Ethics

Conversations on Engineering Ethics: Canon III

“Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.”

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

ASME’s Society policy on ethics which we have previously explored does not have this statement or a similar statement as a third canon. Instead, this organization values continued professional development and ethical development of the engineer as its third most important quality.

ASCE’s Code of Ethics expands even further on the idea of objective and truthful public statements,. The organization explains that “[an] engineer may apply his or her technical expertise only when competent to do so, must indicate when a statement has been paid for by an interested party, and may not promote his or her own interests in a manner derogatory to the integrity of the profession.”

NSPE further expands by highlighting three points on issuing public statements, including professional reports and testimony.

  1. Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimony. They shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports, statements, or testimony, which should bear the date indicating when it was current.
  2. Engineers may express publicly technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter.
  3. Engineers shall issue no statements, criticisms, or arguments on technical matters that are inspired or paid for by interested parties, unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking, and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters.

Both NSPE and ASCE take note of the engineer’s competence when issuing statements which lead back to ASME’s canon on professional development. Do you consider being able to issue statements and reports in an objective and truthful manner a higher priority than the continuing professional and ethical development of the engineer? In my view they are two sides of the same coin, the engineer must continue to learn and develop to maintain competence in order to be able to issue statements and reports in an objective and truthful manner.

Sources:

  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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Ethics

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?

Sources:

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

Conversations on Engineering Ethics: Canon I

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.

This is the first of the fundamental canon of the Engineering Code of Ethics from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). 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).

Having put this canon first and foremost must mean that it is important, the most important idea that we as engineers should uphold in our activities. However, what does it actually mean?

ASCE’s Code of Ethic’s expands on this idea, explaining:

…an engineer is expected not only to protect the public in his or her own work but also to take action if he or she has knowledge that any other person’s actions may undermine the public welfare, a requirement that may include reporting such actions to a government authority with the power to act on behalf of the public.

NSPE further expands highlighting six points ranging from notifying employers/clients/ authorities about dangerous or illegal situations to document approval when engineers are engaged in the fulfillment of their professional duties.

If engineers’ judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate.

Engineers shall approve only those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards.

Engineers shall not reveal facts, data, or information without the prior consent of the client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code.

Engineers shall not permit the use of their name or associate in business ventures with any person or firm that they believe is engaged in fraudulent or dishonest enterprise.

Engineers shall not aid or abet the unlawful practice of engineering by a person or firm.

Engineers having knowledge of any alleged violation of this Code shall report thereon to appropriate professional bodies and, when relevant, also to public authorities, and cooperate with the proper authorities in furnishing such information or assistance as may be required.

These six points spell out some pretty direct actions that engineers should and should not engage in while trying to “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” I remember an instance while working in a manufacturing setting when an employee there wanted to operate a forklift unsafely in my area. He wanted his coworker to operate the forklift to elevate him while standing on the forks. Luckily, I convinced the coworker this was unsafe and a bad idea. I also notified management, our employer, of the situation to that appropriate steps could be taken to prevent a situation like this from happening again.

Engineers do not have to be licensed professional engineers to uphold the integrity of the engineering profession by maintaining a Code of Ethics. Engineers from all areas can and should “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public” when engaged in the fulfillment of their professional duties.

If you are still unclear or uncertain about this first canon of the Code of Ethics or a certain situation, many professional engineering organizations have ethics committees, hotlines, and publish case studies.

 

Sources:

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