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ICE guide helps public complain about engineers

Reported by Damian Arnold E-mail: damiana@construct.emap.co.uk

MEMBERS OF the public are to be given new help to complain about the work of civil engineers.

A determination to protect the public and maintain the profession's reputation has led the ICE to publish a leaflet entitled How to complain about the conduct of a civil engineer.

The leaflet explains that the public can only report Members to the ICE for 'improper conduct', which it defines as acting in a dishonest, untruthful or immoral way during the course of their work. It attempts to clarify the situation by adding that the ICE does not handle complaints about 'simple mistakes'.

The leaflet also contains details of the Institution's disciplinary process, as well as a copy of the ICE's rules for professional conduct.

The ICE presently receives about 40 complaints from the public a year. Half of these qualify for review by the investigating panel chaired by former President Mike Cottell. Of these, roughly half are passed on to the disciplinary board.

Cottell told NCE that while the number of complaints may seem small for a body with 60,000-odd UK members, the profession should not be complacent.

He admitted many members of the public would have no idea about how to complain if they fell foul of an unscrupulous civil engineer and that, therefore, the 40 complaints could be 'the tip of an iceberg'.

Cottell added: 'There is a growth in sole practitioners, some of whom have taken early retirement, coming into direct contact with members of the public. In turn, people are becoming more aware of the quality of buildings and the need, underlined by insurance agreements, to employ professionally qualified people to work on them. Add to this the fact that people are generally becoming more litigious and it underlines why we need to act.'

The ICE is advising members dealing directly with the public to use its small works consultancy agreement in order to reduce potential problems. The agreement takes a check list approach to the consultant's obligations and the client's undertakings. It is written in a relatively straightforward manner to reduce misunderstandings with one-off small clients, as well as helping to ensure any work was carried out properly.

Cottell explained: 'Problems often arise on the smallest jobs because the client and consultant come to a gentleman's agreement over what needs to be done. The ad hoc nature of this agreement makes it very difficult to deal with any problems, as well as potentially upsetting the client's insurers.

'It is also worth pointing out that any civil engineer reported to the investigating panel is going to be in a stronger position if they have a formal agreement with a client,' he added.

If the disciplinary board, often chaired by the ICE President or his immediate predecessors, finds the Member guilty it has four possible sanctions: admonition, reprimand, suspension or expulsion from membership. The decision is publicised both in NCE and in the local press.

Agreement for consultancy work in respect of domestic or small works is available from Thomas Telford Publishing, 1 Heron Quay, London E14 4JD priced £7.50.

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