May 04, 2015

Roar Engineering: Independently Owned – What does this mean to you?

Article by: Victoria Rochon, P.Eng, MBA.

It is our shared opinion that being 100% independently owned and operated is in the best interest of you, our valued client. This optimally guarantees that the investigation, research, testing, and report writing will be the unbiased truth without any conflicts of interest.

Section 77 of the Professional Engineer’s Code of Ethics, under Ontario Regulation 941, states the Code of Ethics of the Association. Article 77.3 of this section outlines the ethical responsibility required towards the engineer’s/practitioner’s employer. This code states that “a practitioner shall act in professional engineering matters for each employer as a faithful agent or trustee and shall regard as confidential information obtained by the practitioner as to the business affairs, technical methods or processes of an employer and avoid or disclose a conflict of interest that might influence the practitioner’s actions or judgment”[1].

In addition to maintaining confidentiality, it is vital that the practitioner remain unbiased while completing work for an employer. Immediate disclosure of possible sources of bias or influences of judgment is required. It is the employer’s right to know if a relationship with a third party, a commitment to an alternate company, or a personal circumstance is an influence on the work being completed. Article 77.3 of the Code of Ethics of the Association directly relates to Article 77.4. In addition to being loyal to the practitioner’s employer, the engineer must be faithful to his or her clients. Article 77.4 states that “a practitioner must disclose immediately to the practitioner’s client any interest, direct or indirect, that might be construed as prejudicial in any way to the professional judgment of the practitioner in rendering service to the client”[2]. It is the engineer’s responsibility to not only disclose any conflicts of interest to his or her employer, but also to his or her client. By doing this, the engineer is able to complete work in an independent and unbiased manner that will satisfy both the employer and the client. Currently, there are committees under the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) continuously working to outline stricter rules regarding the information that must be disclosed to employers and clients. There are many controversial circumstances that can arise with respect to potential prejudice.

The following is an example within the field of forensic engineering that illustrates the engineer’s responsibility to the client. In this example, let the engineer be employed by Engineering Company P. Company P provides engineering investigations and assessments. Their clients are insurance companies. These insurance companies provide insurance policies that are sold to the public. When a member of the public makes an insurance claim, the insurance company may employ a forensic engineering company to investigate the cause for the claim. For instance, the claim could be investigating the cause of a house fire. Based on the engineer’s opinion, the insurance company pays out money under the insurance policy guidelines and/or they sue a third party to recover money. Examples of third parties are an electrician who did not complete proper wiring or an appliance manufacturer that had a faulty appliance that resulted in the fire. It is the duty of the engineer to provide an independent investigation without bias that is based on facts. At times, the insurance company may hire an independent insurance adjusting firm. These independent insurance adjusters act as sub-contractors and are hired when the insurance company needs additional assistance with their workload. This independent insurance adjusting firm may then hire the engineering firm. Let Engineering Company P be owned by Insurance Adjusting Firm S. An engineer employed at Company P may prefer the outcome of the fire investigation to place blame for the cause of the fire on a third party who is not the responsibility of the insurance company that hired Adjusting Firm S. Swaying the results of their investigation could potentially save Adjusting Firm S’s client (the insurance company) millions of dollars in settlements. Therefore, when an engineering firm is not independently owned, the engineer could have a potential bias to look good in the eyes of the Adjusting Firm S that owns Engineering Company P. This is because this would make their owner (Adjusting Firm S) look favorable to their client, the insurance company.

Bias must be avoided when conducting investigations to ensure that an objective conclusion is reached. As highlighted in the Guideline for Professional Engineers providing Forensic Engineering Investigations, there are three main types of bias that can occur: association bias, expectation bias, and data bias. As indicated in The Professional Engineer as an Expert Witness Guideline, “experts must understand their role is to be neutral and impartial servants to the course or tribunal they appear before, and not representatives or advocates of the party hiring them”[3]. This rule states that engineers must draw conclusions with facts and evidence. They must not be swayed to certain conclusions based on relationships they hold with their employer, clients, or other companies or individuals. In addition, they must not let their subconscious expectations of results change their approach. It is important to conduct appropriate analysis of all data, including information that may contradict initial expectations. To do this, ample measurements, statistics and information must be used to avoid any data bias during analysis.

To further look into the expectation of engineers to disclose information about any conflicts of interest, an interview was conducted with a subcommittee member working on developing the Guideline for Professional Engineers providing Forensic Engineering Investigations. This subcommittee reviews information about the forensic engineering industry and outlines specific guidelines on how forensic engineers should work in order to perform ethically according to PEO’s perspective. This guideline prepares engineers in the event that they are brought to court. Currently, this is a draft report that acts as a framework until it is fully adopted by PEO. The committee meets throughout the year and ongoing updates are made to this guideline. It is the best engineering practice to be open with both your employer and client about any potential biases. This information should be shared as soon as possible.

For example, if Engineering Company P is owned by Independent Adjusting Company S, this would be perceived as a possible conflict of interest. In this case, the companies would need to inform their client. If a client feels that necessary information was not disclosed, then the client could file a complaint to PEO for examination and a discipline hearing. It is best to review the Professional Engineering Practice Guideline, which contains details about the standards of engineering practice. When referring to conflict of interest, this guideline states that “by obtaining the agreement of all interested parties that there is no conflict of interest, engineers reduce the possibility of litigation and charges of professional misconduct”[4]. On the other hand, “if agreement cannot be found, engineers have no option but to withdraw their services”[5]. It is important that engineers do not put themselves in a situation that can result in professional misconduct. To avoid this, it is best to immediately inform the necessary parties about a conflict of interest and decline work if needed.

If any party feels that the engineer is not abiding by the Code of Ethics, they can file a complaint to PEO’s Complaints Committee. According to Bob Hindle, the chair of this committee, engineering is a self-regulating profession and “the privilege of self-regulation brings with it the need to ensure that if a member of the public, whose interest we’re required by law to protect, has an issue, there’s a mechanism that allows them to raise their concerns and have them dealt with appropriately”[6]. This committee deals with allegations by debating the issues based on relevant evidence. Votes and discipline hearings are used to reach a conclusion about the complaint and to determine what necessary actions need to take place.[7]

In conclusion, Section 77 states the Code of Ethics of the Association and is a vital component to the Professional Engineer’s Code of Ethics. Maintaining the welfare of the public is the primary obligation of all engineers. In order to do so, engineers must practice in an ethical and professional manner. Article 77.3 and Article 77.4 state that it is the engineer’s duty to preserve confidentiality and to disclose any conflicts of interest that may affect performance and judgment. Overall, Article 77.3 and Article 77.4 are necessary policies of the Code of Ethics that ensure fair and professional engineering practice. ROAR ENGINEERING is a Canadian, multidisciplinary, forensic engineering firm. We are independently owned and operated. We provide you, our valued client, with UNBIASED RESULTS that stand strong in a court of law.

Bibliography

Belmore, Neil, and Marilyn Biderman. “Protecting Confidential Information.” Barristers & Solicitors. February 1996. http://www.belmorelaw.com/pdf/06.pdf (accessed January 30, 2015).

Bennett, James, et al. “Guideline for Professional Engineers providing Forensic Engineering Investigations.” 2014. http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/28085/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 8, 2015).

Bowers, Andy, et al. “Professional Engineering Practice Guideline.” Professional Engineers Ontario. March 2011. http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/19394/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 11, 2015).

Coombes, Jennifer. “Understanding PEO’s Complaints Process.” Engineering Dimensions. 2010. http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/21357/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 5, 2015).

Government Of Ontario. “Professional Engineers Act.” ServiceOntario. September 1, 2014. http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_900941_e.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

Professional Engineers Ontario. “The Professional Engineer as an Expert Witness Guideline.” September 2011. http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/22088/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 11, 2015).

Endnotes

[1] Government Of Ontario, “Professional Engineers Act,” ServiceOntario, September 1, 2014, http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_900941_e.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

[2] Government of Ontario, “Professional Engineers Act”.

[3] Professional Engineers Ontario, “The Professional Engineer as an Expert Witness Guideline,” September 2011, http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/22088/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 11, 2015).

[4] Andy Bowers et al., “Professional Engineering Practice Guideline,” Professional Engineers Ontario, March 2011, http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/19394/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 11, 2015).

[5] Andy Bowers et al., “Professional Engineering Practice Guideline”.

[6] Jennifer Coombes, “Understanding PEO’s Complaints Process,” Engineering Dimensions, 2010, http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/21357/la_id/1.htm (accessed February 5, 2015).

[7] Jennifer Coombes, “Understanding PEO’s Complaints Process”.

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The cost of a new vehicle has steadily increased over the years and there has been an exponential advancement in the complexity of vehicle electronic systems. This technology includes data collection devices such as event data recorders, electronic control modules, engine control units (digital motor electronics), central control modules, body control modules and more.

“The cost of a new vehicle has steadily increased over the years and there has been an exponential advancement in the complexity of vehicle electronic systems.”

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If a witness story doesn’t ‘measure up’, the data stored in the vehicle can help to build a case for fraud.
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