How Queensland's Professional Engineers Act relates to the mining and resources sector
Earlier this year, AusIMM and Queensland’s engineering regulator, the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland (BPEQ) announced a partnership to improve compliance with the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (PE Act).
Understanding how the PE Act affects engineers and other resources professionals working in Queensland is an important aspect of best practice, and can help those in other states be prepared for similar regulatory accreditation assessments that are increasingly being explored elsewhere.
Despite the long history of mining in Queensland, and the sector being a major employer of engineers, the number of registered mining engineers is relatively low.
Under Queensland’s PE Act, any person carrying out a professional engineering service in or for Queensland must be registered with BPEQ as a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) or be directly supervised by an RPEQ. The objectives of the PE Act and purpose of the RPEQ system is to protect the public and uphold engineering standards.
There are no industry-specific exemptions, so even engineers working at a mine site on private land far removed from population centres are required to be registered as an RPEQ.
This article will discuss some of the main elements of the PE Act and how they relate to the mining and resources sector.
What is a professional engineering service?
Under the PE Act, ‘professional engineering service’ means:
an engineering service that requires, or is based on, the application of engineering principles and data to a design, or to a construction, production, operation or maintenance activity, relating to engineering, and does not include an engineering service that is provided only in accordance with a prescriptive standard.
What is a prescriptive standard?
The PE Act defines a prescriptive standard as:
a document that states procedures or criteria for carrying out a design, or a construction, production, operation or maintenance activity, relating to engineering; the application of which, does not require advanced scientifically based calculations.
Are engineers working on mine sites required to be registered under the PE Act?
The PE Act is not industry-specific and applies to all professional engineering services in or for Queensland, including those carried out on mine sites. The PE Act applies alongside the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 and the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999.
The requirement to be registered as an RPEQ depends on the nature of the services provided, not on the industry in which those services are provided. It is an offence under section 115 of the PE Act for a person to carry out professional engineering services if the person is not an RPEQ or not directly supervised by an RPEQ.
Why then are some engineers working in mining and resources not registered as RPEQs?
Unlike engineers is other disciplines, engineers in mining and resources are not likely to provide professional engineering services to the public, and this is one argument often put forward as a reason why more engineers in mining and resources are not registered. While it is true that an engineer working on a mine site is unlikely to provide professional engineering services to the public, there is the possibility that the work they do can impact the public. It is important to keep in mind that one of the core objectives of the PE Act is public protection.
Can a mine planning superintendent (or a mine planning manager) who is an RPEQ provide direct supervision by signing-off on designs, even if not involved directly in the design process?
No, directly supervising an unregistered person(s) (including unregistered engineers) in carrying out a professional engineering service requires that an RPEQ be involved throughout the entirety of that service.
Elements of direct supervision include that the RPEQ:
- has direct contact with the person(s) they are supervising
- has actual knowledge of the service as it is being carried out
- is the person directing the carrying out of the service
- oversees the carrying out of the service
- evaluates the service
- takes full professional responsibility for the service.
Different RPEQs may take responsibility for directing, overseeing and evaluating the carrying out the service at different points in time. However, direct supervision by a RPEQ must occur throughout the entirety of the service.
The requirements for establishing direct supervision will be dependent on each individual matter and may vary depending on the type of professional engineering service and level of experience of the person being supervised.
Would it be the individual who would be reprimanded, as opposed to the company, for any breaches of the PE Act (eg carrying out professional engineering services when unregistered and not directly supervised)?
The PE Act imposes individual responsibility for professional engineering services.
The most relevant offence is in section 115 of the PE Act; carrying out a professional engineering service when not an RPEQ and not directly supervised by an RPEQ.
If an engineer is unregistered, they should discuss and confirm with their employer who is the RPEQ directly supervising them.
Does the PE Act apply outside of Queensland for professional engineering services?
Yes, the PE Act has an extraterritorial application which means that a law applies outside the state boundaries of Queensland. Section 6A of the PE Act states:
- This Act applies both within and outside Queensland.
- This Act applies outside Queensland to the full extent of the extraterritorial legislative power of the Parliament.
Put simply, any professional engineering services coming from interstate or overseas for a project based in Queensland must carried out by or directly supervised by an RPEQ.
AusIMM and BPEQ
AusIMM is approved to carry out assessments on behalf of BPEQ to determine an engineer’s eligibility for registration as a RPEQ. AusIMM is approved to assess engineers in the engineering areas of Environmental, Geotechnical (Mining), Metallurgy and Mining. An engineer in one of these disciplines with a positive assessment from AusIMM can apply to BPEQ for registration as an RPEQ.
For more information on the PE Act or becoming an RPEQ visit www.bpeq.qld.gov.au.
The above information is general in nature. It is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have a legal problem, you should seek independent legal advice.