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US-14: Structural engineer faces ethical challenge

Report ID: 943

Published: CROSS-US Newsletter 2 - September 2020

Report Overview

Engineer's professional obligations in delegated designs.

Report Content

A correspondent reports being placed in a difficult ethical situation.  The correspondent is a structural engineer working on a delegated design that is part of a new structure.  During its work, the correspondent discovered what it considers to be serious safety flaws in the structure's base design. The correspondent has worked extensively to bring these issues to the attention of various project participants, but they remain unaddressed.  The correspondent desires an industry system to "whistle blow" in this situation.  The correspondent asks if there is a way to meet its professional obligation to public safety without fear of repercussion.

Comments

This report brings up the responsibility of an engineer when he/she believes they have found serious safety flaws in a base design by others on a project for which they are providing delegated design.

Engineering licensing boards in all US jurisdictions require their licensed engineers to hold public safety paramount in all that they do.  Many licensing boards provide rules that explicitly direct their licensees in situations such as that described by this reporter.

In this example, the reporter should bring the safety flaws to the attention of the prime professional.  If the flaws are not appropriately remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the contractor.  If the flaws are still not remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the project owner.  If the flaws are still not remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the building official or government agency having jurisdiction.  In some circumstances it may be necessary to report the issue to the licensing board.  Each notice should be made or documented in writing.

Will there be repercussions?  There may be, but that should never be a deterrent.  Public safety is paramount to the practice of engineering.

Additional references1&2 are included below.

1. ASCE Code of Ethics (https://www.asce.org/code-of-ethics).
2. NSPE Code of Ethics (https://nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics).


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