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Institution Forums > General > An ethical issue View modes: 
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Mr Mark Pundsack - 29/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Worth recoginising that the BCO is only looking at strength and stability issues, so even if he doesnt require them, the client may need them for serviceability reasons.

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Mr Richard Harris - 29/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Mark, that is true in terms of a strict interpretation of the Building Regs. But having worked for a Building Control Department, I do know that they are actually concerned about serviceability issues, especially cracks, because they get hassled by clients who are worried by cracks appearing in their home. Part of our profession's problem is that clients don't know what they need from us. My experience is that they don't understand that we are not sub-contractors, but rather that we are consultants providing advice on their behalf. The difference being that a contractor can bid for something that is specified, whereas we have to develop a design, and all of the problems cannot necessarily be seen until the design is under way. The cheap design fee merchants don't care & take the attitude, "Let them sort it out on site". They have taken on the role of sub-contractor. And as nothing has been specified for them to work to, (other than a tacit understanding that Building Regs approval is to be obtained), they don't care if the structure is expensive to build or wasteful of materials. I see the consequences of this attitude fairly regularly, when I get called in to sort things out. And I believe it's these couldn't-care-less people who drive down fees, & cause part of the problem of poor quality in the construction industry.

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Mr Andrew Allan - 04/08/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
One day the lesson will be learned that 3% x £5m = 5% x £3m. One client who was recently intent on beating down my fees was asked if he would negotiate like that with a surgeon contracted to carry out open heart surgery on him. I followed that up by asking if he would prefer to shop at Primark or John Lewis / Waitrose. The point wasn't entirely lost. Our standard T & C contains a clause which states that we will not engage in long-winded academic debates with checking Engineers for no charge; this has been in place for 10 years or more and has only once been questioned.

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Mr Richard Harris - 05/08/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Andrew, I am finding that clients, more & more now, are asking for a fixed price, and sometimes there is competition on price. I don't know how often that occurs, because I don't like to ask if that's the case, because it could sound as if my fee might be inflated, (i.e. if I knew that there was competition, I might lower my fee). I recently had a case where my rough guess (drawing unseen) was taken as a fixed price! I think that she was trying it on. It was my own fault for not sending her a fee proposal. I also recently had a job where the client didn't want me to design anything other than what the BCO had asked for. I did manage to persuade him that it really was a good idea for me to design a beam supporting a wall. (The BCO probably hadn't gotten around to asking for it.) It seems to me that the public has largely lost the idea of what a consultant is, & they only think in terms of us being sub-contractors. In this societal environment, comparing myself to a surgeon might not go down too well.

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Mr John Irwin - 05/08/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Richard If we do decide - and it is our decision- to quote on a fixed fee bais, surely we should be charging more, not less than for being engaged on a time plus expenses basis. Basic standard pricing proceedure as far as I know is that we should be adding extra for preparation of the quotation and a factor for time spent on pricing failed bids and also a certain amount for contingency. The certainty of a fixed price quotation is added value to the client and should be charged for. John Irwin

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Mr Richard Harris - 06/08/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
John, the problem with this is that some engineers are doing cheap designs. If you are in competition with them, and you are quoting to do a proper job, you can't compete unless you charge a low hourly rate. I see the results of poor quality design fairly regularly. I've currently got four jobs where the structural design was flawed: very excessive steelwork in one (I'm going to reduce it) that would also be difficult to erect; a ridge beam designed for an a-frame roof (that would've meant taking out the ceilings - in a listed building); a steel post inserted in a blockwork wall designed to support a floor beam when the masonry would easily carry the load; & a roof where the slopes don't line up, leaving a gap (this was the client's fault, trying to save money on consultants). These cock-ups all got Building Regs approval, but did the clients no favours. The system of selecting structural engineers, at least for domestic jobs, is incompatible with the I Struct E code of conduct, unless we are prepared to work for a fee level that is much lower than other similarly qualified professionals.

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andyc - 06/08/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
I was looking in Thomson local today and if you look under Structural Engineers it doesn't exist. Structural Engineers ar elisted under building consultants?

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Mr Richard Harris - 05/12/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
In “The Structural Engineer”, Nov 16, former President Bob McKittrick, has a Viewpoint article suggesting that we should look at "Engaging Structural Engineers- a Guide for Clients". It's in “My Area”. He also suggests making it available to clients. It is an excellent document. However, I do not think that it's suitable to be sent to clients because, at 23 pages, it is far too long. I can't imagine a typical client, who wants an extension on the side of their house, making it past page 2. I have tried editing it, & that took hours, to make it suitable for just such a job. The potential client wanted a price for design, & sent me architectural drawings, an inspection of which revealed that there were several issues important to the overall success of the scheme, subject to the client considering them to be value for money. Things like: Is he building it himself or does he want to get bids from contractors? Are beams to be kept within the floor depth? Does he want me to draw roof construction details ( the architect showed trussed rafters but called for a cut roof)? and so on. My reply entailed two & a half pages of text, (including relevant extracts from the client's guide), & annotated copies of the architect's plans, just so that I can get the information needed to work out my fee. I will be interested to see how the potential client reacts to this, & I will pass on any relevant feedback. I believe that we need a document explaining that buying design services, which are means to an end, is not like buying other kinds of service, which are ends in themselves. It needs to be spelt out to clients that the cheapest service may not be appropriate, because good design takes time, but saves on construction costs, improves serviceability, & so on. An element of trust is absolutely necessary in establishing such arrangements. Consultants in the Art world apparently can charge £1000 a day for their advice, because their clients understand that the service is a means to an end, & values good advice. (See John Tusa, “On Creativity - Interviews exploring the process.” Methuen, 2003). The client’s guide does touch on this, but far too briefly. It says, “Unlike the purchase of goods or commodities, engaging professional Structural Engineers requires an understanding of what is to be done, the client’s expectations, and how much this will cost.” This is as weak as dishwater, & is buried in other well-meaning waffle that would probably put most clients into a trance, if they ever got that far.

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Mr Andrew Allan - 13/12/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Richard I gave up trying to educate private clients long ago. I find an initial telephone conversation sorts the wheat from the chaff; if I lead by exploring the sort of advice s/he might need and continue by exploring the type of advice and service I can offer, two things happen. I get an idea about whether this client is going to be a problem. S/he develops confidence in me. I have recently written an Expert Witness report for a householder who is seeking to blame someone because his project wasnn't as successful as he would have liked (the finish wasn't acceptable); he had taken advice from a builder, a builders' merechant, and from an Architectural technician who had been paid to produce a planning application (and who was then co-erced into producing Building Regs drawings with no additional fee). He wasn't pleased to be told that he had only himself to blame.

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Mr Richard Harris - 15/12/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Andrew, I too find it difficult to 'educate' clients. It seems that any attempt to imply that the cheapest possible price for 'calculations' isn't likely to be in their best interests is viewed as a con. Regarding the proposal that I mentioned, I've had some more feedback. It appears that he's already had quotes from builders, leaving out the cost of steel beams. This is for a project where it's not clear if the roof is trussed rafters or a cut roof, & where a masonry pier may have to be rebuilt, possibly over two stories, & where the architect did not show beam locations & the client understood from him that 3 would be required, whereas 5 might be, depending upon the roof structure. It also appeared that he'd not taken in much of what I'd written or drawn. In my fee proposal, I've allowed for the time spent on consultation. I've not yet heard back, so I'm now wondering if he's going to get quotes from other engineers. It seems that this client regards our profession as being a species of sub-contractor. My experience is that he's not alone.

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