History of the Code of Ethics for Engineers

History of the Code of Ethics for Engineers      

Note: The material contained in the "History of the NSPE Code of Ethics" is being provided solely for historic purposes. Previous versions of the NSPE Code of Ethics and NSPE Canons of Ethics can be provided to assist professional engineers and others in enhancing their understanding of past and present ethics language and is not intended to express current NSPE positions or positions on matters of professional ethics.

The first reference to a Society Code of Ethics is found in the May 1935 issue of The American Engineer in the form of a suggestion for membership consideration. It is not clear whether the Society's Board of Directors ever adopted or acted upon the Suggested Code.

In 1946, the Board approved the Canons of Ethics for Engineers as prepared by a joint committee sponsored by the Engineers' Council for Professional Development, a coordinating body of technical engineering societies. NSPE was not a member of ECPD. It was published in the January 1947 issue of The American Engineer.

September 1948 - The Board adopted a motion to urge the state societies to adopt revised Canons of Ethics for Engineers as published in the November 1947 issue of The American Engineer. This version differs from that published in January 1947.

June 1952 - The Board adopted 15 Rules of Ethical Conduct, presumably to supplement the Canons of Ethics, although this is not explicitly stated.

June 1957 - The Board adopted Rules of Professional Conduct to supplement the Canons of Ethics.

February 1961 - The Board approved a change in the Rules of Professional Conduct to change Rule 49 re competitive bidding and to change Rule 50 to prescribe procedure when an engineer is asked for a proposal.

July 1964 - The Board adopted the NSPE Code of Ethics to replace the existing Canons of Ethics for Engineers and Rules of Professional Conduct.

January 1965 - Section 11(c) of the Code of Ethics was amended to add the word "engineering" prior to "services" to clarify that the Section does not apply to combined engineering and construction work.

June-July 1965 - The Board approved the addition of Section 3(e) to the Code of Ethics, dealing with participation in strikes, etc., and amended Section 12 to substitute "If he believes" in lieu of "If he has knowledge," dealing with criticism of another engineer's work.

January 1966 - Board approved amendments to Section 8(c) of the Code of Ethics to delete the two words, "or advisor," and to add a sentence re a conflict of interest.

July 1966 - The Board approved a change in Section 11(c) of the Code of Ethics to apply the competitive bidding provisions to obtaining the services of other professionals, and to permit the submission of tenders for work in foreign countries when such is required by law, regulations, or practices of the foreign country. (Note: the latter provision is sometimes called the "When in Rome" clause). Also, the Board approved changes in Section 12 to apply the section to employed engineers, and modified Section 12(a) by substituting "An Engineer in private practice" in lieu of the word "he," and deleted the words "or consent." Also, Section 12(b) pertaining to engineers in industry was added, pertaining to review of the work of another engineer by an engineer employed in government, industry, or education. Section 12(c) was slightly reworded for clarity, pertaining to engineers in sales or industrial employment making enginee ring comparisons of products.

January 1968 - The Board approved the deletion of the last sentence of Section 11(c), pertaining to overseas engineering ("When in Rome" clause).

July 1968 - The Board approved changes in Section 3(a) of the Code pertaining to advertising of engineering services, and other subparagraphs were renumbered. Also, Section 3(e) (pertaining to strikes) was transferred to Section 1 and designated Section 1(f).

January 1969 - The Board approved a revision of Section 11(d) of the Code pertaining to contingent contracts.

January 1971 - The Board approved a revision of Section 3, pertaining to advertising. Also, the Board approved the printing of a footnote with the Code pertaining to application of the Code to corporations.

January 1974 - The Board approved a revision of Section 11(b) which added the words "pay, or..." with respect to "commissions, political contributions,...in order to secure work exclusive of salaried positions through the employment agencies." Section 1(b) was revised by the deletion of the word "obviously" which appeared before the word "wrong" in a section relating to situations where an engineer should admit and accept errors. The Board also approved a change in Section 1(e) which removed the words "unfair methods" and substituted "false or misleading pretenses" in a provision relating to methods used by one employer to attract an engineer from another firm. Section 1(g) was changed to delete "He will not use his professional affiliations or public office to secure personal advantage and..." and to add simply "He..." in a provision admonishing against actions promoting one's interest at the expense of the integrity of the profession. Section 12 was amended to remove "in public" in a code section relating to an engineer injuring, maliciously or falsely, the professional reputation of another enginee r.

July 1976 - The Board approved a change which deleted Section 9(a) which stated "He will not undertake or agree to perform any engineering service on a free basis except for civic, charitable, religious or eleemosynary nonprofit organizations when the professional services are advisory in nature," and added Section 11 which stated "An engineer will not use 'free engineering' as a device to solicit or otherwise secure paid engineering assignments."

July 1978 - Section 11(c) relating to the selection of engineering firms was deleted and Section 11 was altered to delete the words "by competitive bidding" in the first paragraph of the section. The words "or fee" were deleted from Section 11(e). The Board also approved a change which deleted Section 9(a) of the Code addressing the issue of appropriate and adequate compensation for those engaged in engineering work. Section 3, relating to avoidance of conduct likely to discredit the profession by making misleading, deceptive, or false claims, misrepresentations was clarified.

July 1979 - The Board approved changes which added Section 7(b) admonishing against related services for a private party following public employment of an engineer. Sections 8 and 8(a) were replaced with a new Section 8 which provided clearer guidance relating to conflicts of interest and the disclosure of known conflicts to the employer and the clients. The Board also approved a change to renumber Section 10 dealing with the issue of conflict of interest to become Section 9. Section 11(b) relating to payments, political contributions, gifts, and other considerations in order to secure work was refined. Section 1(d) was altered to permit employed engineers to accept outside employment if it is not detrimental to the interests of their employer and to require such employee to notify the employer where such outside employment will constitute a conflict of interest or will be to the detriment of the regular work of the engineer. Finally, the Board approved the deletion of Section 11(a) relating to the supplanting of one engineer by another engineer.

January 1981 - The Board approved a change which deleted Section 11(e) restricting free engineering and amended Section 11(b) to delete all words following the word "compromised." The amended provision reads "An engineer shall not request, propose, or accept a professional commission on a contingency basis under circumstances in which his professional judgment may be compromised." In addition, the Board adopted a new code format for the NSPE Code of Ethics.

July 1981 - Section III(6)(c), restricting engineers in sales employment from giving engineering advice or designs other than specifically related to equipment being sold by them or their firm, was deleted. Section III(8) relating to the ethical duty of engineers to report the suspected illegal practice of engineering to the proper authorities, was amended to delete the words "other engineer," and the word "others" was substituted in their place.

January 1985 - The Board approved a change in Section II(2)(c) to add the word "only" following the word "sealed" in the last line. To conform with Florida registration law.

July 1986 - Section III(9) was amended to provide that engineers may seek indemnification for professional services for other than gross negligence where the engineer's interests cannot otherwise be protected.

January 1987 - Fundamental Canon 5 was amended by deleting the word "improper" and adding "deceptive acts." Rules of Practice No. 5 was amended by deleting the word "improper" and adding "deceptive acts." Section III(3)(a) was amended by deleting the word "statements" (second sentence) and substituting the word "or" after "misleading." Section III(6)(b) present wording deleted and changed to "Engineers, when employing other engineers, shall offer a salary according to professional qualifications." Section III(7) present wording deleted and changed to "Engineers shall not attempt to obtain employment or advancement or professional engagements by untruthfully criticizing other engineers, or by other improper or questionable methods." Section III(7)(b) present wording deleted and changed to "Engineers in salaried positions shall accept part-time engineering work only to the extent consistent with policies of the employer and in accordance with ethical considerations. Section III(8) was amended by deleting the word "indiscriminately" and substituting the word "untruthfully."

January 1990 - NSPE Board approved a change in Section II.4.d. to add "or quasi-governmental" after the word "governmental" to the clarify the distinction between the two entities.

July 1993 - NSPE entered into a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. Pursuant to this consent agreement, the FTC issued an order on August 6, 1993, that provides that NSPE may not prohibit or restrict its members from engaging in truthful, nondeceptive advertising. NSPE Board approved deleting language from its Code in Section III.3.a. In addition, NSPE has revoked BER Cases 81-5 and 84-2.

July 1996 - The NSPE Board approved the following changes to the Code of Ethics: Addition of Fundamental Canon I.6 relating to engineers conducting themselves honorably and responsibly; Removal of III.6 relating to appropriate and adequate compensation and subsequent paragraphs renumbered; and, removal of III.11 relating to cooperating in information exchanges.

February 2001 - The NSPE Board approved the following change to the Code of Ethics: Deletion of Section III.1.e. "Engineers shall not actively participate in strikes, picket lines, or other collective coercive action."

July 2002 -- The NSPE Board approved the following changes to the Code of Ethics: New section II.1.e. "Engineers shall not aid or abet the unlawful practice of engineering by a person or firm." Old section II.1.e. was renumbered as new section II.1.f.

January 2003 -- The NSPE Board approved a new section (III.9.e.) to the Code of Ethics that reads: "Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and should keep current in their specialty fields by engaging in professional practice, participating in continuing education courses, reading in the technical literature and attending professional meetings and seminars."

January 2006 -- The NSPE Board approved a new section (III.2.d.) to the Code of Ethics that reads: "Engineers shall strive to adhere to the principles of sustainable development1 in order to protect the environment for future generation." Footnoote 1 "Sustainable development" is the challenge of meeting human needs for natural resources, industrial products, energy, food, transportation, shelter, and effective waste management while conserving and protecting environmental quality and the natural resource base essential for future development.

July 2007 -- The NSPE House of Delegates approved the following revisions to NSPE Code sections III.2.a., III.2.c., and III.2.d. :

III. Professional Obligations

2. Engineers shall at all times strive to serve the public interest.

    a. Engineers are encouraged to participate in civic affairs; career guidance for youths; and work for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of their community.

    c. Engineers are encouraged to extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and its achievements.

    d. Engineers are encouraged to adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations.