Engineers’ professional conduct that could trigger investigations

by Angus Jones

In recent years, there have been minimal disciplinary proceedings brought by the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland against engineers for alleged unsatisfactory professional conduct. In fact, since 2018 there have only been two published decisions, the latest of which was released in January. While these decisions are publicly available, a summary of the proceedings (without identifying the engineers involved) can also be found on the Board’s website.

The limited number of published decisions does not mean that there have not been other investigations into the conduct of engineers, or that other engineers have not been reprimanded or cautioned by the Board.

It remains important for engineers, especially those in small businesses, to be aware of the types of conduct that could lead to an investigation and potential disciplinary proceedings against them.

Pursuant to section 36(a) of the Professional Engineers Act 2002(Qld) (Act), an engineer having behaved in a way that constitutes unsatisfactory professional conduct is a ground on which they may be disciplined under the Act.

Schedule 2 of the Act defines ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’ as follows:

“Unsatisfactory professional conduct, for a registered professional engineer, includes the following:

a) Conduct that is of a lesser standard than that which might reasonably be expected of the registered professional engineer by the public or the engineer’s professional peers.

b) Conduct that demonstrates incompetence, or a lack of adequate knowledge, skill, judgment, or care, in the practice of engineering”.

The Board’s recent decision on unsatisfactory professional conduct by an engineer

In the January decision, the engineer faced disciplinary action for not having conducted proper inspections of certified works before issuing the Form 16s, and preparing a design for a retaining wall that was inadequate for its intended purpose.

Specifically, the following behaviour was found to amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct:

  • failure to obtain a geotechnical report or seek or obtain copies of proper engineering details, drawings or plans when designing a retaining wall
  • assuming the adequacy of bracing to meet the intention required and failing to undertake any invasive investigations to confirm the adequacy of the bracing
  • failing to take photos while undertaking inspections
  • failing to make a written record of inspections other than the Form 16 that was issued
  • failing to consider and/or take measurements and keep records of calculations in relation to upward acting and downward acting loads in their inspections, in which case the Form 16 certifying compliance should not have been issued.

As a result, the engineer was reprimanded, ordered to pay a penalty of $10,000 and $40,000 to cover the Board’s investigation and legal costs. If the engineer was represented by a lawyer, they would be out of pocket well in excess of $50,000. However, the long-term impact of the reprimand may result in larger financial losses and can be especially severe for smaller businesses.

In the matter that preceded that decision in 2018, the following actions by the engineer were found to constitute unsatisfactory professional conduct:

  • their conduct in preparing and issuing a design of a slab and footing system:
  • that provided no specification to limit soil structure interaction
  • without undertaking sufficient or appropriate assessment or verification to determine whether soil scarification was an adequate or appropriate course. They also did not provide adequate specification on how the building contractor should carry out the soil scarification.
  • their conduct in issuing a Form 15 and a Form 16 in these circumstances.

The financial penalty and costs in that case were very similar to the more recent decision.

Holding Redlich has a team of legal experts with extensive experience in resolving construction disputes and reviewing contracts for small businesses. If you need assistance, please contact Kirsty Smith at [email protected].


The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. 

Contributed by By Holding Redlich Partner Kirsty Smith

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