April 2019

How Queensland’s Professional Engineers Act relates to the mining and resources sector

  • By Dawson Wilkie, Chair, Board of Professional Engineers Queensland

Answers to frequently asked questions from engineers in relation to professional accreditation and registration in the resources sector in Queensland — with important information for all professionals working in mining.

The Board of Professional Engineers Queensland (BPEQ) is Queensland’s engineering regulator. BPEQ has administered the PE Act and the Registered Professional Engineer (RPEQ) system since 1930. BPEQ currently registers more than 14 000 engineers from Queensland, interstate and overseas. BPEQ is also charged with investigating and prosecuting unsatisfactory professional conduct and breaches of the PE Act and Code of Practice for RPEQs.

In 2018 BPEQ stepped up efforts to engage with the mining and resources sector. Despite being one of the four original recognised disciplines of engineering listed in the Professional Engineers Act 1929 (PE Act), there is widespread belief from the mining and resources sector that the PE Act and the requirement to be a registered professional engineer (RPEQ) does not apply. In this article, BPEQ Chair Dawson Wilkie answers some frequently asked questions received from engineers in mining and resources. With professional registration being an important topic in the contemporary resources industry, the answers are enlightening not only for engineers working in Queensland but are valuable reading for all engineers in the mining sector.

Why are some mining engineers not RPEQs despite the existence of the PE Act? 

Unlike engineers in 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 to why more engineers in mining and resources are not registered. While it is true that a mining engineer does not 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.

Another argument to explain the lower number of RPEQs in the mining and resources sector is the perceived legislative duplication. The interaction of the PE Act with the mining sector’s governing legislation, the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 and the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act, is still discussed with uncertainty by some engineers in the mining and resources sector. However, according to the law, the PE Act applies to all professional engineering services in or for Queensland, including those carried out on mine sites.

Does the PE Act apply to mining engineers even though mines are covered by specific legislation?

Yes, the PE Act applies to both RPEQs and unregistered engineers or other unregistered persons who carry out professional engineering services on mine sites in Queensland. The PE Act also applies to persons located outside of Queensland who carry out professional engineering services for Queensland mine sites.

The Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 and the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act focus on health and safety, while the PE Act focuses on ensuring the safety and quality of professional engineering services by way of its registration, disciplinary and prosecution systems.

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. 

Direct supervision requires 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 of the service at different points in time; however, direct supervision by an RPEQ must occur throughout the entirety of the service. 

Simply ‘signing off’ on designs without other RPEQs having provided direct supervision through the design process will not meet the requirements of direct supervision under the PE Act.

Can internal documents developed under the direct supervision of an RPEQ constitute a prescriptive standard?

An internal document may constitute a ‘prescriptive standard’ if it meets the definition of prescriptive standard in the PE Act. To be a prescriptive standard a document must state procedures or criteria:

(a) for carrying out a design, or a construction, production, operation or maintenance activity, relating to engineering; and 

(b) the application of which, to the carrying out of the design, or the construction, production, operation or maintenance activity, does not require advanced scientifically based calculations.

The internal document would need to ensure that there is no opportunity for the exercise of judgement, for example as to how it applies or whether it applies to a particular scenario, and no exercise of judgement required when following the procedures or criteria. 

Further, the entirety of the professional engineering service(s) would need to be addressed by the prescriptive standard and the prescriptive standard would need to be prescriptively followed.

The prescriptive standard would need to be developed by RPEQs and a careful consideration of whether the document meets the requirements of the PE Act would need to be undertaken. 

Would it be the individual who would be reprimanded (as opposed to the company) for any breaches of the PE Act?

The disciplinary system under the PE Act applies only to RPEQs. The disciplinary system imposes individual responsibility on RPEQs for the professional engineering services they carry out or supervise. 

RPEQs can be subject to disciplinary action if BPEQ believes, following an investigation, that the RPEQ has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct. 

Both individuals and corporations can be prosecuted for PE Act offences. The most relevant offence is the offence in section 115 of the PE Act; carrying out a professional engineering service when not an RPEQ and not directly supervised by an RPEQ. 

A version of this article first appeared in the BPEQ e-newsletter.

Share This Article