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Serving the public is a key role

For Bette Sinn Ting-pekk, one of the main attractions of her role as a building surveyor specialising in fire safety is that it is not just an office-based job. She often conducts on-site inspections where she visits older buildings and looks for construction deficiencies and other cases of non-compliance with the Fire Safety Ordinance.

"A site inspection can take up to two hours," says Sinn, who gained her professional qualification in 2005 and now works for the government's Buildings Department. "There is some desktop research first, checking through the latest approved plans, to have a clear concept of what's involved. During the visit, I then verify what's there, take photos of things like sub-standard or insufficient fire doors, and, later, issue any new safety directions."

Essential to this is understanding how people use the building. Escape routes might be regularly blocked by daytime deliveries. Automatic door closers may be disabled or removed, while unauthorised building works may be creating a potential fire hazard.

"Every job is unique, everything is different, so you have to be very proactive to get to the root of possible problems," Sinn says. "That means a lot of communication and co-ordination with building owners, residents and managers, so it is important to have the right kind of personality and interact well."

Sinn originally came to the profession for two specific reasons. Her father was a building surveyor, so she was already aware of some of the basics. And, having studied science at school, she wanted a degree leading to a well-defined career entailing variety.

Sinn said the City University of Hong Kong course in building surveying offered her a solid academic foundation. Subjects ranged from construction techniques and the properties of concrete to building design and the regulatory-approvals process.

Over the next five years after graduation, Sinn steadily accumulated on-the-job experience, while completing other qualification requirements. These include HKIS-administered courses, a series of assessments and interviews to gauge her progress, and an extended project. Sinn's eventual aim is to develop technical knowledge, professional skills, analytical thinking, and an ability to see things at the macro level while also picking up on small details.

"The training is very challenging, but that is good. As a building surveyor, you have important responsibilities and are serving the public. There are regulations to follow, but a lot depends on experience and professional judgment," she says.