Just had a drink in the local pub and a heated discussion of the need for professional registration by mining engineers. I am sure I lost a good part of the argument, so to update myself I took a look at the SME publication Study Guide for the Professional Registration of Mining/Mineral Engineers.
As background and by way of admission: I am a registered professional civil engineer in California, and have been for many years. I have signed many documents on the impact of earthquake-related geotechnical factors on domestic structures. I value my P.E., but I have no illusions about what it means. I have worked many years providing consulting civil engineering advice to lawyers and have learnt to be circumspect about the meaning, value, and drawbacks of overly free use of the P.E. stamp. I have consulted for many years to mining companies, and have never once been called on to sign a document for a mining company with my P.E. stamp.
So why should the average mining engineer register as a P.E., in the U.S., or P.Eng., in Canada? Here is what the SME document says:
The states register engineers as a means to protect life, health, and property, and to promote public welfare. Only about 20 % of registered engineers have a legal need for registration. Even though you may be exempt from registration in the state in which you reside, or are not legally required to register, becoming a registered engineer:
- Demonstrates your voluntary compliance with the spirit of the registration laws.
- Confers a recognition of competency, qualifying those who meet a minimum standard
- Establishes your credibility when you appear at public hearings and in courts of law
- Allows you to use the title “engineer” in any way.
- Provides greater opportunity for professional advancement.
To my way of thinking there is only one reason to be registered as a professional engineer: if you are called on to sign a document that by law or common practice establishes that what is in the document complies with stipulated engineering standards. Thus in California a PE or SE stamp is needed to establish that a building meets the requirements of the California earthquake codes. I like that idea for schools where my grandchildren could be when the next big one hits. I like the idea that the state has elected to assign the responsibility to establish compliance with codes to a selected group of people demonstably able to undertake so important a task.
Conversely, I see no need for a PE stamping when the document says something like: as a peer reviewer, it is my opinion that the rock waste handling system cost-effectiveness could be improved at your mine if only you used bigger trucks.
Nor do I see any need for a mining engineer to have a PE before they can decide to replace the small trucks with bigger ones. Even though it may be safer to drive bigger trucks than smaller ones. The point is that the PE does not stipulate excellence, establish or guarantee competence, or ceritfy that the signer has all the skills required for a mining project.
Now you could argue that before a mine builds and operates a tailings impoundment, a waste rock dump, a heap leach pad, they should have on record a PE signature. In California this could be argued to be insufficient; you could argue that the signature of a registered professional geotechnical engineer is required, for these are geotechnical structures of the greatest significance. In fact in California, from what I recall, you need a G.E registration for the newly designed landfill. Not sure about a mine waste rock dump.
So the lunch-time argument went. The consultant pleaded and argued that a PE should be required for every engineering act on every mine. Of course he conceded that as a PE he would benefit greatly from the additional work as most mining clients could not be bothered to register.
The lawyer argued that you should never apply the PE stamp or brag about your P. Eng. if you do not need to: why court additional liability? Why hold yourself out as an expert when you do not need to? Why let ego take precedence over prudence?
The mining engineer opined that he did not need a PE stamp so why should he have one. And he had no need for a PE stamp on the documents he produced, so why pay somebody to stamp away blithely?
I rejected the professional guild concept: that only PEs should be allowed to do anything that smacks of engineering work, period. As noted above I want a PE or SE on the school seismic upgrade, but see no need for a PE on the alignment of a mine haul road. And any attempt to make it a crime to design a mine haul road without a PE is to my way of thinking a regression to the bad old days of the Middle Ages and the guilds that were, admittedly, so good for the members. Kind of like making professional engineers into card-carrying union members.
So I leave you with this thought: should the SME or CIM demand registration as a PE or PEng from all its members who have university degrees?
PS. As honesty is all in professionalism, let me admit that this is neither a full nor completely true account of lunch. I had beer or two too many, and may forget, obfusticate, or contort what was said. But be assured I do that only to make the point, to entertain, and to establish a basis for further free enquiry. And of course to sober up.
PPS. Subsequent to first posting of the above, I received by e-mail two comments that I repete in their entirity below. Thanks to those commenting. I will append their names if they ask me to.
Comment 1: As a mining engineer and a geologist, who is about to take the mining PE exam, I feel qualified to comment on this article. The only professionals that really need registration are those that do outside consulting or review documents for the public (us). If you are a geologist or mining engineer at a mine site, your work is internal. There are few instances where registration is necessary or desirable. An electrical engineer for HP is in the same boat. When you answer to those within your own corporation, registration is irrelevant (your company won’t sue you if you mess up). Hiring a consulting PE or LG is analogous to buying insurance. You are paying a ‘professional’ to accept liability for that portion of the project if something goes wrong. P.S. Why do we not require licensing for chemists, biologists, mathematicians, etc…?
Comment 2: If you work for a company and the signature of a licensed professional is required, often a licensed professional within the company will sign and stamp after reviewing the work. That individual who signs then becomes responsible for the work and the individual who performed the work is not liable. I don’t believe there is a requirement to be a licensed professional to work for the Federal Government, although a license may be required to perform some contracted work for the feds (e.g., in aerospace, defense etc.). Another “need” for a professional license would be to establish credentials, and presumably credibility, in the event that one is called to give professional opinions as witness testimony in a court of law. Lawyers are always looking at credentials as a sign of credibility of any witness. Those of us who know better know that a licensed professional isn’t necessarily the best person to provide expertise in certain areas. As for me, if there’s an area within my profession that I don’t feel comfortable in providing consulting services or reviews where liability is an issue, then I decline that work. A licensed professional presumably has the wisdom and judgment to know whether he/she can render service that provides any added value to a project. I heard a graduation speech many years ago to a graduating class, and his words stick with me today. Basically this individual (executive with a telecommunications company) stated that the mark of an educated person is to admit when they don’t know. Sound advice.