Certificates of Independent Technical Expert

WARNING: You cannot legitimately get a Certificate of an Independent Technical Expert (Regulation 88), unless you already have engineering/technical calculations or some other form of certification (or documented evidence-of-suitability). Also note that the South Australian Development Application fees typically cover the cost of council sending engineering design out for review and certification by an independent technical expert. Merely being a CP.Eng is not adequate qualification for an independent technical expert: the all important criteria is independence from involvement in the technical/engineering design.

A certificate of an independent technical expert (CITE) identifies a building proposal as having been assessed against the structural provisions of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and found to be compliant with the requirements.

Alternatively the certificate can simply identify the structure as suitable for purpose when assessed against other performance criteria which the author of the certificate considers to be acceptable and more appropriate than those in the BCA. The latter being particularly important for BCA Class 10 buildings for which the BCA is not entirely suitable. The BCA being primarily for habitable buildings, whilst class 10 buildings are typically anything in the built environment which doesn’t fit any other BCA class. (eg. sheds, carports, sports-nets, privacy screens, antenna’s, towers, light poles)

A certificate of an independent technical expert (CITE) is a administrative requirement under the South Australian development Act and Regulations. It is of little relevance in any other legal jurisdiction. There are two important criteria for providing a CITE, these are:

  1. Independence
  2. Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng) and registered in the appropriate area of practice on the national engineering register (NER, formly NPER).

For independence an engineer (CP.Eng NPER) can only issue a CITE if they have had no involvement in the design/evaluation/assessment and specification of the building proposal.

To put it simply, only structures which have been engineered in the first instance are suitable for a certificate of an independent technical expert.

Under normal circumstances an engineer works along side an architect or building designer, and intentionally designs a structure to be ft-for-function, taking codes of practice as guidelines for minimum expectation of performance. The design process typically involves a process of trial and error calculations, which eventually results in a solution for the design problem. Whilst design involves multiple iterations, proof only requires one iteration of the calculations. The style and format for the presentation of calculations depends on the organisation producing the calculations, the audience expected to use the calculations and the size and complexity of the project. For small projects only design calculations are likely to be produced, but for larger projects final “proof-calculations” are likely to be produced as final check and verification that a design-solution has been found.

Independent Technical Check and Review

A true independent check and review of a design only requires a specification it does not require access to the designers decision process or any “proof-calculations”. It is the reviewers task and responsibility to look at the specification and independently produce “proof-calculations”. Prior to producing any calculations however, the first task is to conduct a qualitative assessment of the specification. If the specification is incomplete or qualitatively not fit-for-function, then there is no point expending time with a quantitative assessment: that is there is no point “doing the numbers”. After a qualitative assessment the next task is to conduct back-of-envelope calculations to make a quantitative check that the proposed item (building structure in our cases), is in the ball-park. If these calculations indicate not in the ball-park, then there is little point refining such calculations. The decision to reject therefore can be reached simply and quickly. If the proposal is in the ball-park of suitability, then the proof-engineers calculations can be progressively refined until their proof-calculations validate the designers assertion of fitness-for-function.

It is important to understand that a independent technical check and review does not and never should involve reading the designers calculations and checking their arithmetic: such is not a technical review. First reading someone else’s calculations is often a waste of time, trying to read handwriting and otherwise attempting to decipher what the calculations are about. Secondly reading the calculations is likely to stray away from assessing the proposal shown on the drawings. For example can look at the drawings and see that there is no cross-bracing, therefore would look for rigid connections. If no cross-bracing and no rigid connections can conclude on a qualitative basis that the structure is not suitable for purpose: no calculations required. If look at the designers numbers, all the numbers may be valid, but the designers assessment of the structure is incomplete: but there is a danger that the reviewer will conclude all is correct and approve. The reviewers task is to focus on the proposal shown on the drawings not determine if the designer knows “what they are doing”. Training the designer is someone else’s task.

Now if we throw regulatory requirements into the review process, and allow anyone to document building proposals, and place constraints on the approving authorities review process, then we have a problem. The problem stems from the minimum time in which they have to respond and the minimum number of times they can request further information before granting approval, and a general requirement that approval is granted.

Basically with these constraints in place, there needs to be one additional constraint implemented, That constraint would be that only documentation reviewed and approved by persons on a register of approved-persons may be submitted for regulatory approval. Anyone can design and document such proposals, but unless the documentation has been reviewed and signed by an approved person it will be rejected by the regulatory authority. Such process shifts the iterations, required to achieve compliance, outside the regulatory authority. The approved-person deals with the poor documentation and lack of evidence-of-suitability. Not only is the iteration shifted outside the regulatory authority, but so also is the cost. The regulatory authorities job is to approve compliant proposals and reject non-compliant, it is not part of their job to manage the design process until a compliant proposal is designed and documented and then submitted.

The Regulatory System we Have

Under the regulatory system we have, anyone can produce and submit applications for development approval, the result is the regulatory authority  wastes a lot of time  trying to get a complete documentation of the intentions and documentary evidence that such intentions are suitable for purpose.

Documentation for development approval is reviewed and approved by Building Surveyors (BS) or Building Surveying Technicians (BST). Building surveying technicians have restrictions on the size and complexity of buildings for which they are permitted to grant approval. There are some aspects of design for which both Building surveyors and building surveying technicians both are required to seek the expertise of other people. Structural adequacy is one area in which they may be required, or otherwise prefer to receive a certificate from an independent technical expert. A certificate of an independent technical expert can be accepted on good faith, and documentation can otherwise be rubber stamped and approval granted. However, independence of the certifier is strictly enforced.

Thus whilst the city council, or private certifier may request the provision of a CITE, in the main such certificate cannot be supplied. Normally the council receives engineers calculations and drawings, this documentation is then sent to their certifying engineer. The proposal is reviewed by the engineer and a certificate of an independent technical expert is issued. The cost of such review and certification is covered by the development application fees. There are no silly forms or rubber stamping carried out in South Australia prior to submitting documentation to council: that is no RPEQ’s and no registered building practitioners. However, a private certifier has to split their fee with the engineer providing the CITE, if they can get their client to obtain and submit a CITE, then they get to keep a greater proportion of the development application fees.

There are benefits to the client obtaining a CITE and submitting. The consulting engineers employed on a recurring contract by councils and private certifiers may not have adequate experience and expertise to rapidly or properly assess a proposal. For example do not want a structure to be reviewed by engineers with expertise in storm water drainage. Nor do want a cold-formed steel structure to be reviewed by an engineer with expertise in concrete. The review should be by someone with appropriate expertise and proficiency in the area of practice. If concerned about structural adequacy, and want speed and consistency, then it is preferable to get a CITE prior to approaching the approving authority (council/private certifier).

However, it is not possible to get a CITE when there has been no prior assessment of structural adequacy. Architects, building designers, plan drafters, builders and owner-builders primarily produce documentation which can best be described as a description-of-desires. Their documentation is not a specification-of-intent because it is an incomplete and unjustified description of intention. So when an engineer looks at such documentation the first task they have is to get the documentation completed, then assess if the proposal is suitable for purpose, if necessary they then have to specify that which is necessary for suitability-of-purpose. Irrespective of whether they specify additional members or change the members required, they cannot issue a CITE: as they are the first and only person to ever make an assessment of suitability. The system we have requires the agreement between the designer and a second independent party that the proposal is suitable for intended purpose. The engineer has no proof-calculations to review, nor do they have any documentary evidence that such proposal has been previously reviewed. In such situation a CITE is not appropriate, a certificate-of-structural-adequacy is best suited for this purpose.

Previously I have indicated that the only exception is for very simple structures for which two equally experienced engineers would mutually agree, that the proposed structure is adequate, without need to resort to calculations for proof: I no longer support this view. In such situation a certificate-of-structural-adequacy is still preferable, such certificate summarises calculations and takes the place of detailed calculations. The second engineer, the proof-engineer, reviews the proposal, in the manner described above, and issues the more formal CITE required by the regulations.

In general if you have been requested to submit a CITE for your proposal, it is highly likely that it is not possible to get one. The first task would be to have documentation reviewed by suitably qualified person, that is someone with knowledge of the physical sciences as they apply to design (eg. engineer, technologist, associate technologist (engineering associate)). Once the documentation has been reviewed and modified as necessary, then can determine whether need engineering/technical design services or whether it is appropriate to provide a certificate-of-structural-adequacy.

Contact us to get a quote for a certificate of structural adequacy.


  1. [03/09/2013] Original
  2. [28/02/2016] Revised
  3. [29/12/2017] Added Warning, and highlighted references to independent.