Building safety inspection regime still coming into focus

Nearly six years after the fatal Algo Centre Mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario, PEO is still actively monitoring changes to Ontario’s building safety regulatory regime.

The most recent development took place in December 2017 with passage of the province’s Bill 177, which, while omnibus in nature, included changes to the Professional Engineers Act (PEA) and the Ontario Building Code Act that relate directly to recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry into the Elliot Lake disaster.

As reported in the January/February 2018 issue of Engineering Dimensions, building safety changes contained in Bill 177 include giving PEO authority to establish a continuing education program and to publish additional information about practitioners’ disciplinary history publicly on its online licence holder directory. Other Bill 177 changes affirmed PEO’s continuing jurisdiction over members whose licence has been suspended or revoked.

Some of the regulatory gaps identified in the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry centred on identifying practitioners’ areas of specialization (e.g. structural engineering) and the lack of public information about practitioners’ disciplinary cases.

Bill 177 also contains at least some of the recommendations put forward by the Building Safety Technical Advisory Panel (BSTAP), an Ontario Ministry of Housing group developing a timetable for the province to review the structural condition of existing buildings.

Established in March 2015 following the recommendation from the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry, BSTAP was tasked with providing advice on enhancing the safety of existing buildings in Ontario. The BSTAP included a number of structural engineering specialists in its makeup, although none represented PEO in the deliberations.

In its executive summary, BSTAP members suggest its recommendations, if adopted, “provide a robust and progressive standard for the mandatory periodic assessments of existing buildings, based upon their likelihood of posing a risk to public safety.”

Although Bill 177 stopped short of endorsing all recommendations of the Elliot Lake inquiry and the BSTAP, it is seen as an enhancement of PEO’s transparency, accountability and effectiveness in regulating engineering, particularly in the building inspection and structural safety area.

Meanwhile, the Engineers, Architects and Building Officials (EABO), a joint body of engineers and architects, in its October 2017 meeting, passed a motion asking that PEO and the Ontario Association of Architects work jointly to develop guidelines for the anticipated changes to the building code arising from the Bélanger recommendations. Recommendation 1.27 of the Bélanger commission reads: “For the construction of any buildings requiring the services of more than one professional consultant, either a professional engineer or an architect should be designated by the owner or the owner’s agent as the prime consultant to perform the roles and responsibilities of that position, as defined by one or the other or both PEO and the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA).”