BY SCOTT DRURY, PE
During my tenure on the Florida Board of Professional Engineers, I became aware that many engineers do not realize that Division 61G15, Florida Administrative Code, contains various sections related to “responsibility rules” for the practice of engineering in Florida.
In both formal and informal settings, I heard various responses about the responsibility rules. I saw Professional Engineers who had been previously disciplined for not following the responsibility rules back in front of the Board for similar violations. I heard Professional Engineers with 30-plus years of experience practicing in Florida ask, “So, where would I find these rules?” Others did not believe these rules applied to them or their situations.
Also, engineering firms that work across multiple states may have company standards that do not meet the specific requirements of Florida.
Let’s explore why Florida has responsibility rules, and why it is important to know what they are and to abide by them in our engineering practice.
The responsibility rules are found in Chapters 61G15-30 through 61G15-36, F.A.C. The purpose of the responsibility rules is defined in 61G15-30.001, F.A.C.:
(1) The Board has adopted these responsibility rules pursuant to section 471.033(2), Florida Statutes, to safeguard the life, health, property, and welfare of the public by promoting proper conduct in the practice of engineering and due care and regard for acceptable engineering principles and standards. The Board considers that professional engineers may avoid disciplinary actions by observing the procedures set forth herein. Failure to comply with these rules may be considered as noncompliance with subsection 61G15-19.001(4), F.A.C., unless the deviation or departure therefrom is justified by the specific circumstances of the project in question. Furthermore, these rules are intended to apply as general guidelines where no contractual relationship exists between the parties addressed herein. These rules are not intended to take precedence over contractual relationships developed between the parties addressed herein, so long as those contractual relationships do not violate Chapter 471, F.S., or the stated purpose of these responsibility rules. These responsibility rules shall apply to every person holding a license as a professional engineer, and every qualified engineering business organization, as appropriate. A professional engineer’s practices, education, training, experience, qualifications, technical competence, conduct, and responsibilities in connection with his authorized engineering practice, services, and creative work are subject to regulation solely by the Board of Professional Engineers, the courts, and local jurisdictions.
Let’s break this purpose down into a few key pieces:
- The Board has statutory authority to safeguard the life, health, property, and welfare of the public through regulating engineering in Florida.
- Section 471.033(2), F.S., requires the Board to create rules to define what acts or omissions could constitute grounds for disciplinary action.
(2) The board shall specify, by rule, what acts or omissions constitute a violation of subsection (1).
- Failure to comply with the responsibility rules may be considered non-compliance and can result in disciplinary action.
- The responsibility rules apply to every Professional Engineer and qualified engineering business offering engineering services in Florida.
In other words, the responsibility rules establish a minimum professional standard of care in the practice of engineering. A professional standard of care is typically “the standard provided by a reasonably prudent professional in that line of work.” The responsibility rules were created to further develop this definition so that both the public and Professional Engineers would be aware of this minimum professional standard of care.
Many people have said something similar to this: “The project got through permitting. I complied with the requirements of _____ code. Why do I have to look at another set of requirements? The Board should just let us follow those requirements without giving us their own.” This gives a negative connotation to the rules.
Keep in mind, that these various codes and standards (Florida Building Code, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or countless others) are not regulated by the Board; instead, they are regulated by other regulatory boards, commissions, or national professional societies. It is unreasonable to expect that the Board could define the minimum standard of care in each of these codes and standards. The last sentence of Rule 61G15-30.001(1), F.A.C., states:
A professional engineer’s practices, education, training, experience, qualifications, technical competence, conduct, and responsibilities in connection with his authorized engineering practice, services, and creative work are subject to regulation solely by the Board of Professional Engineers, the courts, and local jurisdictions.
To regulate this responsibly, the responsibility rules were developed by committee, adopted by the Board, and subject to legislative oversight. The committees consisted of several Board members and various Professional Engineers, licensed contractors, permitting officials, or other subject-matter experts. In other words, a lot of thought went into these rules, and many eyes looked over these rules before they were officially adopted.
However, I want to challenge each of you in two specific ways regarding the responsibility rules:
KNOW WHAT THEY SAY. It is difficult to abide by the rules if you do not know what the rules are. You must know the rules and stay current with them. To renew your PE license in Florida, you are required to take at least one hour of continuing education on Florida laws and rules every two years. Given that the requirement is only for one hour, many courses focus on what has changed and assume that you were aware of the other existing requirements. If you are not familiar with the responsibility rules, you may consider reading through them after you complete your one-hour course.
Chapter 61G15-30, F.A.C., covers general responsibility rules common to all engineers. Subsequent chapters cover specific disciplines or acts of engineers, such as structural engineering (61G15-31), fire protection engineering (61G15-32), electrical engineering (61G15-33), mechanical engineering (61G15-34), threshold building inspections (61G15-35), and product evaluation (61G15-36). While most engineers do not practice each of these types of engineering, each engineer is required to comply with the common requirements and any other requirements in their specific areas of practice.
LOOK AT THEM FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. As you read this next example, I am aware that not all of you hold the same faith as me. But hopefully, you may appreciate the analogy. As a Christian, I have read or heard people talk about the Ten Commandments a lot. However, I did not have the same appreciation for them until a pastor once challenged me to look at the Ten Commandments from a different point of view. Instead of reading them as negative (such as, “Thou shalt not steal”), try reading them as positive (such as, “We will respect the property of others”). Instead of simply being a restriction from living life, I was able to view these rules as a freedom to how I can live my life while trying my best to honor these commandments.
The same can apply to the responsibility rules. Instead of looking at them as a negative (“I have to do all of this or risk getting disciplined”), look at them from a positive perspective (“My engineering services will meet all requirements, and I will avoid disciplinary action”).
Instead of guessing what the minimum standard of care is or trying to guess what a “reasonable professional” would do, you can feel confident that by following these rules, you will avoid disciplinary action.
As a Professional Engineer who follows the framework in Florida’s laws and rules, you can feel confident that the services you provide to your clients meet the minimum accepted standards for practicing engineering in Florida, and by doing so, you are safeguarding the life, health, property, and welfare of the public through your work.
Scott Drury, PE, of Tallahassee, is a principal owner at H2Engineering, which he joined in 2007. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University in 2002. In addition to being a licensed Professional Engineer in both mechanical and fire protection engineering, Mr. Drury is also a commissioning authority, certified firestop inspector, and LEED accredited professional. He served on the Florida Board of Professional Engineers from 2018 through 2022, and served as its chair his final year.