Engineers quiz Army over work safety

By HELEN TUNNAH

The Army has been asked to assure engineers that its work is safe as it battles poor publicity generated by the fatal collapse of a bridge it built.

The Institution of Professional Engineers has questioned the Army's engineering standards and revealed it met a senior Army officer last week to raise members' worries.

It also wants to know if bridges the Army's reconstruction teams have built in Iraq and Afghanistan put soldiers or civilians at risk.

The institution has likened the collapse of a bridge in 1994 leading on to the King Country farm of Keith and Margaret Berryman to that of a collapsed Department of Conservation-built platform a decade ago, which killed 14 people.

The institution said, outwardly, it appeared that insufficiently trained people built both structures.

The Army last night gave the Herald its replies to five questions posed to it by the institute, in which it denies anyone is at risk from using Army-built structures.

However, no one from the Army would speak publicly, citing legal constraints because of the possibility of another coroner's inquest into the collapse of the "Berryman" bridge which killed beekeeper Ken Richards.

The Solicitor-General is reviewing whether there should be a fresh inquest, after a previously secret Army report raised doubts about the design and construction of the bridge.

Institute chief executive Andrew Cleland was reluctant yesterday to discuss an email raising the institution's concerns, saying he wanted to see the Army's responses first and then circulate them to members.

But he confirmed that the meeting with the Army was prompted by concerns from members about the safety of Army-built structures in the wake of the Berryman case.

The Herald understands engineers have been reading the Army's inquiry evidence, which was posted on the internet by the Berrymans' lawyer Dr Rob Moodie in defiance of a confidentiality agreement he signed with the Defence Force.

Dr Cleland said the institute did not want to comment on the Berryman case, but said there was a public interest in the engineering capability of the Army now.

It has been confirmed that just one Army engineer is a Chartered Professional Engineer, the industry's formal quality benchmark, and his expertise is in mechanical not structural engineering.

The institution's email said the question uppermost in its members minds was: "Can New Zealanders be assured that our Army has sufficient in-house professional engineering capacity to ensure its work is as safe as work conducted outside the force?"

The Army said in its responses that much of its work was outsourced to consultants who were chartered professional engineers.

It said the institution was not the appropriate organisation to decide the competencies needed for combat engineering tasks, but they conformed to the standards of Australia and the United Kingdom.

"All structures designed and constructed by the New Zealand Army are undertaken to appropriate professional military and civilian standards." The Army said no one would be at risk from using an Army-built structure.

The Institution of Professional Engineers represents 9000 professional engineers and provides advice to the Government. It monitors health, safety and training issues.

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