rather than promote. For example energy efficiency assessment is carried out by approved software operated by registered people. Only registered people can buy the software and in general there is no design version of the software. These energy efficiency assessors are not architects, nor HVAC engineers, nor are the designers of any description. In the main they are relatively unskilled operators of a black box software package. Such approach of getting drafters to draw up plans and then getting a certificate from an energy efficiency assessor is unproductive and does not result in quality design. No design really takes place.

Back to the asymmetry of knowledge issue. More traditionally, an architect would talk to the client, and talk to the engineer. The architect therefore acted as a go between, for the engineer and client. The architect seeks out what the client wants, and the engineers assist the architect to achieve. If look at ships and other water vessels it is naval architect, which determines the over all design concept and seeks the assistance of engineers to achieve. When it comes to computer software, it is an architect who designs the system and engineers who assist. When it comes to other products, industrial product designers design the over all product and are assisted by engineers. Industrial product designers sprung from the architects of buildings.For other fields the engineer may be the chief designer, but in such situations they are typically designing for themselves or an informed client. I say there is no asymmetry, and no need for licensing. There is always the possibility for some other person to liaise between the uniformed and the highly technical. The license doesn't help at all: doesn't help with doctors and doesn't help with builders.

It ultimately comes back to the individual being competent to handle their own affairs, and take responsibility. Regulations and laws in general are an attempt to remove individual responsibility. People work around regulations. For example there is alternative medicine: is it any less valid than main stream medicine? That is up to the individual to decide. We have a formal education system, we teach the scientific method, it is within everyone's capability to question and seek appropriate answers. They may not be able to carry out experimental research, but they can question that which is carried out. Medical scientists for example and dismally poor scientists and statisticians: one minute something causes cancer the next its good for you. Data has to be interpreted and such interpretation has subjective and political bias. Science is not free from politics: people have research grants and jobs they want to keep. People need to question, not blindly accept.

Laws, and regulations are generally imposed people who wish to exercise power over others. Further more the whilst the police are often referred to as a law enforcement agency, they do no such thing. The police do not enforce the law as such, but rather ensure the imposition of the penalties for breach of the law. Occupational health and safety advocates for example have little interest in solving the technical problems involved, they are simply power brokers who want to make penalties greater, based on stupid notions that doing so will act as a greater deterrent to unsafe practices. Unsafe practices can only stop, if safe practices are available to replace them. Alternatively we can simply shut down agriculture and mining, so as to stop all unsafe practices: somehow I don't believe the population will be happy about a lack of food and lack of electricity. If we are going to regulate, if we are going to resolve problems via the legal system, then the system needs to be well designed. Our existing regulations and codes of practice are poorly designed.

People in general go about doing what ever they want, ultimately they bump into regulations. The regulations are their to impose a minimum standard, not a good standard, not a high standard, but a barely adequate minimum standard. Though in some situations the standards are far too high to be practical in all situations to which they are applied. The point and purpose of moving to performance based codes and limit state design, is so that can design systems to be better suited to their specific purpose. The problem however is a lack of an over riding code of practice. For example the BCA should refer to a single structural code, and that code then refers to the appropriate Australian standards. Better still, would be an over riding technology code for the whole technological environment, which makes reference to the BCA as a subordinate code. Building surveyors know little about technology, and they are responsible for the BCA, to make the BCA the single point of reference for the built environment would be silly.

Business is dumping technology into the environment without proper thought and consideration, without proper research. The building industry since it largely deals with custom one-off constructions is one of the greatest perpetrators of such laxity. The most fundamental law covering such activity is the fair trading laws, requiring goods be fit for purpose. On top of this there may be some environmental laws. But in the main its a free for all.

Registration of structural engineers in South Australia based on CPEng NPER serves no purpose. It merely adds an extra operating cost for practising engineers, and further more CPEng NPER is no indication of competence. So practitioners will have to pay the IEAust fees for CPEng NPER and SA government for local registration. Further the requirement is not to ensure good design, it is to ensure thorough checking against the codes of practice.

Land surveyors measure and describe that which exists. Quantity surveyors monitor and measure quantities used in construction against specifications. Building surveyors check compliance of designs with existing regulations, and check construction for compliance with the approved documents and check variations for compliance with regulations.

Major problems with the building industry are:

1) Lack of control of materials, and systems supplied. (eg. bolts, steel sections, turn buckles which are supplied do not match specifications.)
2) Technically unskilled retailers are becoming suppliers to a technically uniformed industry. (eg. the builder knows no more about the required properties of steel than the retailer selling.)
3) Project Documents are just for the council to look at, so that approval can be granted.
4) Building Surveyors seem more concerned with disabled access ramps, than any other features of a building.
5) The BCA itself has very little about building systems, and the required characteristics of the components. The BCA is primarily about spaces. This makes alternative technologies such as SIP's, mud brick, rammed earth, straw bale, near impossible to get approval for.
6) People rush ahead seeking development approval, before proper design has been carried out, and before the proposal has been proven suitable for purpose or at least demonstrated code compliant. The onus is on the advocate or proponent of a building to submit evidence-of-suitability, it is not for the city council to prove it suitable.
7) People consider the city councils and regulations to be obstructive and hindering. (The real problem is owners, builders and plan drafters don't read the codes of practice)
8) There is a lack of a science and learning culture. If the IEAust acted as a learned society, then would be aware of all the limitations and deficiencies of the codes of practice, and there would be plenty of research to fund, and masters research degrees to pursue. But IEAust members are arrogant, and think the B.Eng contains all they need to know, and that the 4 years compared to everyone else's 3 year bachelor degree makes them superior. That 4th year however is rubbish and not altogether a full year, and often half taken up by industry experience or a major project. Others with 3 year qualifications are already working on real world projects. These so called engineers place themselves on a pedestal they do not deserve and wonder why everyone else keeps knocking the pedestal from under their feet.

I should point out that when I started university, the first year of the B.Eng we were told explicitly:

1) We were highly likely to be the first and only engineer working for our employer.
2) If we wanted real design experience we would have to go over seas.

So for those being hampered by the IEAust getting immigration visas to come to Australia, the local experience you don't have is zero experience. Local Experience equals zero experience. You are over qualified, with in a few years you are likely to be promoted above the person who appointed you. Should also know that the IEAust has been appointed by the government to review applications, but if you already live in Australia, then the IEAust is irrelevant, join it if wish or ignore: its a voluntary organisation, and many think it charges fees for service of little value: and membership certainly has no relevance towards defining competence. I certainly wouldn't place the IEAust in a position of responsibility to assess technical competence: I would consider such appointment negligent.

Forget about engineers and engineering. The building industry does not need registered structural engineers. We have an established body of knowledge, call this body of knowledge technical science. The people who employ this technical science, call them technicians, associate technologists, and technologists. Associate technologists is my proposed new name for engineering associates. I propose this new name because, Engineers Australia since it shut down the institute of engineering associates as largely failed to accredit appropriate study programs, and otherwise corrupted the concept of engineering associates, by renaming them engineering officers, and otherwise equating them to WFEO engineering technicians. In South Australia we had an industrial award for working conditions for technical officers: it distinguished between technicians and engineering associates. The current shortage of engineers has highlighted the importance of engineering associates. Many jobs currently occupied by graduates with a B.Eng were previously occupied by engineering associates, and the people with the jobs are never going to gain the experience to become chartered engineers. But they have the B.Eng so can call themselves engineers, and will not pursue IEAust qualifications, since such are irrelevant to their job.

The problem is that all graduates should be pursuing status as a chartered engineering officer as a first career stepping stone, not pursuing something based on equivalent academic award. So just because I have a B.Tech doesn't make me a technologist. I'm just a graduate with a degree and 16 plus years experience (MIIE, gradTIEAust), I don't see any value expending time upgrading my IEAust membership status. There can be no pride or value in getting the grade. Even MIIE has little value to me, I applied to join and was granted full membership. The Australian institutes and institutions are more like social networking clubs than real learned societies, and they often confuse functions with unions and employer organisations. That in itself is a major problem towards developing a competent work force. Even CPD is a joke, its more concerned with paying fees for certificates than actually learning anything relevant. There is something politically motivated about registration and it is not the welfare of the public.

Both building surveyors and building survey technicians have inadequate knowledge of the technical science behind the codes of practice. For example I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of houses are beyond the scope of the timber framing code, yet they are still approved as compliant. The timber framing code AS1684 is only valid for simple rectangular buildings: buildings with wall plans that step in and out and have roofs with multiple hips, ridges and valleys are beyond the scope of the code. The code cannot adequately access the adequacy of the ceiling diaphragm holding the walls up, nor access the stability of the roof structure. It might be possible to get the size of rafter from the code, but that doesn't mean the structure complies with the code: the assembly can still be inadequate and unsuitable for purpose. Throwing engineers into the mix doesn't improve the situation. Timber framed houses are expected to result in quick approval: if engineer questions compliance they will be considered as inexperienced and to not know what they are doing. Everyone will simply find someone who will grant approval, and accept the risk.

Once again the issue is not that the code is inadequate, the issue is that the code becomes embodied into the peoples law, and severed from the physical laws. Minimum balustrade height for example, is nonsense. There have been various cases where people have been injured and so called experts have declared if the balustrade height complied with the code then persons would not have been injured. In all cases I am aware off, this is total nonsense, and the experts called upon are anything but expert. The appropriate height to ensure that a specific individual will not topple over the balustrade cannot be placed in the code. The code can only contain values which most people are unlikely to topple over, but cannot guarantee a specific individual will not. Even if the top rail was  50 mm lower than specified in the code: then for the individual injured whilst messing around on the stairs and being irresponsible: the height of the rail may just be as needed, in fact making it 200 mm lower than specified in the code may be more suitable. For that matter a lot of humans may fall under the code specified top rail. Code compliance is fine, if the code suits the situation it is applied to. Making the codes law a prosecuting people for non-compliance is ludicrous.

However, whilst South Australia does have a problem of blind application of code requirements, the more immediate issue to resolve is the lack of respect for complying with regulations in the first place.

Now houses are said to be too expensive. Part of the problem is property speculators buying up available land and building houses to rent. Rental properties are also too expensive, because compared to the past where landlords actually owned land and property, modern landlords don't they expect the tenant to pay off the mortgage and provide a profit stream as well. Thus for the tenant rental offers no real benefit over buying a house: if they can get a mortgage. If they cannot get a mortgage chances are they also will experience problems getting rental property: because as I said the owners have a mortgage to pay off and profits to earn and so they want long term residents: and proof they can afford to be so.

So here's the thing. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) is revised each and every year, whilst this is largely clarification of intent, there are some changes to requirements. Therefore a house built last year may not comply with BCA:2013 when it is issued in May. Houses built in the 1970's and earlier certainly have low probability of complying with the BCA.

There is thus benefit in getting an Archicentre consultant (architect) out to do a property inspection. Now this inspection likely only to cover the basic quality of the property. If there are cracks these will be assessed as being structural or aesthetic. If structural then the need for a structural specialist (engineer) will be required. Mostly the assessment will determine the need for work to repair plumbing, electrical systems, and carpentry and brick work, along with garden maintenance and landscaping. An architect can probably also offer advice on renovations, extensions and additions. However such assessment won't entirely cover the issue of BCA compliance.

Existing dwellings do not need to be brought into compliance with current BCA requirements. Whilst it may not be required to bring a building into compliance with the current version of the BCA, it doesn't mean that as a buyer you cannot desire or want a building to be compliant with the current BCA. If you buy a new building it will be required to comply with the current BCA, it will be more energy efficient than older buildings and therefore have lower on going operating costs.

Getting a building surveyor to inspect and assess for compliance with the current codes can therefore be beneficial. Getting a quantity surveyor to cost the required improvements even better. With this information as a potential buyer, you can compare the cost of the property against the cost of making it code compliant. Is it worth while renovating the house to make it code compliant, or will the house need to be bulldozed and replaced because there is too much to do to it? The house can be valued as worthless, with the land only being of value. An informed buyer has a certain amount of control over what they get. Real estate agents are required to check development approvals. If there is illegal construction, development approval is required before the sale can progress. But there is no requirement to compare the house against the current BCA, nor requirement to get an independent inspection carried out. Real estate agents don't just work for sellers they also work for buyers. Showing a house is rubbish hampers a sale and so sales person doesn't get their commission.

Now if we get building surveyors and architects assessing the existing housing stock for the benefit of buyers, and show that permitted resources to be wasted on rubbish houses, and that hammer house prices down, results in demolition and construction of newer more energy efficient, and structurally superior houses. Then we don't need to pressure the government to release or re-zone land for housing, demolishing and renovating existing will energise the building industry and keep it going.

If the new houses are appropriately designed by suitably qualified individuals, then will not need heating or air conditioning, and solar panels likely supply all other energy requirements.

This does not require engineers, it needs better educated building designers, and better educated building surveyors. Once upon a time architects designed and constructed large monumental buildings, and carpenters and masons constructed smaller simpler buildings. There is no need for engineers in building design, the architects should be capable of designing the structure and the electrical and mechanical building services without need of engineers. To invent the concept of architectural engineers for structures, and building engineers for electrical and mechanical services is inefficient. One person should be able to design the whole building, and assess all its systems. If employ an HVAC engineer then end up with mechanical air conditioning system, if architect does their job properly no such mechanical system should be required. If an architect does their job properly then also have no need for building works contractor (BWC) or building works supervisor (BWS). The problem is that the vast majority of architects are no better than plan drafters. The other problem is the regulations which imposes need for BWC and BWS. Problem is many architects just want to be artists not building designers nor building providers (builders). Problem is neither architects nor civil engineers set up construction or building companies, and neither has demonstrated superiority over existing building companies. Problem is the building industry is far too fragmented.

Problem is nobody really pays any attention to the needs and desires of the community, to the wants of the market. They are self centred protecting occupational turf.

As I have said before it is not competition we need to protect it is diversity. Competition does not produce diversity, it does not generate alternatives, it does not provide options, it does not produce efficiency. We have brick veneer houses on timber frame, filled with air conditioning systems, due to a lack of imagination. More building companies does not equal diversity, nor does it equal ingenuity, it just represents many people wanting to get on the same band wagon. It simply provides an option to which supplier is to supply the same old rubbish in the same old way. No variation in product, no variation in the process of producing. A lack of vision, a lack of innovation.

Registration of structural engineers, equals a lack of imagination, and lack of vision. If these dull code crunchers are to be called engineers: then what do we call the people who place human habitat beyond the orbit of Pluto, to step out into deep space, and enable humanity to exist beyond the life of earth?

These needed code crunchers fall into the same category as land surveyors, quantity surveyors and building surveyors. So call them structural surveyors, do not call them engineers. Call them certifier(structural), call them approved person (structural), call them certifying authority (CA: structural). Certifier structural), certifier(HVAC), certifier(Electrical) seems far more suitable for the task at hand. Call them building surveyor (BS:structural), and the current role call that BS:architectural. The issue is that building surveyors are no longer taken from ranks of architects and civil engineers, and consequently their education is not adequate for the task at hand. Further noting that a BS(structural) would only be permitted to certify buildings, whilst a Surveyor(structural) can certify any structure. In neither case however is any of them involved in engineering, they are only concerned with the established body of knowledge which is technical science and technical law: there are no frontiers being pushed forward.

{I got lost somewhere in all that. I'll try and write some shorter more focused articles on the issues raised. I try covering too many issues at once, run off original track and have a hard time getting back.}

Sun 2013-Apr-14  00:26