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Ethics in Structural Engineering

How often do you consider your ethical obligations as a structural engineer?  What does it even mean to be an ethical engineer?  Some might think merely abiding by the laws that apply to everyone else within your jurisdiction is considered ethical, but professional engineers have a duty beyond simply following those laws.

In the April 2018 SE University session, Matthew R. Rechtien, PE, Esq., Senior Assistant City Engineer for the City of Ann Arbor, gave a talk on Engineering Law and Ethics Case Studies.  Matt’s presentation helped delineate mandatory versus voluntary rules, and how these guidelines help bolster the status of the engineering profession.  As the profession is regulated in all 50 states, engineers have responsibilities and privileges, and are required to uphold certain ethical rules or face possible discipline by the governing and other authorities.

Since laws vary by state, Matt focused mainly on the fundamental principles and canons set forth by ASCE, which he believes are the gold standard and reasonably representative of state laws regulating the profession.  Matt also reviewed several case studies with some surprising results based on various ethical dilemmas.  These case studies can sometimes initiate thoughtful consideration and create awareness on how to avoid unethical business practices within the profession.  You can access additional case studies by visiting and you can click here to print your own copy of ASCE’s principles and canons.  Also, ASCE offers an Ethics Hotline where engineers can get further guidance on complex issues that may arise by calling 1-800-548-2723 x6151.

Often times, structural engineers may zero in on their responsibility to “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare” of the public by providing sound engineering judgment, however, their ethical obligation runs much deeper.  Being aware of the full extent of your responsibilities and privileges as an esteemed member of this profession can minimize future risk and help promote the status of the profession as a whole.