From time to time, it is good to be reminded of the engineer’s responsibility to act in an ethical manner.

As the next PE renewal cycle approaches, licensed engineers need to have taken one hour of ethics as part of the continuing education requirement for license renewal in Florida.

Occasionally the question is asked, why do Professional Engineers need to take a course on laws and rules and ethics every renewal cycle? Practicing good ethics can be complicated in a business and legal world that is in constant change. Therefore, I would like to spend a little time reminding all of the PE licensees of the importance of practicing good ethics in our profession.

What is ethics? The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethics as a set of rules or standards governing the conduct of the members of a profession. This is especially important in the engineering profession because the practice of engineering will have a direct impact on the public’s quality of life. Additionally, the ethical standards practiced by an engineer will affect the engineer’s clients and employer.

Therefore, it is imperative that as members of the engineering profession, we have good ethics that exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and not be guilty of misconduct.

Misconduct can be defined as including, but not limited to: being untruthful, deceptive, or misleading in any professional report, statement, or testimony, whether or not under oath. In addition, it includes omitting relevant and pertinent information from such report when the result of such omission could reasonably lead to a fallacious conclusion on the part of the client, employer, or the general public.

I have read that one of the most common types of misconduct is being untruthful. This type of an ethical violation can come via being untruthful on an application or a report, failing to disclose a conflict of interest, or advertising qualifications that are dubious.

Other types of misconduct could include expressing an engineering opinion without having all the facts, the failure to use due care in the practice of engineering, or the signing and sealing of a report or set of construction drawings not done under your supervision as a PE.

One way we can reduce the opportunity for misconduct is by periodically reviewing the laws dealing with practice of engineering in Chapter 471, Florida Statutes, and the engineering rules in Chapter 61G15, Florida Administrative Code.

Additionally, an engineer can read the Code of Ethics produced by an engineering organization, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Florida Engineering Society, or the National Society of Professional Engineers. Because a Code of Ethics is not always viewed the same by all individuals, it is also helpful to “bounce” ethical situations off a trusted colleague who can assist you in making the proper decision for an ethical dilemma. When this is done it will help each PE develop a solution to the “ethical problem” that is above reproach, and potentially prevent an ethical violation turning into a complaint alleging misconduct being filed against the PE.

About the Author

Kenneth Todd is a licensed Professional Engineer in Florida. He currently works as water resource manager for Palm Beach County and is responsible for coordinating water-resource efforts with county department and other government agencies. Mr. Todd is serving his second term on the Florida Board of Professional Engineers and is Board Chair for 2017-18.