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Institution Forums > General > An ethical issue View modes: 
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Mr Richard Harris - 01/06/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Following on from the comments about the internet sites offering structural ‘consultancy services’, last week I was called out to a site by an architect. The building was a grade 2 Listed Building house. The proposed work was mostly repairs, plus a lintel over a proposed 1.2 m wide opening in a wall, this requiring Building Regulations approval. A builder had already priced the work. Apparently, the client had been reluctant to employ an engineer, & the architect had also been brought in late. As a result of my suggestions, the architect told me that I had saved the client £8000. I doubt that it will be quite that much, because there will be some additional rafters, but they can be used to increase the insulation in the roof anyway. Had the client gone to an internet site for the calculations for the lintel, the client would not have benefited from my advice.

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Phil Wardle - 01/06/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
..........which demonstrates the rare occasion where a client's reluctance to employ the appropriate advice works in his (and our) favour. I believe, Richard, you will have gained the client's trust !

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Mr Richard Harris - 25/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Phil, there are different kinds of trust, such as trust in one's integrity, & trust in one's competence. I think that we need to work with other design professionals to change the public attitude that we should compete on price, on the grounds that this competition adversely affects quality of design & therefore quality of construction. (Last week I was called out to a job where a C Eng had designed something that was completely impractical, & the contractor was very scathing about the engineer, & had given up on him.) I think that this can only be done by the professional bodies, promoting to the public the role of trust that the public can have in their members. (This does seem to contradict what I said above about the engineer who did the completely impractical design. Unfortunately, I see evidence from time to time that there are engineers who just don't care. That has to be worked on.)

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Mr John Irwin - 25/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Richard May I ask, what did the CEng who "had designed something that was completely impractical" say when you spoke to him to get his permission to comment on his project? Did he defend his design and give reasons for what to you looked completely impractical? Often a design carried out by one engineer looks incomprehesable to another until it is explained. John

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Andrew R - 25/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
John, i'm not sure one engineer needs another's permission to comment on his work, although i do believe the 2nd engineer has a duty to ensure the first is fully paid up and no longer involved in the job. There is more than one solution to any problem, and any good engineer, chartered or otherwise should have the wherewithall when reviewing anothers work to say something along the lines of "not what i'd have done, but it'll work. If however the design is incomprehesible to another, lets assume, equally experienced engineer, then what chance has a lay-client or builder got of interpreting it? A run of the mill design shouldn't need explaining, and if an engineer has provide such scant detail that it does, then that is the kind of engineer this thread is aimed at; the ones who take the "i'll charge £200 as that'll be cheaper than the rest and they can sort it out on site, it wont be my problem."

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Mr Richard Harris - 26/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
John & Andrew, The builder showed me the other engineer's drawing & calcs. He told me that this person did not return calls & was difficult to contact. I think that the builder gave up on him, because he needed an engineer to go to site, (which is a listed building). The builder had already done things different to what the engineer had indicated because of the impracticality of the design. Basically, it was asking for a ridge beam to be inserted into the small roof void of an A-frame roof, of a long, narrow building. This really would have required stripping out the ceilings & collars, as well as knocking holes through solid stone walls with loose rubble infill. I did not actually comment on this, because it was already dealt with, by inserting purlins under the collars. This was obviously a satisfactory solution with enormous cost saving. I did not contact the other engineer myself. My involvement was to persuade the Conservation Officer that a wall should be taken down for safety reasons, so, as I wasn't commenting on the other engineer's work, I had no reason to contact him. This was an example of minor works with huge potential cost differences according to how it is designed. The design of a ridge beam would take about the same amount of time as designing the purlins. However, there would be time spent on consulting the architect & client on whether they considered it acceptable to have purlins at the junctions of the flat & sloping ceilings. I think that this latter point is lost on the public, at least until they get into the nitty-gritty of the works. I find that when I get involved with clients over these sorts of discussions, they don't seem to think that they owe me for my time!

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Andrew R - 26/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Good afternoon Richard, we find exactly the same thing; to often the cry "but you were only on site an hour"; yes, but it took 1/2 an hour each way to get there, plus an hour on site? then an hour talking to your architect, chasing drawings, building control / builder etc, 1/2 admin (min) plus we then had to do the work we went to look at in the first place, lets say another hour min. i think most jobs entail a minimum of 3 hours, plus however long it takes to get too and from site. i'm tempted to do a time and motion study for some of these smaller jobs; i'm sure there are a good many practicing engineers who waive/overlook the overall build up of fee's for this type of work, thus driving down fees for all of us.

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Mr Richard Harris - 26/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Andrew, very often I let this time go without charging it, but when I do charge for it, after my main invoice has gone in, the clients usually ignore it, & it then gets too time consuming to chase up. Another situation is where the architect screws up, & the client won't pay my fee. I've got a few of those too.

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andyc - 27/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Sorry if this is a bit off track but I'd be interested in what people think about the relationship between Engineers and Building control. I always seems to me that we are competing with them and builders can get designs/ beams signed off by BC too easily. I've lost count of the amount of times i've heard "if you do this you wont need a SE" and surely this brings down the overall veiw of Structural Engineers?

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Mr Richard Harris - 27/07/2010 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Andy, I sometimes come up against this. Just recently a BCO told the builder he didn't need calcs, after I'd already done them, so the builder's trying to get out of paying me. But generally, when it's obvious that something is okay, it seems reasonable to me for the BCO to not require calcs, otherwise the client is paying for an unnecessary service, which ain't right. Of course, the BCO should be qualified to perform this function, & this is difficult to ascertain or specify. But in the real world ......

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