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Institution Forums > General > An ethical issue View modes: 
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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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Andrew R - 20/01/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Just found and interesting paragraph on the FindanEngineer website about charges. It says clients should expect to pay between £450 - £800 (inc VAT) per day. If we take £450 as a daily rate that equates to £50/hour for 7.5 hours work. Once you've factored in running costs of; PI Insurance, Public Liability Insurance, Employers Liability Insurance PC's Software and ongoing licensing. Printers / photocopies Telephones Marketing, Yellow Pages/Google etc Paper, envelopes, files, postage Renting office space (unless you're working out your back bedroom) I reckon you'd be hard pushed to actual make £30 per hour. A good number of contract engineers are earning that without the trials and tribulations of running a business. I have myself come across professionally qualified, experienced people who firmly and honestly believe they cannot charge more than £35-£40 per hour. I have myself had clients who take the view that I personally get the full amount of my hourly charge out rate into my pocket at the end of the week. I don’t think they realise the costs in actually running a professional office. We all know that fee scales can't be published and adhered to, but I do think there a good number of providers of Structural Engineering services that need to consider what their charges reflect and lift them accordingly. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and stick my neck out, but I personally think a charge out of £60-£70 per hour for a Chartered Engineer, employed in a small office isn’t an unreasonable figure once you factor in the likely overheads. Similarly, we could really do with finding a way of eliminating the blackmarket for structural calcs. By this I mean the market for cash-in-hand, anonymous calcs. These are the type of calcs that Verulam claimed to have had no knowledge that either demand or supply existed. I think the easiest way to deal with that is to adopt a self cert route for practices employing MIStructE / AMIStructE staff. Anonymous calcs could still be submitted, but would be subject to charges for further checking and review. Once some clients start to realise the added value / time saving that using a proper, qualified engineer brings, our status will improve, but while we’re still competing with the “75 quid and I'll sort it at the weekend” brigade, we’re nearly all going to be tarred with the brush of the lowest common denominator. I think it has already been stated that if Electricians can self certify their work it hardly seems credible to suggest we couldn’t do so in a similar vein.

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Mr Richard Harris - 21/01/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Andrew, I've just been told by a client for a domestic extension that "no one earns £400 for a day's work". This guy was a physicist, so he has some understanding of engineering, I presume. I then explained that it really took more like two days. He thought that my site visit was half an hour, whereas it was two visits, exceeding two hours each including travelling time. I mention all this because he was a technically-educated client. I’m still waiting for my cheque. When I did Building Reg's checking, I seldom saw completely anonymous calcs, & mostly I knew who'd done them - employees of local practices moonlighting. But see my letter in this week's Verulam. I was recently given a set of competent-looking anonymous calcs for a loft conversion that turned out to be very poor. I understand that it had been approved by Building Control. The specified sections were non-existent RHS, & much heavier than what would've been needed due to a fundamental error. The whole framework was welded together, requiring a crane for erection. My redesign was 30% of the weight & used site-bolted UB & flitch beams. We live in a culture that expects our service to be based upon competitive tendering. As long as some people providing calcs don't care what they give to the client, (so long as it gets Building Regs approval), there is a problem. Those of us trying to give our clients a structure that is optimally economical, aesthetic, serviceable, durable, etc., (in other words, complying with the I Struct E Code of Conduct that requires, ‘Members of the Institution in their responsibility to the profession shall have full regard to the public interest’), we cannot compete unless we cut our hourly rate. And clients will get poorly conceived schemes that contribute to poor quality in construction. I did hear back from my client mentioned in a post above. He wants me to proceed, but I don't think he read the heavily edited version of the, "Engaging Structural Engineers - a Guide for Clients", that I sent him, that the institution has been pushing recently. Quite frankly, at 23 pages, I can't see domestic clients ever reading it.

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Andrew R - 21/01/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Good evening Richard, Your day sounds very much like mine! I've had a client arguing that he doesn't think it fair for me to charge 2.75 hours for visiting his property and sorting out the problems his builder has caused by installing an undersized, un-designed beam! Apparently i should be able to do a site visit, and calcs all for £120 "labour only"; his words! On your point about the client's guide, i have found this link recently which appears to be from the Institution, but i can't find in the IStructE website. http://www.jpgstructuralsolutions.co.uk/clients_guide.pdf

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Associate-Member (AMIStructE)
Associate-Member (AMIStructE)
Mr Christopher Achilles - 21/01/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Typical Lawyer Hourly Rates Senior partner £250 - £325 Partner £200 - £250 Associate £175 - £200 Solicitor £100 - £175 Paralegal £90 Trainee solicitor £75 - £95 Administrator £50 Bloke fixing your BMW (if you could afford one) £120/hr. Wait till I see my careers teacher!

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NAK - 01/02/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
I do not agree that the most important thing is membership of either the ISE or ICE. These institutions do not care much about the technical excellence, which is the most important in our profession. I know people who passed their interview and their technical ability is laughable. My own interviewers (at ISE!) had no technical knowledge whatsoever!

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Associate-Member (AMIStructE)
Associate-Member (AMIStructE)
Pete Dixon - 01/02/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
I do not know your colleagues, nor was I at your interview, so I cannot comment on these. However, if you believe that neither ICE nor ISE care about technical excellence, then there truly has been a failure to communicate.

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Mr Richard Harris - 17/04/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
I have just put in a price of £250 to carry out a survey & report on a house that has cracks. I didn't get the job, so I presume that someone put in a cheaper price. The cheaper the price, the less the engineer earns per hour, or, the poorer the quality of the report. Do clients understand this? As an indication that they don't, I was recently sent a cheque for £50, (despite my having invoiced her for more), for carrying out a survey & report on subsided floor slabs. The client said that was what she expected to pay. I have written to her, saying, "Please consider that there was my on-site consultation and inspection, travelling time, the desk-study to determine the likely geological conditions on the site, assessment of appropriate remedial treatments, discussions with a soil-strengthening contractor and a piling contractor, writing a two page report, obtaining budget prices, and writing a one page letter to you explaining the situation, as well as time spent on administration." I did not add that I have also taken on a risk, a financial liability. I think that things are going from bad to worse, with clients treating us as sub-contractors, looking for a cheap price. They don't realize that they are seeking advice, & need to pay a sufficient fee to get good, well thought-out, considered advice.

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Member (MIStructE)
Member (MIStructE)
Phil Wardle - 26/04/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
Richard unfortunately you're not saying anything new and personally I'm fed up of being helpful to these people. Time to play hard ball like everyone else. NAK - you are oh so very wrong (in my opinion.) The Institutions promote technical excellence at every level and I suspect what you're probably finding is that no one else (particularly clients and contractors)cares as much as we do - All that matters to them is cheapest cost....at all cost. Thanks

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Member (MIStructE)
Member (MIStructE)
Mr Richard Harris - 27/04/2011 00:00:00
   
RE: An ethical issue
I get a regular succession of jobs that other engineers have looked at that get passed to me for re-design. When I worked for Building Control I used to see appallingly bad designs that used to make me get quite cross, because the client was getting shafted, without their knowing it, (probably). The I Struct E code of conduct requires that we consider the public interest. This is in direct conflict with playing hardball, i.e. doing the minimum to get approval.

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