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PEO responds to Elliot Lake recommendations

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by Angela Gismondi

It’s been four years since the Algo Centre Mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont. and Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) has developed an implementation plan to address recommendations related to engineering in the commission of inquiry.
In June 2012 a portion of the roof at Elliot Lake’s Algo Mall collapsed killing two people and injuring 19. Seen here are workers at the site after the collapse.
In June 2012 a portion of the roof at Elliot Lake’s Algo Mall collapsed killing two people and injuring 19. Seen here are workers at the site after the collapse. - Photo: TRAVIS and REBECCA AUBERTIN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

However, implementing some of those recommendations will require overcoming regulatory obstacles.

On June 23, 2012, a portion of the rooftop parking deck at the mall crashed onto the two floors below, killing two women, Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin. The Elliot Lake inquiry report, released by Commissioner Paul Belanger in October 2014, called for extensive changes to Ontario's building inspection system. According to the report, the incident was the result of years of neglect and "human failure."

There are nine recommendations in the inquiry report that affect the engineering profession, said Gerard McDonald, registrar of PEO. Those include informing and providing guidance to engineers on making changes to engineering reports and enabling the public to view the licence status for engineers on the PEO website.

"We're working on the issues we can work on," said McDonald. "We want to have them as ready for implementation as they can be, but some require legislative and regulatory changes and until those changes come through, we can't implement them." McDonald explained that PEO reports to the attorney general so any changes have to flow through the ministry, to cabinet and, ultimately, to the legislature and there is no timeline for that as of yet. Legislative changes are required with respect to the structural adequacy report, continuing professional education and making disciplinary and other information related to practitioners public online.

"A number of the proposals we're pursuing will require some changes to our act to give us the regulatory authority to be able to implement them," McDonald stated. "We've notified the attorney general of this and they are currently considering what changes might be required to our act and other acts with respect to the other recommendations."

The first three recommendations that pertain to engineering in the inquiry relate to the structural adequacy report.

McDonald said, "we've had our professional standards committee drafting a guideline for the structural adequacy report and developing a performance standard — a guideline being guidance given to practicioners, a standard being more high level, making it a regulation, so it's something you have to do. So that work is ready to go and we're ready to pass that onto the attorney general to have it put into a particular regulation."

In the report it recommends that professional engineers and architects should be required on request to make available any records in their possession or control related to the structural integrity of a building to those conducting an inspection.

"We pointed out to the government that we don't have the ability to do that, nor is it appropriate for our organization to be collecting that sort of information," explained McDonald.

"Not that we oppose this information being available, it's just not probably physically possible for us to expect practicioners to keep all of this information available and have it available on demand to the groups identified because companies change names, they get bought out, records are moved here and there. What we've suggested to the government is that you might want to identify another body to do this... but you need some sort of central repository with longevity that can be expected to keep these records on file for the public or those recommended to be able to see them."

Another recommendation issues a direction to PEO members that the contents of an engineering report should not be altered. However, according to McDonald, that is already a requirement of the engineering profession.

The establishment of a mandatory continuing professional education system for PEO members was also included in the report's list of recommendations.

"We established a task force to develop a continuing professional development program. That task force reported out to our council last November," McDonald noted.

"We are now in what I would characterize as being in the development stage and we hope to have something ready for our members to view early in the new year."

As for the recommendation for members of PEO to promptly advise clients of any revocations of their licence and reasons why, McDonald said although PEO agrees with the spirit of the recommendation, it may not be appropriate for the practicioner themselves to be advising clients in that regard. PEO has agreed to have the information available its website. A separate recommendation suggests putting other practicioner information online such as licence status.

"That way anyone can go and look up any practicioner and determine whether or not there has been any disciplinary actions associated with that particular practicioner," explained McDonald.

The final recommendation pertaining to engineers in the report deals with a "prime consultant," a position identified in both the Ontario Professional Engineers Act and the Ontario Architects Act. The two groups are working together to come up with a definition of prime consultant so that it is consistent between the two acts.

"Once we come up with that, we would pursue an act change in both of our respective acts to reflect that," he said.

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