Conflict of Interest or Not?

Have you worked on the same project more than once?  Or have you been solicited to perform work on a previous job by a new client?  When does a conflict of interest exist when working on a similar or same project?  What duty does the professional engineer have to disclose any potential conflicts?

In the February 2023 SEU session, Matthew Rechtien, PE, Esq., from Walter P Moore, presented 2023 Engineering Ethics Update: Conflicts of Interest.  Matt defined conflicts of interest and explained why ethics rules regulate conflicts.  He also covered the basics of conflicts rules, how to apply them, and how to identify conflicts.

From his experience working as an attorney and engineer, Matt shared several common examples of conflicts of interest that structural engineers can be faced with.  One example he proposed involves successive engagements on a project.  To hear Matt’s reasoning on whether this common occurrence presents a conflict of interest, watch this short 6 minute video:

Engineers should maintain familiarity of the ethical rules to which they are bound by state law and also by professional boards.  These rules can vary widely by state and may have specific requirements when a conflict of interest is identified.  Both ASCE and NSPE specifically address conflicts of interest in their ethics code and both require engineers to disclose any potential conflicts. 

Ethics rules exist to protect the client and the engineer from conflicts of interest which could impede the engineer’s judgment on a project.  Matt noted that conflicts of interest are among the most common ethical issues faced by engineers, thus, the professional engineer is wise to identify any conflicts early and seek counsel before proceeding on the project.

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