Ensuring Public Health and Safety is Best Managed Proactively!

Ensuring Public Health and Safety is Best Managed Proactively!

Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) believes that the recent decision by the Competitions Commission to reject the application for exemption of Identification of Engineering Work amendments to the Engineering Professions Act (EPA) (46 of 2000) is in part short sighted and with insufficient insight into the risks to public health and safety of the beloved citizenry of this Country. 

Although the Engineering Profession Act (EPA) (46 of 2000) specified the necessary qualifications and experience for the safe performance of Engineering Work and established the Engineering Council of South Africa to be the custodian of the Act, the Act itself did not call for mandatory registration of engineering practitioners. The consequence of this is that there are unregistered engineering practitioners who are doing electrical design and installations of questionable quality and similarly persons doing structural design and installations which could collapse on unsuspecting members of the public. To assume that Occupational Health & Safety Legislation is sufficient protection for the public is short sighted in that this legislation is at best reactive. People have to be electrocuted or a structure must have collapsed and have caused injury or fatality before such enforcement takes place. In contrast, the amendment to the Engineering Profession Act seeks to serve as a proactive mechanism for preventing persons with insufficient competence from misleading the public and exposing people to health and safety risk.

Fortunately, many of the state authorities and major private sector clients are aware of the problem, and insist on the compliance with the Act by their appointed engineers, using the ECSA Guidelines for Engineering Work. However, the majority of the smaller private sector clients and under-resourced public sector bodies like small local authorities are not necessarily aware of the problem and through the services of unqualified ‘engineers’ are exposed to inadequate planning, design and construction or installation failures.

This is particularly evident in the consulting engineering sector, where many unqualified people who do not meet the necessary qualifications and experience required by ECSA, are establishing their own ‘consulting engineering firms’ and are not sufficiently competent to be performing the services which they are selling to unsuspecting clients.

It is understandable that the Competitions Commission is wary of approving the Identification of Engineering Work amendments as it would restrict the performance of Engineering Work to qualified engineering practitioners. Furthermore, CESA recognises that there are overlaps that may occur across the spectrum of built environment professions and other related professions, such as for example where Geoscientists are registered with the Council for Geoscientists whereas Geotechnical Engineers are registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa. Resolving these overlaps is possible and should be resolved. 

The primary focus should remain that of enforcing registration with a recognised statutory body, which is evidently in line with world best practice, so as to proactively ensure the health and safety of the public, much in the same manner that Competitions Act has viewed the medical and legal professions. Even our closest neighbours in Zimbabwe have recognised this and made such registration mandatory since the inception of the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe in 2009.     

In the interest of our nation, CESA calls on the Engineering Council of South Africa to get the Competition Commission to reconsider the ruling as surely ones right to life as enshrined in our Constitution should take precedence above all else.