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Ethics, Professionalism and Engineering

Notes:
The lecture on ethics has three parts: the Powerpoint presentation, a copy of the NSPE Code of Ethics
and the information in this package.
The Powerpoint discusses the ideas of professionalism and its relation to the public good. The
introduction to ethics presents the basic ideas of what ethics are and how they are defined by the public.
These can be read pretty quickly.
When the slides start talking about the NSPE Code of Ethics, pass out copies of the Code so they can see
it and see the parts of the code. The code is located at:
http://www.nspe.org/resources/pdfs/Ethics/CodeofEthics/Code-2007-July.pdf
in Postscript form and at:
http://www.nspe.org/Ethics/CodeofEthics/index.html
in html.
The Rules of Professional Conduct from the NCEES Model Law is also provided if you want to hand it
out.
The last part of the class is reviewing some ethical cases. Pass out the Case Study sheets.
I believe the most efficient way to cover this material is to divide the class into four groups. Have them
read all four cases and then assign a case to each group. They are to:
1) Determine the Canon which corresponds most closely to the case.
2) Read the “Rule of Practice” which corresponds to that Canon. Agree on the Articles which are
most important and develop a finding or answer to the question.
3) After some period of time during which they can read the case and code, depending on how
much time you have (5-10 minutes is probably enough), each group can briefly describe the case,
give their conclusion based on their answer.
There may not be enough time to discuss all four cases. The value of the assignment is learning that
there is a Code of Ethics which they will work under, reading the types of problems they can run into,
and going through the more formal process of making a decision using a Code.

possibly without any regulation or control. B.b. . the city terminates the contract. citing the political ramifications of revealing the findings and the economics of having to clean up the property as its reasons for not continuing.a. Wright is informed by the city that. II. the municipality indicates the possibility that there could be hazardous and toxic wastes encountered in the dump. . Wright of its confidentiality clause and the legal consequences of going public with the confidential information. II. He signs the contract and the clause. . . saying that the development will be moved to another site. Wright confirms that the dump site is not closed according to the hazardous and solid waste regulations of the state. Wright responds that the city has a responsibility to the public to proceed to remediation. Wright behave ethically in signing the confidentiality clause restricting him from revealing information concerning dangers to the public health and the environment. an environmental engineering firm. Wright. Upon receiving the initial data. but the city refuses and reminds B.Code of Ethics: Engineers shall hold paramount the safety.Code of Ethics: Engineers shall approve only those engineering documents which are in conformity with applicable standards. QUESTIONS: Question 1: Is B. B. after being informed by the city that there was a possibility that the site could contain hazardous and toxic wastes? REFERENCES: I.Code of Ethics: Hold paramount the safety. . and parkway near the reclaimed areas. The city is considering plans to build a children’s park. over time. become exposed at the surface.Case Study #1 FACTS: B. II. Wright from disclosing any results or information concerning the project without the city’s written permission. Upon being awarded the contract.Code of Ethics: If engineers’ judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property. and the river is used for drinking water intake for cities on the other side of the river and downstream. submits qualifications and a proposal to a local municipality to be considered as the consultant for the research and analysis of a former dump site which is being considered for reclamation as a wetland. they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate. due to erosion of the cover.1. and even washed into a river that flows immediately adjacent to the site. recreation and picnic area.1. Wright. The dump has been closed for many years after being used for several decades for commercial waste disposal. bike/jogging trail. Preliminary research by B.1. Wright bound by the NSPE Code of Ethics to inform the appropriate regulatory agencies of his findings and the potential dangers to the public health and the environment? Question 2: Did B.1. health and welfare of the public. In a meeting with B. a confidentiality clause must be signed which precludes B. a principal in ABC Engineering. as part of the contract. Tests of the surface soils on the site are inconclusive but reveal a possibility that very high contaminant levels of hazardous and toxic waste could. even if the development is moved elsewhere. health and welfare of the public.

but instead must identify the appropriate regulatory officials and come forth to explain his professional findings and recommendations. a confidentiality agreement that “ties the hands” of an engineer to report dangers to the public health and safety is a clear violation of the NSPE Code of Ethics. This principle is the very basis of the NSPE Code of Ethics and should not be treated lightly. Under the facts. Having already notified the client and been told that his services are no longer necessary. . Among the reasons cited by dissenters is the fact that engineers are generally employees or are retained by clients and that their most basic ethical obligation is to their employer or their client and not to the public. Wright cannot remain a party to a “conspiracy of silence” against the public health and safety. B. The entire rationale and justification for engineering licensure stems from the notion that engineers are involved in a technical and specialized activity having a serious impact on the well-being of all members of the public. while such agreements are relatively common and are usually consistent with NSPE Code Section III. It provides engineers with the ability to exercise their judgment and discretion to disclose actions that endanger the public health and welfare. While the Board does not believe that a confidentiality agreement per se is inappropriate. there is ample reason for B. Wright’s actions in signing a confidentiality agreement.c. engineers are involved in new and complex activities requiring highly specialized knowledge and skill which often only engineers possess.1. DISCUSSION: The responsibility of engineers for the protection of the public health and safety is generally considered the most fundamental ethical principal related to the practice of engineering. data or information without the prior consent of the client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code. as a general matter. Increasingly.4. III. We believe B. However.II. Wright did not carefully think through his signing of the agreement and its possible implications and conclude.4. confidential information concerning the business affairs or technical processes of any present or former client or employer. without consent. Wright to conclude that a serious public health danger could occur if the project is permitted to proceed as scheduled without a remediation of the hazardous material on the site. and therefore there is a need to have this activity regulated under the laws of each state. . To say the practice of engineering is a based upon a public trust is certainly no exaggeration of the role of engineers in our society.. that the signing of such an agreement under these circumstances should be deemed a violation of the NSPE Code of Ethics. and that political considerations are deemed most paramount. the view that the engineers’ highest ethical obligation is to protect the public health and safety is not universally shared within and outside of the engineering profession. or public body on which they serve.Code of Ethics: Engineers shall not disclose. the Board is deeply troubled with the fact that he agreed to sign the agreement knowing that there was a possibility that his professional services would encounter hazardous and toxic material. With regard to B.Code of Ethics: Engineers shall not reveal facts. .

Norris.E. Fuller. Donald L. Richard Simberg.E. William E. Pritzker. It may be reprinted without further permission. after being informed by the city that there was a possibility that the site could contain hazardous and toxic wastes. Wright was not ethical in signing the confidentiality clause. P.E. P.E.. Jimmy H. Wright is bound by the NSPE Code of Ethics to inform the appropriate regulatory agencies of the engineer’s findings and the potential dangers to the public health and the environment. Chairman This Opinion is for educational purposes only. Question 2: B. Ph. provided that this statement is included before or after the text of the case and that appropriate attribution is provided to the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Board of Ethical Review. restricting him from revealing information concerning dangers to the public health and the environment. Paul E. Smith.CONCLUSIONS: Question 1: B.E. C.E.D. Allen Wortley.E. P. P. P. .. BOARD OF ETHICAL REVIEW James G. Hiatte. P. P.

Section II. served as a Civilian Building and Grounds Division Chief at a U. - Code of Ethics: Engineers shall not affix their signatures to any plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence. An Army official requests that Engineer A certify that certain arms storage rooms and arms storage racks on the military installation are in accordance with certain specific. . health and welfare of the public.S. (See Code Section II. Discussion: This case appears to raise at least two important ethical issues for professional engineers -.(a) the obligation of the engineer to practice solely within the engineer’s area of professional competency (See Code Section II. which are cross-referenced with other Army regulations. and explosive regulations.Case Study #2 Facts: Engineer A. nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direction and control. Engineer A has no significant training or knowledge in these areas.a. ammunition. Question: Would it be appropriate for Engineer A to certify as a qualified engineer the arms storage rooms and arms storage racks as requested by the Army official? References: Section II.2. - Code of Ethics: Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.2. and detailed Army physical security. - Code of Ethics: Engineers shall hold paramount the safety. There are comprehensive training programs available for this type of work.b. a professional engineer with expertise in civil engineering. which has been the subject of state engineering board regulation in recent years. but training funds are not available.2.a.b.2.1. arms.). Army installation. lengthy.) and (b) the certification of certain facts by an engineer. Section II.

there are important distinctions in applying the Code language to a consulting practice and applying the language in the context of an employment relationship. . Importantly. a professional engineer. This position was based upon a variety of considerations. If Engineer A determined that Engineer B did not possess the required education. BER Case 85-3. Engineer A. the firm should retain individuals with that expertise. During the construction of the project. As the Board noted in BER Case 85-3. It appeared that under the facts.E. the Board also noted that Engineer A has an objective basis to determine whether Engineer B has sufficient education. to design structural footings as part of the facility. The duties and responsibilities of the position of county surveyor included oversight of surveying reports and highway improvement projects but did not include actual preparation of engineering or surveying documents. the Board did not think it would be feasible under the facts. Engineer B's degree and background were in chemical engineering. recommending that Engineer B withdraw from the project. training.The Board of Ethical Review has had the opportunity to review the question of the ethical obligation of licensed engineers to practice solely within their area of competency on numerous occasions. For example. obviously. with experience and educational background solely in the field of chemical engineering. Engineer B was retained specifically for the sole and exclusive purpose of designing the structural footings in question. If Engineer B refused to acquiesce to Engineer A's recommendation. and experience to perform the services. In the former situation. The engineer accepted the position. After considering the two earlier cases. The Board determined that it would be unethical for Engineer B to perform the design of the structural footings as part of the facility and also that Engineer A had an ethical responsibility to question Engineer B's competency and report his concerns to the contractor. If Engineer B were to seek a separate firm to perform that task. In another case. a P. the Board decided it was unethical for Engineer A to accept the position as county surveyor. experience. in BER Case 94-8.E. While it may be possible for Engineer B as a consultant to the contractor to retain the services of a competent structural engineer to design the structural footings for the facility. The first appointee to the position was not a P. withdraw from the project if his concerns were not met. and if necessary. under the provisions of the Code. was working with a construction contractor on a design/build project for the construction of an industrial facility. the Board was of the view that Engineer A had an ethical obligation to confront Engineer B to make his concerns known to Engineer B. In BER Case 94-8. if an engineering firm is retained to perform engineering and land surveying services and the firm does not have expertise in the area of land surveying. the Board would have to seriously wonder what it was Engineer B was actually hired to perform and for what Engineer B was being paid. the firm has a good deal more discretion and flexibility and may be able to structure its work force to fit the needs and requirements of a particular job for which the firm is being retained. The Board noted that there was at least a reasonable basis for Engineer A to conclude that Engineer B did not possess the competence to perform the required task. and was therefore deemed unqualified to continue in the position. Engineer A had an obligation under the Code to bring the matter to the attention of his client and to the authorities as appropriate. a local county ordinance required that the position of county surveyor be filled by a P.E. The county commissioners met and decided to appoint an engineer. the construction contractor separately retained the services of Engineer B. a professional engineer. and training to perform the required structural design services. Engineer A had been unable to establish that Engineer B had any apparent subsequent training in foundation design and Engineer A had reservations concerning the competence of Engineer B to design the structural footings and reports his concerns to the contractor.

While there may be comprehensive training programs available. it would be extremely difficult. or make other arrangements in order to serve the needs of a client more effectively and efficiently. such a statement. A party that provides a certification of certain statements is generally providing a guarantee that the statements are correct. the competency issues at stake pose a clear and present danger to the public health and safety. not ethical. the Board believes these cases illustrate the important fundamental point that licensed engineers must make all efforts to perform professional services solely within their area of competence and not be unduly influenced either by employer or by client pressures that could cause grave danger to the public health and safety. and detailed Army physical security. for a county surveyor with no background or expertise in surveying to perform effective oversight of surveying reports and highway improvement projects for the county. Conclusion: It would not be ethical for Engineer A to certify as a qualified engineer the arms storage rooms and arms storage racks as requested by the Army official. However. . the Board should also note that even if Engineer A had the ethical competency to perform the services required. and regulations that are unique to this field of endeavor. under these facts.2. By certifying that certain arms storage rooms and arms storage racks on the installation are in accordance with certain specific. ammunition. lengthy. The Board could not see any way in which the engineer could be acting in accordance with Section II. the cases cited are not precisely the same as the facts in the present case. it would not have been ethically proper for Engineer A to “certify” compliance with the military regulations as requested. rules. and the BER encourages these rule modifications. deceptive and. Engineer A is guaranteeing that this statement is correct.Because of the relatively dynamic nature of private consulting practice. hire additional qualified personnel. State engineering licensure boards are beginning to make such certifications violations of state board rules of professional conduct.b. engineering firms frequently establish joint ventures and subcontracts. and explosive regulations that are cross-referenced with other Army regulations. Because it is clear that such information is clearly beyond the scope of knowledge of Engineer A (since it would be impossible for Engineer A to perform the detailed and exhaustive inspection of the facility that would be required). Finally. the facts reveal that insufficient funds exist for Engineer A to participate in such programs. if made by Engineer A would be misleading. While Engineer A may be a very competent engineer. if not impossible in the usual employment context. the Board noted that from a practical standpoint. arms. Making certain that a military hardware storage facility is designed and built safely involves keen awareness of many complex and detailed procedures. In the present case. Engineer A is clearly not knowledgeable in this very technical and complicated area. Although. because whatever course of action he took would result in unethical conduct and compromise his role as county surveyor. on that basis.

Goode. M. Goode 's report. in a series of feature articles based upon information gleaned from I. in very general terms. "Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports. jingles. M.Case Study #3 Facts: I.a. unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking." Section II.2. statements containing prediction of future success.a. on-site accidents. Question: Was it ethical for I. Her report identifies. statements containing an opinion as to the quality of the Engineers' services. Goode visits the bridge and performs a one-day visual observation. M. and litigation primarily as a result of several well-publicized. cost increases. is hired for a nominal sum by a large city newspaper to visit the site of a state bridge construction project. I. potential problems and proposes additional testing and other possible engineering solutions.c. M. I.b. Allegations of misconduct and incompetence are made against the project engineers and the contractors as well as the state highway department. including the use of slogans. State engineers have been proceeding with repairs based upon a specific schedule. M." Section III. "Engineers shall avoid the use of statements containing a material misrepresentation of fact or omitting a material fact necessary to keep statements from being misleading or intended or likely to create an unjustified expectation.a. statements or testimony.3. or sensational language or format." Section III. puffery.3. which has had a troubled history of construction delays. the newspaper alleges that the bridge has major safety problems that jeopardize its successful completion date.3." Section II. statements or testimony. a renowned structural engineer. and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters. health and well-being of their community. Goode states that her report was intended merely to identify what she viewed were potential problems with the safety of the bridge and was not intended to be conclusive as to the safety of the bridge. Recently the state highway department has announced the date for the opening of the bridge. They shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports.3. "Engineers may express publicly a professional opinion on technical subjects only when that opinion is founded upon adequate knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter. or statements intended or likely to attract client by the use of showmanship." Discussion: . Thereafter. or selflaudation. "Engineers shall seek opportunities to be of constructive service in civic affairs and work for the advancement of the safety. During an investigation by the state. criticisms or arguments on technical matters which are inspired or paid for by interested parties. Goode to agree to perform an investigation for the newspaper in the manner stated? References: Code of Ethics Section II. "Engineers shall issue no statements.

In this regard. indeed in some cases." (Section III. Note: This opinion is based on data submitted to the Board of Ethical Review and does not necessarily represent all of the pertinent facts when applied to a specific case. health and well-being of their community. It is clear. we believe that the engineer has an obligation to the public as well as to the profession to protect the integrity of her professional opinions and the manner in which those opinions are disseminated to the public. Rather. the engineer must act with particular care.The technical expertise that engineers can offer in the discussion of public issues is vital to the interests of the public. when that opinion is (l) based upon adequate knowledge of the facts and circumstance involved. we are not merely dealing with a disinterested engineer who on her own has decided to come forward and offer her professional views. The engineer should only render a professional opinion publicly. and dispassionate professional advice that is pertinent and relevant to the points at issue. Goode had been retained for a fee by the newspaper in question to perform the one day observation of the bridge site. This fact gives an added ethical dimension to the case and requires our additional analysis. This opinion is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as expressing any opinion on the ethics of specific individuals. Moreover. based upon the Code of Ethics and several interpretations of the Code by this Board that the engineer may and. I. While we recognize that there are limits to what an engineer can do in these areas. However. This opinion may be reprinted without further permission.a. and the avoidance of personality conflicts in mind.) Obviously. Conclusion: It was not unethical for Engineer A to agree to perform an investigation for the newspaper in the manner stated but Engineer A has an obligation to require the newspaper to state in the article that Engineer A had been retained for a fee by the newspaper to provide her professional opinion concerning the safety of the bridge. and should take whatever reasonable steps are necessary to enhance the probability that the engineer's professional opinions are reported completely. we must note that under the facts of this case. and not out of context. and (2) the engineer clearly possesses the expertise to render such an opinion. adequacy of knowledge. the NSPE Code of Ethics makes clear that engineers should "seek opportunities to be of constructive service in civic affairs and work for the advancement of the safety. provided that this statement is included before or after the text of the case. accurately. . M. M. We have long encouraged engineers to become active and involved in matters concerning the well-being of the public. truthful. The Board has earlier visited situations in which engineers have publicly rendered professional opinions. In situations where an engineer is being asked to provide technical expertise to the public discussion. Goode has an ethical obligation to require that the newspaper clearly state in the articles that I. this important involvement must be appropriate to the circumstance of the situation. must ethically provide technical judgment on a matter of public importance with the aforementioned considerations concerning expertise. the engineer should offer objective. we are dealing with an engineer who was retained by a newspaper to provide her professional opinion with the understanding that the opinion could serve as the basis for news articles concerning the safety of the bridge.2. it is our view that as a condition of her retention by the newspaper involved. We should also add that in circumstances such as here where an engineer is being retained by a newspaper to offer a professional opinion concerning a matter of public concern. should exercise the utmost integrity and dignity.

. Harrison Streeter.E. P..Board of Ethical Review: Eugene N. Jarvis. Robert W.E. L. P. P. Pritzker. Paul E. Haefeli.E. P. P. chairman.E. P. Robert J. Bechamps.E. .E. Herbert G.E.S. Lindley Manning. Koogle. P.

It was unethical for LeVard not to disclose the use of propriety data developed for another client. and that LeVard would contract to review the study to determine whether any modifications. . LeVard invoices HighYield for a complete traffic study. the Board believes that at some point. and professional judgment are contained in the report. knowledge. HighYield learns that LeVard created part of the traffic study earlier for a developer.E. LeVard would then say that HighYield would be charged for full value of the report. The second study on a new project for HighYield used some of the same raw data that was in the report prepared for ProfitTech. HighYield. The Board believes that it would have been appropriate for LeVard to inform HighYield that a similar study had been done for another client. In this connection. It was ethical for LeVard to charge HighYield for a complete traffic study. or the local code officials would become aware of LeVard's action. Question: Was it ethical for LeVard to charge HighYield for the complete traffic study? What the Board Said This case relates to the direct obligations of truth and honesty that all engineers owe to their clients in the performance of their services. or other changes would be necessary. LeVard was performing the same basic service for two separate clients and billing HighYield for data that LeVard had already developed and billed ProfitTech. Later. ProfitTech. ProfitTech Industries. Under the facts presented in the case.Case Study #4 Facts Bill LeVard. the Board does not believe that an ethical violation exists under the facts. The final conclusion of the engineering study was essentially the same in both studies. expertise. However. Such an approach would be in accord with the language and intent of the NSPE Code and demonstrate good will on the part of LeVard. P. which could ultimately reflect upon LeVard and potentially the engineering profession in general.. updates. and LeVard had the ethical right to be fully compensated for such services. LeVard's intellectual property. High Yield also learns that LeVard invoiced ProfitTech for the complete traffic study. performs a traffic study for HighYield Enterprises as part of the client's permit application for traffic flow for the development of a store.

saying that the development will be moved to another site.Engineering Ethics ES1000 Case Study #1 Facts: B. lengthy. which are cross-referenced with other Army regulations. and even washed into a river that flows immediately adjacent to the site. and explosive regulations. The city is considering plans to build a children’s park. Army installation.S. even if the development is moved elsewhere. B. over time. ammunition. Wright. but training funds are not available. an environmental engineering firm. a principal in ABC Engineering. a confidentiality clause must be signed which precludes B. become exposed at the surface. after being informed by the city that there was a possibility that the site could contain hazardous and toxic wastes? Case Study #2 Facts: Engineer A. bike/jogging trail. There are comprehensive training programs available for this type of work. as part of the contract. due to erosion of the cover. submits qualifications and a proposal to a local municipality to be considered as the consultant for the research and analysis of a former dump site which is being considered for reclamation as a wetland. The dump has been closed for many years after being used for several decades for commercial waste disposal. and parkway near the reclaimed areas. Wright. In a meeting with B. Questions: Question 1: Is B. Wright behave ethically in signing the confidentiality clause restricting him from revealing information concerning dangers to the public health and the environment. Preliminary research by B. He signs the contract and the clause. Upon being awarded the contract. and the river is used for drinking water intake for cities on the other side of the river and downstream. the municipality indicates the possibility that there could be hazardous and toxic wastes encountered in the dump. Wright of its confidentiality clause and the legal consequences of going public with the confidential information. citing the political ramifications of revealing the findings and the economics of having to clean up the property as its reasons for not continuing. Wright responds that the city has a responsibility to the public to proceed to remediation. Question: Would it be appropriate for Engineer A to certify as a qualified engineer the arms storage rooms and arms storage racks as requested by the Army official? . Tests of the surface soils on the site are inconclusive but reveal a possibility that very high contaminant levels of hazardous and toxic waste could. Upon receiving the initial data. Wright bound by the NSPE Code of Ethics to inform the appropriate regulatory agencies of his findings and the potential dangers to the public health and the environment? Question 2: Did B. Wright confirms that the dump site is not closed according to the hazardous and solid waste regulations of the state. and detailed Army physical security. Wright from disclosing any results or information concerning the project without the city’s written permission. arms. the city terminates the contract. Engineer A has no significant training or knowledge in these areas. Wright is informed by the city that. An Army official requests that Engineer A certify that certain arms storage rooms and arms storage racks on the military installation are in accordance with certain specific. served as a Civilian Building and Grounds Division Chief at a U. B. possibly without any regulation or control. recreation and picnic area. but the city refuses and reminds B. a professional engineer with expertise in civil engineering.

ProfitTech Industries. and litigation primarily as a result of several well-publicized. in a series of feature articles based upon information gleaned from I. on-site accidents. They should be reviewed with the NSPE Code of Ethics. LeVard invoices HighYield for a complete traffic study. I. M. performs a traffic study for HighYield Enterprises as part of the client's permit application for traffic flow for the development of a store. I. The second study on a new project for HighYield used some of the same raw data that was in the report prepared for ProfitTech. in very general terms. M. Allegations of misconduct and incompetence are made against the project engineers and the contractors as well as the state highway department.E. High Yield also learns that LeVard invoiced ProfitTech for the complete traffic study. Later. Recently the state highway department has announced the date for the opening of the bridge. which has had a troubled history of construction delays. cost increases. Question: Was it ethical for LeVard to charge HighYield for the complete traffic study? The case studies are from NSPE. Thereafter. State engineers have been proceeding with repairs based upon a specific schedule. Goode. Goode to agree to perform an investigation for the newspaper in the manner stated? Case Study #4 Facts: Bill LeVard. P. During an investigation by the state. There is an ethical case study published every month in NSPE’s magazine “Engineering Times”. the newspaper alleges that the bridge has major safety problems that jeopardize its successful completion date. potential problems and proposes additional testing and other possible engineering solutions. Her report identifies. The final conclusion of the engineering study was essentially the same in both studies. Goode 's report.. Goode states that her report was intended merely to identify what she viewed were potential problems with the safety of the bridge and was not intended to be conclusive as to the safety of the bridge. . M.Case Study #3 Facts: I. M. Goode visits the bridge and performs a one-day visual observation. is hired for a nominal sum by a large city newspaper to visit the site of a state bridge construction project. HighYield learns that LeVard created part of the traffic study earlier for a developer. a renowned structural engineer. M. Question: Was it ethical for I.