Tips for Spotting Conflicts of Interest

How do you know if a conflict of interest arises on a project?  Are you familiar with the ethical rules you may be subject to, and the ways to address 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.

Matt shared some helpful tips for identifying conflicts of interest.  He noted several situations which could result in a conflict of interest as shown on the following slide:

Matt noted that not all of these situations prove that a conflict exists, however, they should cause a moment of pause to consider if a conflict does exist.  If a conflict is identified, engineers should refer to the ethical guidelines to which they are bound by their licensing boards and/or professional organizations.  As Matt said, it is more prudent for the engineer to make any potential conflict known to the clients, rather than have to defend their actions to a board at a later point.

Identifying a conflict of interest does not mean the engineer cannot be involved on a project.  Depending on the ethics rules in their jurisdiction, engineers may be able to proceed once the conflict is disclosed, but at the very least, a disclosure is typically necessary if there is a potential for conflict.  Using the above tips, engineers can more accurately assess when conflicts might arise in their future projects, and proceed with a bit of caution.

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