Industrial Exemptions: NSPE and NCEES Take Clear Action

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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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,


This recommendation makes no sense whatsoever. In Washington State, the major aerospace manufacturer employs about 60,000, the vast majority who are not licensed. This policy would make all 60,000 get licensed in order for the company to continue. Combined with the previous recommendation to get a masters or equivalent, this would mandate 60,000 engineers return to college to get a masters degree in order for the company to design and build airplanes. The same would apply to General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and many other major manufacturers that employ engineers to support their own product. All this would do is drive manufacturing overseas where it is not subject to US licensing laws.

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:47 PM by Anonymous

Industrial exemptions should be left in place.  I used to work in a paper mill, designing machinery installations and facility expansions.  NONE of the work was ever seen by members of the public, and had no effect on the public.  There is no reason why engineers working strictly inside a plant that is NOT open to the public to be required to be registered.  I have seen many cases of people who were employed as engineers in a plant setting, had no engineering degree or registration, but were better at their job than many registered P.E.'s with Masters Degrees in Engineering.

Thursday, October 20, 2011 11:41 AM by Anonymous, P.E.

Compare with hospitals.  The phyicians, licensed professionals, that make up the staff have a great deal of responsibility and clout in making sure the hospital is operating properly.  

With the industrial exemption, it is tough to go against management and an engineer is likely to go along with management and hope for the best.   Hence sometimes one gets a PG&E pipeline explosion, the Challenger, and the gulf spill.

Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:53 PM by Art Sutton

For products which go out the door, such as a car,

The industrial exemption should be ended.

The exemption may be continued for products which stay in the factory, such as design of a production line, or a machine which makes part of a car.

  The new requirement should be phased in. The leader of a department should be PE, then include the leaders of design teams, then include the designers.

   Leave room for a revisit to include products which stay in the factory.  I would feel beter about my son working on a machine designed with the safety of the operator in mind.

Friday, October 21, 2011 1:31 PM by Donald Ferguson, PE

won't work for manufactured products, but absolutely should be eliminated for plant expansions or fixed facility design. in florida any real property expansion over a very nominal amount requires a pe sign and seal. I'm pretty sure that's the case in every state. any "plant expansion" that doesn't get a pe sign and seal won't get a building permit is subject to shut-down and site closure. sorry, those *are* the current rules

Thursday, October 27, 2011 1:31 AM by pe in florida

In response to the comments above, in order, from the top:

1. The NSPE policy pertains to those engineers "IN RESPONSIBLE CHARGE", not all engineers.  The master's or equivalent requirements after 2020 pertain only to newly licensed engineers.  Existing PE's are to be grandfathered.

2. The recommendation to phase out industrial exemptions pertains only to those practicing engineering which has an impact on public health, safety and welfare.  An engineer working internally within a manufacturing business in a fashion which does not impact public health, safety and welfare would not be required to be licensed.

3. Agreed.

4. Agreed. The policy pertains to those in responsible charge, and recommends that licensure requirements be "phased in".

5. Nine states currently have no exemptions for manufactured products.  The current system works in those nine states.  What is the current problem in those states?


Monday, October 31, 2011 4:57 PM by Craig N. Musselman, P.E.

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