29 Oct 2018

Suspended vehicle engineer defends his work

9:11 am on 29 October 2018

A truck engineer suspended over safety issues is defending his own record but says problems are widespread across the vehicle inspection industry.

Patrick Chu.

Patrick Chu. Photo: Supplied.

Auckland vehicle certifier Patrick Chu is one of four suspended nationwide by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) as investigations into the vehicle inspection industry widen.

He approached RNZ after he was suspended in early October wanting to have his say despite being concerned about provoking NZTA.

Mr Chu estimated he had completed 11,000 jobs since being authorised to design and inspect or certify trucks and trailers, buses and motorhomes in 2006.

"No bad job, job safety risk, no safety issue," he said.

Mr Chu admitted his limited understanding of English meant his paperwork was sometimes poor, but insisted his engineering was always good.

"I lost all the customers, no income; I lost everything, I lost everything."

Scrutiny was good if it was fair, he said, because the industry was beset by major problems, beginning with the weak construction of truck-trailers, far below what Australia produced.

"I fix cracks in the chassis and the broken chassis almost every day. I fix many, many, many, trucks and the trailers…design wrong, design wrong, keep cracking. Hazard to the public safety," he said.

He said six-monthly Certificate of Fitness checks, 10-year or five-year full inspections and steel fatigue assessments were being undermined by NZTA's lack of technical expertise.

Its own staff were less qualified than the certifiers, so it was forced to rely on outside engineers for advice, including about who to suspend, Mr Chu said.

"All the jobs I have done, no instruction from NZTA, no procedure [about] how to repair something, nothing," Mr Chu said.

Mr Chu put RNZ in touch with three of his customers who all confirmed the quality of his work.

The longest-standing of these runs a busy truck body building company. RNZ agreed not to name him.

He said Mr Chu had been doing at least three jobs a week for him.

"In the three years that Patrick's been our certifying engineer, we've never had a failure, to the best of my knowledge, with any of the work we've done with the guidance of Patrick as the engineer," the operator said.

"I believe he is very careful. He won't look at a job once, he'll look at it two or three times before he makes a decision and comes back to us."

'He's been totally unfairly treated'

The agency ordered three heavy vehicles certified by Mr Chu off the road which it said was due to "serious safety concerns", while it investigated him.

Mr Chu defended his work on these three jobs.

One customer, whose vehicle is one of the three now off the road, strongly backed him.

"Certainly on my truck there is no evidence he was wrong in his views. Certainly he has not been proven wrong up 'til now and there are reports and reports about the vehicle.

"In terms of my case, he's been totally unfairly treated."

Mr Chu said he was too scared to be a certifier anymore, even if reinstated, saying his experience showed NZTA could go after any certifier, at any time, and it was hard to challenge.

"I can't sleep.

"I…go to supermarket as a salesman to sell fish or something. I'm nervous right now, afraid."

In a statement NZTA said Mr Chu had the right to appeal to the courts.

It was working to strengthen its heavy vehicle certification standards and inspections, including by hiring more engineers, it said.