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CROSS Safety Report

Fraudulent use of calculations from another engineer

Report ID: 1298 Published: 21 May 2024 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter was informed by building control of attempts made by another engineer to pass off the work of the reporter’s firm as their own. These were specific disproportionate collapse calculations related to a roof top extension. 

Key Learning Outcomes

For consultants:

  • Report any similar actions to the building control authorities
  • If appropriate, report such actions to the relevant institutions 
  • Consider the need to protect work from unauthorised copying

For clients:

  • Ensure that only trustworthy consultants are employed

Full Report

Find out more about the Full Report

This section contains the Full Report submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s concerns or experiences. However, the text has been edited for clarity, and identifiable details have been removed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process, or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.

 

A reporter was informed by building control of attempts made by another engineer to pass off the work of the reporter’s firm as their own. The calculations related to a roof top extension.

The engineer was trying to pass off as their own, disproportionate collapse calculations that the reporter’s firm had originally prepared. A contractor, with whom the reporter’s firm had previously worked, was copied into a building control submission which contained the reporter’s work; this had been passed to the engineer.

The project involved the change of use of an existing non-compliant structure. It was, therefore, a high-risk building, and the reporter says that the plagiarised calculations were copied and pasted from the original work without due consideration of the specific requirements.

Ignoring the moral and ethical issues here, the outputs (PDF files) were too easy to replicate and alter. The copier re-badged the document as their own

The original calculations had been issued as unprotected PDFs and could be easily edited with suitable software. The engineer in this case had proceeded to change the font and the name of the reporter’s firm across each page of the document. 

Ignoring the moral and ethical issues here, the outputs (PDF files) were too easy to replicate and alter. The copier re-badged the document as their own. This can be relatively easily done with any decent PDF software. However, the name of the original firm remained on the copied work in the form of an image that had not been corrected. Logos and other typed name references had been covered up.

Whilst many in the industry use standard software there are still instances where bespoke calculations are needed. These naturally attract interest and should be protected to avoid dubious copies being made. Thankfully, in this instance the copy attempt was picked up by a competent building control officer. As this was a high-risk building, the consequences could have been serious if the attempted copy had not been noticed.

the reporter recommends that all firms apply additional security to outgoing documentation to mitigate the risk of copying by unscrupulous individuals

The reporter says that proceeding to full court action against the copier would cost circa £40,000 to £50,000 and even if the reporter’s firm won there would be no guarantee of recovering their costs. Consequently, the member’s firm now protect all building control calculations and reports prior to issue.

Drawings will remain unprotected as the benefit of being able to mark up and collaborate is a much greater benefit than the risk of someone copying a drawing template.

Going forward the reporter is going to ask for contact information and trading addresses of all organisations within the project team (where an obvious online presence does not exist) to enable contacts to be traced if necessary. Finally, the reporter recommends that all firms apply additional security to outgoing documentation to mitigate the risk of copying by unscrupulous individuals or firms.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

Sadly, this is not an unfamiliar story. Plagiarism, corner cutting due to pressure to deliver quickly and cheaply, and now Artificial Intelligence (AI) create ethical dilemmas that some find difficult to resolve. It is acceptable, even to be encouraged, to learn from another’s work but it is not acceptable to ‘copy and paste’ such work and pass it off as one’s own.

In this case, the reporter’s details were included as part of the fraudulent submission. This could have led to others mistakenly believing that the reporter had contributed to the work and that cannot be right. We are all familiar with standard conditions set out on drawings and at the bottom of emails cautioning others against unauthorised copying, but these will not deter the unscrupulous.

If appropriate those involved should be reported to the relevant institutions with a view to having the person(s) who did this being sanctioned

The ‘passing off’ of the work of others as their own implies that the person making the submission to building control lacks the ability, time and/or energy to do the job properly and thoroughly. They are not taking their responsibilities seriously and this is concerning as it potentially compromises safety. Designs should be specific to the realities of each situation. Designers need to carefully consider each design - copying a previous design means the implicit assumptions have probably not been considered and that any potential errors get copied into other designs. If appropriate those involved should be reported to the relevant institutions with a view to having the person(s) who did this being sanctioned.

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