The New ASCE Code of Ethics

Are you a member of ASCE?  You may be aware that ASCE has recently adopted a new Code of Ethics for its members which is the first comprehensive change to the code since 1974.  Although the new guidance applies only to its membership, the document often influences states’ ethics laws which would then apply to all licensed engineers in that state.  Thus, the changes may have far reaching effects in years to come.

In the February 2021 SE University Ethics Session, Matthew R. Rechtien, PE, Esq., from Walter P Moore, presented Engineering Ethics Update: The New Model Code.  Matt explained ASCE’s stated rationale and goals for the changes made to their Code of Ethics.  He also reviewed what was added or removed from the code and what changes were made and the implications of those changes to practicing engineers.

In order to truly assess the vast difference between the old Code of Ethics and the new document, it would be best to read through both versions of the code to be familiar with how the document has morphed from a canon based model to a new, more concise code.  The ASCE Code of Ethics page includes the full version of the new Code of Ethics as well as a link to the previous version.  Click here to access the previous version of the Code of Ethics, and to download and print the new Code of Ethics that was adopted by ASCE in October 2020 you can click here.  

After reading through both documents, it is clear that much has changed.  ASCE reduced the verbiage by about 75 percent.  The new Code uses positive language rather than prohibitions and categorizes rules in a “Stakeholder” model.  The 5 stakeholders in order of priority are: Society, Natural/Built Environment, Profession, Client, and Peers.  Within any given category, there is no priority amongst the stated rules.  However, ASCE expressly states that the highest responsibility shall be rule 1a, which states “Engineers, first and foremost, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.”

There are several noteworthy changes/additions to the new Code, the most significant being a new ‘duty to report’ any violations of bribery, fraud, or corruption.  While the previous version stated the engineer ‘shall act with zero tolerance for bribery, fraud or corruption,’ the new Code implements a mandatory duty to “report violations to the proper authorities.”  Also, there is new language to ensure health and safety in the workplace and a stronger obligation for engineers to adhere to the principles of sustainable development.

While ASCE has aimed to provide a more “useable and enforceable” code of conduct, Matt noted that law tends to be based on precedence and interpretation by the courts.  This new Code may induce members to require further clarification from ASCE in order to ensure compliance since there is a lack of legal precedence since the adoption of these new rules.


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