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Certifying a towing connection can typically take one-and-a-half to three hours; bigger jobs like a crane mount can take a full day

National Road Carriers thanks NZ’s certifying engineers

National Road Carriers Association has offered up a huge vote of thanks to the country’s heavy vehicle specialist certifying engineers who make an outstanding contribution to the industry to keep NZ trucks and trailers safe on the road.

WEB EXCLUSIVE

David Aitken, National Road Carriers CEO, says New Zealand has a national shortage of certifying engineers which was exacerbated when the NZ Transport Agency had to issue safety alerts for work certified by suspended engineers, and consequently revoked the certifications of Peter Wastney in the South Island and Patrick Chu in Auckland last year.

“Some certifying engineers are working 16-hour days, seven days a week, to try to clear the backlog, but it is going to take time to resolve the issue,” says Mr Aitken. “We ask our truck operator members to please be patient because certifiers are doing the best they can under trying circumstances. They are very aware of the role they play to keep freight businesses operating.”

Long days and stress

Kelvin Barclay, who runs Kelbar Engineering Design and Certification in Wellington and also serves as the executive officer of Heavy Vehicle Engineers (HVE), a technical group of Engineering New Zealand, says certifying engineers all around the country are doing long days, but especially in Auckland.

Mr Barclay says there are about 100 engineering certifiers in the country which he estimates may be 60% of the number required. HVE and the Transport Agency are working on plans to resolve the issue. A just-completed HVE survey of members shows some are considering retiring early because of stress. The survey showed certifiers were working 55 hours per week on average. 

National Road Carriers CEO, David Aitken: “Some certifying engineers are working 16-hour days, seven days a week, to try to clear the backlog, but it is going to take time to resolve the issue”

Mr Aitken says certifiers are not easy to replace, needing three to five years of tertiary engineering study, followed by another five to six years of mentoring from experienced practitioners and passing Transport Agency exams to become a competent certifier.

High workload

Husband and wife Jousef Abraham and Lina Simrin run TranzEC, a heavy vehicle certifying consultancy in Blockhouse Bay, Auckland, near where Patrick Chu’s business was located. Jousef and Lina both hold Master of Engineering degrees with first class honours from the University of Auckland. 

Mr Abraham says their workload was very high even before Patrick Chu was suspended. By September 2018 Auckland lost several public consulting certifiers due to death, retirement and moving outside Auckland. As a result, the number of public service consulting engineers in Auckland is about half the number four years ago. 

He says the number of calls requesting service peaked at almost a call every two minutes. “Client expectations and requirements are best met by explaining the service. The certification process is not just to match a structure to the prescribed code, but a method of optimising safety, cost and efficiency,” he notes. 

Physical and mental toll

Kelvin Barclay says the difference between certification and a certificate of fitness is often misunderstood. “Everyone is used to taking vehicles to a testing station, but certifiers nearly always go to client sites where we take measurements and photos for a design review to assess whether structures comply with rules and standards. A small job like a towing connection will typically take one-and-a-half to three hours, but longer if it has been revoked as you need to check very carefully. Bigger jobs like a crane mount can take a full day.”

The stress of long hours – 8am until at least 11.30pm every day, with lunch eaten on the go, seven days a week – takes a physical and mental toll. But he is very aware of the importance of certifiers to the industry and to the livelihoods of small and medium-size operators. “If we don’t attend to these jobs, we push operators to the edge because they can’t run their businesses. Our time is extremely valuable. One truck off the road might cost thousands of dollars a day. That is a big loss of income for a small fleet.” 

The need to evolve

Heavy vehicle certification is a specialised field, says Mr Aitken. “The good news is that young people are coming through, but it is going to take years to relieve the pressure.”

Mr Abraham agrees: “Becoming a certifying engineer is not an attractive career option for everyone. Engineers are looking for a future where they can climb the ladder. Most public certifying engineers are sole operators who can’t provide those career pathways due to the nature of the job. Hopefully, the industry will evolve to handle this challenge.”


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