Dear Mr Plumber: Investing in the future

By Vollie Brink

Activities around training and, more specific, further training, re-training and CPD courses abound. There is also a flow of new standards from the SABS, which are basically EN standards being converted to have a SANS number — much of it are duplications of what we already have.

 We have SANS 10400-P and then there are a number of new EN duplicate documents, which becomes confusing for the user of these documents. The question then is, “Which document must I, as plumber, use?”

It is basically the same as having a number of different road traffic rules. If you use the wrong set of traffic rules, you might keep to the right side of the road instead of the left. Who is this person or persons driving this programme to bring in all these duplicate EN document and standards, begs the question?

These duplicate documents only make sense if it is used for a ‘rational design’ and ‘where we don’t have a South African standard’, but then it must be clearly stated that it is meant for rational design or to fill the gap where there is a gap in the local standards.

It must be noted that the SABS’s SANS standards are ‘not compulsory unless it has been specifically promulgated as regulation’.
The SABS standards are standards and not regulations, and the only body that has the power and the mandate to promulgate regulations is the NRCS under the dti (Department of Trade and Industry) and the mandate of the dti minister.

The SABS reports to the dti and so does the NRCS. The NRCS is responsible for the National Building Regulations (NBR). The NBR refer to the relevant SANS standards and in terms of the deem-to-satisfy rules (note, rules) the plumber shall comply with the SABS’s SANS standards.

If you are an IOPSA member and PIRB registered plumber, then it is a requirement that you shall comply with the SANS standards, unless it is a rational design by a professionally registered engineer or technologist; your registration is in terms of the Engineering Profession Act; you have the necessary competency and proven experience; and your registration is current with ECSA. No other body or design club with a club membership number is allowed to do a rational design.

The multiple new EN documents may be used by the legally registered engineer or technologist and as a guide to render not a ‘better’ solution, but a ‘fit-for-purpose’ solution, which could be ‘more than’ or perhaps ‘less than’ the DTSR design.

The DTSR is meant for a ‘building where you don’t need an engineer’ and, therefore, it is not for complex solutions. The only problem with the original NBR is that it did not identify a clear boundary where the DTSR ends and where the rational design begins.

Legal implications

Some legal requirements have been ignored. One such requirement is that a hospital, any hospital, shall be designed by a registered engineer — this is relevant for both government hospitals and private hospitals. I know of many hospitals where the architect or even the CAD operator took it upon themselves to do an ‘engineering design’.

This is unethical, unprofessional, and not in compliance with the NBR definition of a ‘competent person’. However, the Building Control Officer allowed such persons to sign the application forms as competent person, which is also not in compliance with the NBR.

The form is then signed by a person who gives a ‘registration number’ of an ‘association’ that is not a formal institution in terms of the Engineering Profession Act and as required in terms of the NBR — this is a transgression.

It seems there is a general trend to oust the professional engineers from the industry, replace them with unqualified people, and ignore the legal requirements.

We are busy with development programmes and the mentorship of young engineers to prepare them for registration. In addition, we are in the process of identification and registration through ECSA and SAICE to list engineers and technologists as competent in fire engineering as well as building water services. We are also preparing a programme of CPD courses and lectures for the registration and re-registration of these engineers and technologists through SAICE and ECSA, and these persons are being provided with an official ECSA letter to confirm their competence.

All of this will be in vain if ‘anybody’ can be allowed to transgress the NBR and carry out work for which they are not competent.
The work of the plumber is protected; the question is, why is the work of the engineer not protected by simply following the legal requirements?

Looking ahead

The future is ‘smart’ buildings and for ‘smart’ buildings we need ‘smart’ engineers. Where are they going to come from if we don’t educate them at university or technical university and if we don’t mentor, train, and register them?

SAICE now has two new divisions, one for fire engineering and the other, which was established some time ago, for building water services.

Membership of these divisions is open for both civil and mechanical engineers and technologists, because both of these disciplines of engineering practice in these fields.

 “Which document must I, as plumber, use?”

 What we do and allow now will determine the future, and it will affect the industry, the economy, the education system (from student to professional registration), and the future of the building industry.

An ‘old’ group of people are sitting around the committee tables and working groups; they are passing on and slowly disappearing one-by-one. We must invest in the future and the new generation, otherwise we will lose our pool of knowledge. We must protect the future of our engineers and technologists.

The previous generations were able to spend many hours for free at the tables of the SABS (I don’t know how they managed), but the new generation is under severe time pressures that they can ill afford. The SABS will have to reconsider this situation — or just forfeit this valuable pool of expertise and knowledge.

Nothing is free anymore.

You have the right to disagree with me, but the fact is that we have to protect the future.

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