Time Well Spent: ASCE Updates Its Code of Ethics
By Craig Nowak, PE – My blog advocated doing the right thing in our world of professional engineering, and that a code of ethics is an essential document to follow in this pursuit. It specifically reviewed the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Code of Ethics and noted that an update was forthcoming. This update has been in the works for two years and was approved by the ASCE Board of Direction in October 2020.
We can all agree that the world has changed much since 1974, the last undertaking of an update to the ASCE code of ethics. Therefore, many of the changes reflect the world in which we live and practice our profession. Among other things, these changes relate to technological advances, cultures, and views on sustainability. Another observation of the update is the brevity of the code of ethics, even though the root meaning and principles have not changed. In fact, the code has been expanded to encompass our current engineering environment.
The primary document is only two pages in length, providing a brief, but to-the-point, guide on the manner in which we all must carry out our engineering practices, whether you’re an ASCE member or not. The society’s Code of Ethics can be downloaded here.
Going in a Positive Direction
Chair of the Task Committee on the Code of Ethics, Brock Barry, PH.D., P.E., F. ASCE, makes several points with the release of this update in an article authored by Ben Walpole, found here. Some observations of this update that stand out are:
- It’s much easier to relate to and use in our everyday work.
- The language is positive; there is not a list of rules and regulations. The term “not” is avoided where possible.
- It emphasizes workplace health and safety—something I have recently observed.
- It takes society’s needs, both current and anticipated, into consideration.
- Supports mentoring current and future engineers, which I also see as consideration of society’s needs.
- Sustainable development had been addressed in the previous version, however, there is more of a focus with this update, a focus I truly appreciate.
- Emphasizes our professional duty to report bribery, fraud, and corruption, and report them to the proper authorities.
- It asks us to be inclusive, equitable, and ethical in our interactions with colleagues. This is most likely something we do (or think we do). Regardless, it is notably addressed in the code.
One new feature that can be very influential and useful is the listing of five stakeholders. This is listed in the order of priority, i.e., a hierarchy of stakeholders. This can be beneficial when an issue involves a question of ethics among different stakeholders. However, as stated in the Code of Ethics, “There is no priority of responsibilities within a given stakeholder group with the exception that 1a. takes precedence over all other responsibilities.” The exception is that engineers first and foremost protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, as also stated in the code’s preamble. It is at the very core of what we do as civil engineers and must be adhered to as we carry out our professional tasks.
Making the World a Better Place
On a philosophical note, the code’s preamble states that engineers govern their professional careers on various fundamental principles, one of which is to “utilize their knowledge and skills to enhance the quality of life for humanity.” My own version of this principle is that “we are all put here to make the world a better place.” Engineers can take pride in a profession which does just that!
Time Well Spent
Yes, we strive to do the right thing in our day-to-day work as we make this world a better place. However, there have been and will continue to be situations when that little voice in the back of our head makes us pause for some reason. A review of the ASCE Code of Ethics may just help us proceed down the proper path. Regardless, occasionally reading the code can be time well spent.
Craig Nowak, PE is a Senior Water-Wastewater Engineer and the Great Falls Office Operations Manager. He was recently honored with the 2019 American Water Works Association, Montana Section, George Warren Fuller Award. This is the highest award an engineer can receive in the field of water engineering.