Discussion Thread

Ask Me Anything: ASCE’s New Code of Ethics

  • 1.  Ask Me Anything: ASCE’s New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-11-2021 10:28 AM

    With the adoption of its new Code of Ethics, ASCE has updated the primary document that guides and protects decisions made by civil engineers around the world. Approved by the ASCE Board of Direction on October 26, 2020, this is the first wholesale update of the code since 1976. The changes went into effect immediately.

    Do you have any questions about the changes? Do you need guidance “for a friend” on how the new language applies in a particular case? You’re invited to participate in an ethics workshop by posting your questions in this thread until Friday, April 16. All submitted questions will be reviewed by volunteers that contributed to the development of the new Code of Ethics, and you will receive a response by April 19th on the thread. Learn more about the experts

    For this event, we have temporarily enabled the "Post Anonymously" feature so you can anonymously post your question.  

    Quick reminder: All questions need to comply with the ASCE Collaborate Code of Conduct. PDH’s will not be issued for participating in this event.

    I look forward to hearing from you! 

    ****This event is for ASCE members only. You can join ASCE here

    You can access other ASCE ethics resources here

    You can view ethics case studies here. 


    ------------------------------
    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-11-2021 07:48 PM
    Hi ASCE,

    I am reading through the first chapter of the Engineering Ethics Real World Case Studies. Our discipline requires that we hold safety as our first objective. There are philosophical questions and actions involved about bringing a better value to our projects to improve our communities, to be driven in find ways to serve the public and our clients. These are standard rules but when our authors break down the meaning of each of these words and their meanings, sometimes it becomes relative to each person or groups of people. It's definition, weight, and value changes. I am only on the first chapter, and what I have learned is that as engineers, we are at the intersection of valuable decisions. The significance of value weighs differently because of its relative nature to who we ask to define these values and to who has a right to define these values. I haven't practiced this enough, but I have noticed there is an individual set of values, a community set of values, and a universal set of values that sometimes conflict, as is written in the book.

    Question(s):
    How do engineers practice in our discipline when there are decisions that sometimes conflict with different sets of values and sometimes contradict one another? How do we weigh each of the values over another? And how do engineers practice judgement to bring value to their clients without infringing on their own values and freedom? 

    Thank you.

    ------------------------------
    Oanh Le, A.M.ASCE (She/Her)
    Rochdale, MA
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-12-2021 04:06 PM
    Hello and thank you for your thoughtful question. (And thank you for reading our book!)

    The issue you bring up is related to what's called "Cultural Relativism" (Engineering Ethics: Real World Case Studies, pp 11-13). There is no doubt that people--individuals--have their own preferences, wants, needs, etc., that set them apart as individuals. I like anchovies on my pizza; my wife doesn't. These are preferences that can easily co-exist in the same household. There's also no doubt that groups of people--cultures--have practices and customs that set them apart from other cultures. Hungarians (my heritage) believe it's wrong to toast (as in, "cheers!") with beer; wine is the only appropriate drink to toast with. Venezuelans (where I grew up) don't care what people toast with, and Venezuelans and Hungarians generally accept that this is just a different custom. The key question here is this: does the fact that some cultures' customs are different mean that there are no moral values common to human beings generally? I believe that the answer to that question is "no," and my argument follows a philosophical position called "moral pluralism."

    One of the benefits of ASCE's Code of Ethics is that it provides some guidance regarding what engineers should hold valuable. In the Preamble, the Code lists four "Fundamental Principles" that govern our careers. "Creating safe, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure" (the first of such principles) guides our profession--all engineers, of all cultures. "Treat all persons with respect, dignity, and fairness" (the second one) is a moral value that ought to bind all of humanity, and it appears in the Code of Ethics (more than once!) precisely because it establishes a desire to uphold it as a governing principle for the profession.

    Each of the five "Stakeholders" that follow (Society, Natural and Built Environment, Profession, Clients and Employers, and Peers), which are listed in order of priority, also provide a list of "Ethical Responsibilities" that ought to guide our engineers as they carry out their professional lives. "Express professional opinions truthfully" (1.c) tells us that honesty is a moral virtue that all engineers should have. "Perform services only in areas of their competence" is a responsibility that applies to all engineers: Hungarian and Venezuelan engineers, whether or not they like anchovies.

    ASCE's Code of Ethics may help sort out some of the more obvious moral dilemmas that engineers will face in the course of their careers. There may be situations, however, that might call for more careful analysis. Maybe the debate is over conflicting values (report misconduct (1.i and 5.i) versus confidentiality (4.e)?), maybe the issue revolves around the relative impact of our decisions (benefit to society at a cost to the environment? benefit to our client at a cost to our peers?). In such cases, our best advice is to bring these discussions up as we would any other engineering dilemma: have an open (and perhaps lively!) conversation with our peers and supervisors. In case of doubt or impasse, ASCE's Hotline might be able to help!


    ------------------------------
    Carlos Bertha, Ph.D
    Professor of Philosophy
    United States Air Force Academy
    COL (Ret.), USAR
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-11-2021 08:43 PM
    During a very early phase in my career, I was working for a department in Transportation and there were some changes taking place. One of my classmates had asked me if I was interested in working for a transportation opportunity and asked for my resume. I was there a few months and one of the more experienced employees had left for a larger firm, she was a Senior Traffic Engineer and she was the guiding figure behind one of a winning bid project that I worked together with them on. After she left, the CEO decided to hire a project engineer, but they were also looking to fill in other seats too. Someone in the company told me that the new project engineer, did not have any academic background in Engineering. The project comes back, and we get news that it had been shorted, but the person who guided the project had left, and the person that I would be guided by had no educational background or right to practice in this discipline. I left the firm because of the ethical dilemma and exchange that took place and there were some micro-aggression that happened after I left.

    Question:
    Where and how do I even begin to define the problem here? And how do I move on from this?

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    Oanh Le, A.M.ASCE (She/Her)
    Rochdale, MA
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  • 5.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-12-2021 04:06 PM
    Oanh,

    Thanks for your post and sorry for the stressful situation you faced. I have heard of similar new professionals facing this exact scenario. We wish this wouldn't happen, but it does from time to time. Considering the new Code of Ethics, I can think of many challenges with this situation, for example:

    if a key person leaves a firm, they may no longer have the ability to pursue a project they had obtained (3.d.).
    project manager not skilled in an appropriate engineering discipline (4.f.).
    inadequate skills by project manager likely threaten public safety, health and welfare (1.a.).
    public works design must be sealed by a licensed P.E. that has been thoroughly involved in the design work (4.g).
    workplace should be respectful and professional (5.g). 

    I have known several engineers to move out of what they considered to be an unethical work culture, and to be happy to enter a work culture with much more integrity and professionalism. I am sure much was learned from this unpleasant situation that will greatly benefit the rest of your career. Experienced engineers close to the end of their careers have often told me they are most proud of how they conducted themselves, how they have promoted high ethical standards and integrity as best they could in all the situations they had been involved with. That is a good approach for all of us. It takes courage to move away from situations that a person can not improve. I am sure your courage will continue to serve you and the engineering profession well. 

    Kind Regards,
    Steve Starrett, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE, F.EWRI

    ------------------------------
    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 04-14-2021 12:07 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    After graduating I got an offer from a large firm. When I relocated and got situated, there were some technical issues with my laptop. It was brand new, but the account setup did not have a smooth transition. After several days and speaking to the IT technician, they were still in the process of setting up my account. One day, I saw someone ask something about my laptop and they were holding a flash drive in their hand. After watching the company's training procedure, I followed the training process to report issues but they cancelled my employment process, collected all the items that they gifted, and then sent me home afterwards. How do I make sense of this? What do I do in a scenario where I have to follow the company's training procedure in comparison to getting along with people I work it? 

    Thank you!




  • 7.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-14-2021 03:45 PM
    Hello and thanks for posting. 

    First, I am very sorry about the situation you experienced. It's hard to tell from the details of this scenario exactly what happened. If you directly witnessed a violation of company policy, and then reported it (as described by the very company's training procedures), it seems premature for such a company to terminate your employment. Companies (especially larger ones) sometimes have an "Ombudsman" (or just "Ombuds") Office that can receive complaints or reports similar to your anonymously. That avenue may not have been available to you. Simply reporting suspected misconduct should not be grounds for termination, and perhaps an attorney could have advised you of your options at the time (although sounds like this happened sometime in the distant past, so perhaps that's no longer an option). 

    The ASCE Code of Ethics contains a set of "ethical responsibilities" that govern the profession. A supervisor-level individual in this scenario may be failing to uphold ethical responsibility 5.d, which reads "promote and exhibit inclusive, equitable, and ethical behavior in all engagement with colleagues," because terminating an employee merely for reporting potential misconduct does not promote "ethical behavior." In other words, it would be in the company's best interest to encourage employees to report potential violations. If you had more direct evidence that someone had violated ASCE's Code itself, then you could follow ethical responsibility 5. i, "report violations of the Code of Ethics to [ASCE]." 

    The 'philosopher' in me also wants to respond to your call to "make sense" of this. All I can say is that unfortunately we will sometimes encounter situations where people (or organizations!) compromise their morals and we might not be able to make sense of it. The best we can do is to rely on our own sense of integrity and do what is right. And sometimes "doing what is right" will demand quite a bit of courage from us, too, especially if it entails blowing the whistle to report misconduct.

    Hope that helps.


    ------------------------------
    Carlos Bertha, Ph.D
    Professor of Philosophy
    United States Air Force Academy
    COL (Ret.), USAR
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 04-14-2021 12:08 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Question: What should I do if a Professional Engineer has fixated my initials on a work document?

    Introduction/Background:  When addressing project comments there are several sets that accumulate overtime and sometimes the order of it gets lost. I made a revised set that addressed a Professional Engineer's comments for a project. I wanted to keep track of the different revisions that pass from me to them. I have seen people save out-of-date sets to newer sets too on computers, so I wanted to avoid that mistake because people have to re-do the work. I wanted to avoid those scenarios where items were getting addressed, re-addressed, mistakenly overlooked or falling through the cracks, so I got into a habit of initialing and dating my completed informal sets. What should I do if an engineer fixated my initials on a work document without my permission and tried to lie about it when I confronted them? It is my identity and says that "I" have completed this work. What could I do in this situation? What could you do if the person's boss did not take the situation seriously after it had been reported?

     

    Thank you,




  • 9.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-14-2021 03:43 PM
    Sorry to hear this has happened to you. There is considerable guidance in the new Code of Ethics on this:

    3. A. Engineers uphold the honor, integrity, and dignity of the profession.
    4.E. Engineers approve, sign, or seal only work products that have been prepared or reviewed by them or under their responsible charge.
    5.E. Engineers act with honesty and fairness on collaborative work efforts.
    5.G. Engineers supervise equitably and respectfully. 
    5.i. Engineers report violations of the Code of Ethics to ASCE. 

    I think the situation you described is challenged by at least these 5 perspectives in the Code of Ethics. Good job on first confronting peer about this conflict, then discussing with a supervisor was the right next step. Be sure this was discussed with your supervisor first if it hasn't been. I am a strong supporter of following the Chain of Command. If situation remains unresolved, a next step could be to communicate with the supervisor still not satisfied with the situation and feel compelled to go up to the next level of authority to attempt to satisfactorily resolve conflict.  The ASCE ethics hotline (and others) are available as well to discuss potential approaches. Big companies have ombudsmen in positions to help manage conflicts. If your company has one that may be a resource as well. I have more thoughts, but these are the key aspects I wanted to mention.

    ------------------------------
    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-14-2021 03:26 PM
    Being a student engineer, I loved having an internship, but later on I found out that not all internship companies will not help you develop professionally no matter how long you will stay there. When I got my internship, I did study everything they said and volunteered as much as I could but the problem was they don't give such professional responsibility. It continued until my 3rd month staying there until now, and when I asked myself what I am not capable of that they cannot give me a project and be guided by them so that I could learn being a real engineer. When I asked again my coach in the internship, he just said that the only objective is to be familiar only which is I can't accept it when I think of 6 months staying. Well I understand if they were afraid of giving me a project as a company but I don't think its a good thing to help the students develop professionally by just letting them be familiar than doing the actual work. Can you please enlighten me and give me some thoughts of this concern? Or am I just in rush in this? Thank you so much. Keep safe everyone.

    ------------------------------
    Llala Chrishaye Ocampo S.M.ASCE
    Student
    City of General Trias Cavite
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-14-2021 04:41 PM
    Hello,

    There are two ethical responsibilities that apply in this case:

    3.e) Promote mentorship and knowledge-sharing equitably with current and future engineers,
    5. f) Encourage and enable the education and development of other engineers and prospective members of the profession

    So, yes, in general, the company should promote mentorship and encourage your development as a prospective engineer. Having said that, ethical responsibility 4.f states that engineers should "perform services in areas of their competence," and "competence" does take some time to develop. 

    When I was an intern with the Army Corps of Engineers (as a co-op student over 30 years ago!), I spent a lot of time in the Drafting Section, followed engineers around in other directorates, visited a lot of construction projects, etc., and it took some time (even after I graduated!) for me to be given direct supervision of a project. 

    My advice to you is to keep your positive attitude, volunteer, "leaning forward," etc., but also to take this opportunity to "take it all in" and observe, observe, observe. 

    I wish you the best in your future career as an engineer!!

    ------------------------------
    Carlos Bertha, Ph.D
    Professor of Philosophy
    United States Air Force Academy
    COL (Ret.), USAR
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-15-2021 10:09 AM
    •  The following statements copied from the new COE, 1 to 5, incl., are each followed by my questions.
    1. "With the adoption of its new Code of Ethics, ASCE has updated the primary document that guides and protects decisions made by civil engineers around the world."

                 Q1. Is this factually true?

                  Q2. How Do You Know?

    1. "Members of The American Society of Civil Engineers conduct themselves with integrity and professionalism, and above all else protect and advance the health, safety, and welfare of the public through the practice of Civil Engineering."

                     Q1. What evidence do we have that documents ASCE's proactive implementation of related activities to this assertion?

                     Q2. How Do You Know?

    1. "All members of The American Society of Civil Engineers, regardless of their membership grade or job description, commit to all of the following ethical responsibilities. In the case of a conflict between ethical responsibilities, the five stakeholders are listed in the order of priority. There is no priority of responsibilities within a given stakeholder group with the exception that 1a. takes precedence over all other responsibilities."

                      Q1. : What evidence do we have that documents first and foremost, ASCE's proactive implementation of related activities to this assertion:

                                                "first and foremost, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public?"

                      Q2. How Do You Know?

    1. "b. consider and balance societal, environmental, and economic impacts, along with opportunities for improvement, in their work; c. mitigate adverse societal, environmental, and economic effects;"

                      Q1. Based on engineer's assessment of constructed works delivered under then-current requirements and regulations, what life-cycle lessons do they systematically collect, study, evaluate, propose revisions, and communicate to the owners/clients of that work? For example,  the post construction-complete "Operational Risk-Management Phase."

                      Q2. How Do You Know?

    1. "g. continue professional development to enhance their technical and non-technical competencies."

                      Q1. What engineering undergraduate and graduate programs now have included courses to teach students how to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with each other in their specialty as well as those not in that same specialty?

                      Q2. How Do You Know?

    The questions submitted may need clarification in order to be properly considered. Please contact William M. Hayden Jr., Fellow, ASCE, for such clarification.

     Stay Healthy!

     Cheers,

    Bill

     



    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-16-2021 12:21 PM
    Dr. Hayden,

    Thanks for your comments and I hope you are doing well there in Buffalo. Summer is around the corner.

    I am going to make some general comments that I think apply to the 10 questions you have posed. Our ASCE Code of Ethics is inspirational and individual. We as a professional society desire our engineering community to pursue these principles, virtues, obligations as best as we can. I have found this inspirational approach to an engineering Code of Ethics to very common. IEEE, for example, is the world's largest technical society at about 450k members and they also use inspirational language such as "...do hereby commit ourselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct and agree to.....". I think this is a good approach as we all desire to be the best engineers we can be. Our Code of Ethics can also be thought of as a personal pledge or oath, such as the inspirational Hippocratic Oath that physicians take.

    A bit more specifics for your last question. Senior design projects over the last 20 years have greatly increased the inclusion of non-technical aspects such as collaboration, communication, and cooperation as requirements for the course. The industry has repeatedly communicated to higher education the value of solid non-technical skills to go along with excellent technical skills, and higher education has made many changes based on this input. 

    Kind Regards and have a great weekend,
    Steve Starrett, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE, F.EWRI

    ------------------------------
    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Ask Me Anything: ASCE's New Code of Ethics

    Posted 04-18-2021 10:33 AM

    Steve and Bill,

    Always good to connect with either of you and here, both of you together.  Great questions Bill.  My first read over certainly allowed me to respond with an answer in my head.   I plan to print off the questions and consider my thoughts more in the future.

    I do hereby commit to read and think about much of what Dr. Bill Hayden writes.  Steve, thanks for shari