At annual meetings in 2011, both NSPE and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying took action on policies regarding the existence of industrial exemptions from engineering licensure requirements in state statutes pertaining to manufacturing businesses and/or utilities.
Industries were successful prior to the 1960s in enacting industrial exemptions in most states. At the present, all but nine jurisdictions have industrial exemptions for manufacturing businesses, and all but 16 jurisdictions have exemptions pertaining to utilities.
At the NSPE Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in July, the NSPE House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of a new NSPE policy on industrial exemptions as follows:
It is the policy of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) that all engineers who are in responsible charge of the practice of engineering as defined in the NCEES Model Law and Rules in a manner that potentially impacts the public health, safety and welfare should be required by all state statutes to be licensed professional engineers. NSPE recommends the phasing out of existing industrial exemptions in state licensing laws.
The adoption of this policy changed 33 years of acquiescence on the part of NSPE regarding industrial exemptions. In its early years, NSPE had advocated strongly against the adoption of industrial exemptions under the leadership of David Steinman, P.E., NSPE’s founder. In the late 1970s, NSPE moderated its policy, acknowledging the existence of many such exemptions. This new policy now advocates the phasing out of industrial exemptions, returning NSPE to David Steinman’s core principles. Numerous speakers exhorted the NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee to develop more information for use by NSPE state societies in advocating change in state statutes. The unanimity of the NSPE House of Delegates on this matter was surprising to many. This issue resonates among professional engineers who are dedicated to the protection and enhancement of public health, safety, and welfare.
At its annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in August, NCEES voted 60-5 to modify the Model Law to insert the following provision:
Licensed engineers shall be in responsible charge of all engineering design of buildings, structures, products, machines, processes and systems that can affect the health, safety and welfare of the public.
This is a fine provision for a state which does not have industrial exemptions to add to its state statute, and it provides the rationale for removing current industrial exemptions where they exist now. This issue also resonates among PE boards, which have a fundamental obligation to protect public health, safety, and welfare within their jurisdiction. For further information on this topic, see the three previous items on the industrial exemption:1)
Industrial Exemptions: A Proposed NSPE Policy, 2)The Industrial Exemption: Which States Have Them and Which States Do Not?and 3)The Industrial Exemption: What, If Anything, Should The Profession Do?
The national engineering organizations have acted, clearly and decisively. It is now up to NSPE state societies and PE boards in each jurisdiction to act. The Gulf oil spill provides a perfect example of why business and economic interests should not take precedence over protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.
The NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee has three work items on its agenda for the coming year:
- It is not clear from the current Model Law or existing state statutes in what jurisdiction a professional engineer needs to be licensed if the individual works for a manufacturing business that makes a product and the engineer’s design work is completed in state X, the manufacturing itself is done in state Y, and the product is used in state Z, or in many states. My assumption is that, with respect to generic products and systems used in many states, the individual is required to be licensed in State X, but not in States Y or Z, but statutory language to date typically does not make that clear.
- Information needs to be provided to NSPE state societies to assist in creating a compelling argument for the lack of need for exemptions for utilities. Fifty years ago, nearly every state had its own utility. Now, many utilities are regional, providing services across numerous state borders, some of which have utility exemptions and some of which do not.
- Information needs to be provided to NSPE state societies to assist in creating a compelling rationale for phasing out industrial exemptions, based on the clear potential benefit to the public and the limited impact on industry of requiring engineers in responsible charge to be licensed. NSPE’s policy, and NCEES’s Model Law provision, pertain to those “in responsible charge,” not necessarily all engineers in industry. The difference is significant, and this is a new twist in the discussion of industrial exemptions.
Editorial input on this item was provided by Bernard R. Berson, P.E., F.NSPE, and L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE.
The author is a Fellow of NSPE and ACEC, a Distinguished Member of ASCE, a Board Certified Environmental Engineer, the Chair of the NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee, and a member of the ABET Board of Directors. The opinions expressed herein are his own and do not reflect the views of any of these organizations.
Published September 6, 2011 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE
Filed under: Industrial Exemption,
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.