ENGINEERS’ CONDUCT & ETHICS SERIES: Part 1-Protecting the Public

Engineer EthicsWhether its San Antonio, Austin, or any Texas city or county, the de facto last line of defense for preventing engineering system failure is the professional engineer. When a local city building department needs help to assure their citizens are safe and secure from the devastating impacts of structural system failure, they hire an engineer. Similarly, when a private entity needs to know their built project is safe or not, the seek the services of a professional engineer. Why?
It stands to reason that a competent disinterested party, with no “skin in the game”, should assure the technical integrity of any engineered system that could potentially impact public safety.  Both public and private entities throughout the world universally rely upon the education, training, and experience of professional engineers to give advice and consent confirming the efficacy of the engineered system. For example, in the state of Texas, Chapter 137, subchapter C of the Texas Administrative Code entitled “Compliance and Professionalism” entrusts Texas licensed professional engineers to “Protect the Public”. The TAC, which is law, states: “Engineers shall be entrusted to protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public in the practice of their profession”. “The public” as used in this section and other rules is defined as any person(s), client(s), business or public entities, or any member of the general population whose normal course of life might reasonably include an interaction of any sort with the engineering work of the license holder.
The law also requires that professional engineers shall not do any engineering function which, when measured by generally accepted engineering standards or rules, is reasonably likely to endanger lives, health, safety, property, or welfare of the public. And, Any act or conduct which constitutes incompetence or gross negligence, or a criminal violation of law, is misconduct and shall be censurable by the board.
A key responsibility of a Texas professional engineer is to first tell involved parties of any engineering decision or practice that might endanger the health, safety, property or welfare of the public. The specifically states: “When, in an engineer’s judgment, any risk to the public remains unresolved, that engineer shall report any fraud, gross negligence, incompetence, misconduct, unethical or illegal conduct to the board or to proper civil or criminal authorities”.
Finally, the law requires Engineers “should strive to adequately check the environmental impact of their actions and projects, including the prudent use and conservation of resources and energy, to make informed recommendations and decisions”.
Source Note: The provisions of this §137.55 amended to be effective May 20, 2004.