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CROSS Safety Report

Structural engineer faces ethical challenge

Report ID: 943 Published: 1 September 2020 Region: CROSS-US

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A structural engineer performing a delegated design faced an ethical dilemma when discovering what is believed to be errors in the base structural design performed by others.

Addressing the errors through the project team hierarchy proved problematic.

Key Learning Outcomes

For structural design engineers:

  • Structural engineers will, from time to time, face ethical dilemmas where following their duty to public safety can conflict with owner’s and/or client’s expectations and business considerations. Public safety is paramount in the practice of engineering.

For clients, design professionals, and contractors:

  • In resolution of safety concerns like the one of this case, project team members should understand that public safety is paramount; addressing it is a primary obligation of a structural engineer

Full Report

Find out more about the Full Report

The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


The correspondent is a structural engineer working on a delegated design that is part of a new structure. During its work, the correspondent discovered what it considers to be serious safety flaws in the structure's base design.The correspondent worked extensively to bring these issues to the attention of various project participants, but they remained unaddressed. The correspondent desires an industry system to ‘whistle blow’ in this situation. The correspondent asks if there is a way to meet its professional obligation to public safety without fear of repercussion.

Expert Panel Comments

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This report concerns the responsibility of an engineer when he/she believes they have found serious safety flaws in a base design by others on a project for which they are providing delegated design.

Engineering licensing boards in all US jurisdictions require their licensed engineers to hold public safety paramount in all that they do. Many licensing boards provide rules that explicitly direct their licensees in situations such as that described by this reporter.

In this example the reporter should bring the safety flaws to the attention of the prime professional. If the flaws are not appropriately remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the contractor. If the flaws are still not remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the project owner. If the flaws are still not remedied, the reporter should bring them to the attention of the building official or government agency having jurisdiction. In some circumstances it may be necessary to report the issue to the licensing board. Each notice should be made or documented in writing.

Will there be repercussions? There may be, but that should never be a deterrent. Public safety is paramount to the practice of engineering.

Additional references are the ASCE Code of Ethics and the NSPE Code of Ethics.

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