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Legal Aspects of the Engineer’s Responsibility
The Walkerton’s Inquiry case shed light into the magnitude of situations that can result from a failure by engineers to hold their responsibility to the community in the highest esteem possible. Not only did 2,300 community members suffer from the waterborne bacteria (E. coli) but also, seven individuals suffered fatalities. As a result, the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) pursued actions aimed at investigating causes leading to the deadly bacteria being present in what was supposed to be safe drinking water. This paper seeks to explore the PEO report published in 2001 titled, ‘The Roles and Responsibilities of Professional Engineers in the Provision of Safe Drinking Water.’
What are the Federal and Provisional statutes that relate to this case?
The Professional Engineering Act is the primary legislation concerned with the Walkerton Inquiry as it duly places a high degree of responsibility on every engineering professional towards ensuring property; health, public welfare, and life are protected. The Act defines activities concerned with professional engineering and places the entire burden on the PEO towards licencing every engineer. Other provisional legislation concerned with the case includes Regulation 941, Ontario Waters Resource Act, Regulation 435/93, the Environmental Protection Act, Environmental Assessment Act, the Drainage Act, the Ontario Building Code Act, the Municipal Act, the Planning Act and the Local Services Improvement Act. Federal statutes concerned with the case include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
What are the relevant PEO Professional Practice Guidelines?
Regulation 459/00 is as provided for the Ontario Waters Resources Act. Section 13 of this regulation specifically identifies professional engineers responsible for specific duties about waterworks. One primary report that professional engineers are tasked with preparing is the ‘Engineer’s reports for waterworks.’ Professional guidelines for filling in these reports include:
A compilation of Ministry of Environment approval certificates for waterworks within a municipality;
Assessments concerning microbiological contamination possibilities;
The features of the source point and supply of raw water;
Assessments of all operational protocols and recommendations;
Assessments of all existing physical waterworks and recommendations;
Recommendations as to a potent waterworks systems monitoring regime towards ensuring compliance with the ‘Ontario Water for Drinking Standards’ as well as the Regulation for Drinking Water Protection; and
The identified professional engineer’s signed seal.
What are the guiding principles for the environmental responsibilities of the engineer?
The PEO deems professional engineers as stewards of the environment especially with regard to engineering works. As such there are a number of guiding doctrines towards ensuring engineers are in full regard of the environment. These include:
The development and maintenance of logical levels of comprehension about environmental concerns relative to an engineer’s proficiency;
Search for as well as apply essential supplemental expert advice from specialists to critically examine environmental consequences of specific engineering activities;
Employ professional as well as responsible judgement about environmental considerations
Ensure environmental planning and management principles are fully incorporated into all an engineer’s professional responsibilities and activities;
Always consider environmental protection costs in the evaluation of a given engineering project from its inception up until such a project’s closure.
Aim to ensure pollution prevention protocols are implemented from the production sources and accordingly manage wastes;
Collaborate with other public authorities and aim to respond fully and promptly respond to environmental concerns;
Ensure compliance with federal, state and municipal legislation and remain considerate where feasible on means to appraise environmental protection; and
Actively work alongside others towards the improvement of environmental practices and understandings.
Why are engineers perfectly well-matched for assuming bigger heights of accountability and responsibility in water supply management and drinking water safety?
The roles of a professional engineer concerning the accountability and responsibility concerning water supply management and drinking water safety are mandated under law. These responsibilities include design, technical consultation and supervision management to municipal staff in the management, planning, maintenance and operational process related to drinking water infrastructure. Given that, municipalities are under law to offer residents with safe drinking water, unlicensed non-engineering staff solely rely on the professional expertise of engineers to this end. There are also numerous engineering fields and as such, these engineers can collaboratively work towards appraising existing safe drinking water infrastructures. Sanitizing drinking water for municipal use is an intricate process and given the scientific knowledge and professional expertise owned by professional engineers, they are best suited for further research and development towards offering safe drinking water and further developing associated infrastructures.
How did PEO demonstrate its commitment to Safe Drinking Water in Ontario?
PEO is undoubtedly committed to appraising systems towards ensuring Ontario residents perpetually receive safe drinking water. To this end, it seeks to incorporate professional engineers, various regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations and engineering services users towards needs identification for continuously appraising drinking water safety levels. By extension, PEO looks into ways through which engineers can fulfil identified needs.
The PEO also embarks on running public health training programs via consultations as well as discussions with universities within Ontario, Deans concerned with engineering fields in these institutions as well as with the renowned Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Given that, the PEO works to regulate the engineering profession for the benefit of the public it always seeks to ensure all stakeholders fully understand the role of its professional engineers. It also seeks to induce stakeholders towards critically point out the expectation and needs projected by the public with an aim of offering better services. As such, it has pro-actively collaborated with both non-governmental organizations and regulatory agencies for the development and subsequent recommendations defining ranges of professional endeavours and responsibilities for its engineering professionals concerned with drinking water safety and associated infrastructure. It therefore strives for continuing professional excellence and integrity as well as advice and guidance to its practising engineers.
Identify and discuss a couple of potential liabilities in tort law that may arise from the engineer’s actions of negligence.
Regulation 941 identifies negligence as, ‘an act or omission in dispensing the duties of an expert whose outcome is a failure in ensuring standards that some prudent and reasonable expert would otherwise maintain in such a circumstance’. Liabilities in tort law, which can result for an engineer’s action or omission, deemed as negligence include suspension or the revocation of his or her professional accreditation license. This is a very significant penalty as it can result in the engineer being shunned by peers and the industry at large. The suspension of an engineering license is, however, only temporary but the professional suffers disgrace in the industry and among peers. The last class of punishment as identified under tort law includes penalties or in some instances, fines. This is in essence a monetary compensation paid in by a professional engineer for an act of negligence.