Conversations on Engineering Ethics: Canon II

“Perform services only in areas of their competence.”

The second item from the fundamental canon of the Engineering Code of Ethics from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) discusses the competence of the engineer. It is also the same or similarly worded first fundamental canon of Code of Ethics from professionally engineering societies like and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Again we examine what does this actually mean?

ASME’s Society policy on ethic’s further states the engineer “shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.” ASCE’s Code of Ethic’s expands even further on this idea, explaining that “this canon means that an engineer may not seal an engineering plan or document unless that document has been prepared or reviewed under his or her supervisory control… this provision is considerably less restrictive than the licensing laws in many U.S. states and jurisdictions, underlining the need for civil engineers to be aware of state codes of conduct as well as those of ASCE.”

NSPE further expands highlighting three points on the qualification of assigned duties and sealing responsibilities.

  1. Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.
  2. Engineers shall not affix their signatures to any plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direction and control.
  3. Engineers may accept assignments and assume responsibility for coordination of an entire project and sign and seal the engineering documents for the entire project, provided that each technical segment is signed and sealed only by the qualified engineers who prepared the segment

Both NSPE and ASCE take note of the engineer’s qualifications in education and experience, the foundations for engineering licensure, and expand upon signature requirements that the licensing laws in many U.S. states and jurisdictions stringently spell out. ASME’s additional details of the engineer’s professional reputation and fair competition is interesting.

Both ASCE and NSPE further expand on professional business dealing later in their ethics canons, but ASME as an additional part of their second cannon must hold maintaining fair competition and the development of a professional reputation as an essential part of the engineer’s qualification.

Do you consider being able to develop a professional reputation and compete fairly with others essential to an engineer’s qualification?


  1. NSPE Code of Ethics
  2. The Seven Fundamental Canons of ASCE’s Code of Ethics
  3. ASME Society Policy: Ethics

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