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Premise E Scenarios. Information Damaging to Client’s Interest Confidentiality Agreement Duty to Report Safety Violations Client Request for Secrecy. E-1: Information Damaging to Client’s Interest. Facts:

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Premise e scenarios

Premise E Scenarios

  • Information Damaging to Client’s Interest

  • Confidentiality Agreement

  • Duty to Report Safety Violations

  • Client Request for Secrecy


E 1 information damaging to client s interest

E-1: Information Damaging to Client’s Interest

  • Facts:

    • XYZ Corp. is advised by the State Pollution Control Authority that it has 60 days to apply for a permit to discharge waste into a receiving body of water, and is advised of the minimum standard to be met.

    • XYZ employs consultant Engineer Doe to submit a detailed report that the receiving body of water will still meet established standards after receiving the wastes. Doe verbally advises XYZ, prior to completion of a written report, that standards won’t be met, and that corrective action will be very costly.

    • XYZ terminates Doe’s contract, with full payment, and instructs him not to prepare a written report.

    • XYZ presents data at a public hearing that standards will be met.

    • Doe learns of the hearing and XYZ’s presentation, but does not report his earlier contradictory findings to the authority.


E 1 information damaging to client s interest1

E-1: Information Damaging to Client’s Interest

  • Question:

    Was it ethical for Doe not to report his findings to the authority upon learning of the hearing?


E 1 information damaging to client s interest2

E-1: Information Damaging to Client’s Interest

  • Discussion:

    • The engineer will act in professional matters for each client or employer as a faithful agent or trustee, Doe did right to advise XYZ as he did.

    • Termination of contract with full pay for services rendered is a business decision. Doe has reason to question why a written report was requested to not be rendered.

    • Doe learning of the hearing is a circumstance where the engineer should report requests for “unprofessional conduct” to the authorities.

    • Doe’s duty to the public is paramount, as concerns safety, health and welfare.


E 1 information damaging to client s interest3

E-1: Information Damaging to Client’s Interest

  • Conclusion:

    It was unethical for Doe not to report his findings to the authority upon learning of the hearing.

    (Basis: NSPE BER Case 76-4)


E 2 confidentiality agreement

E-2: Confidentiality Agreement

  • Facts:

    • Engineer A, a principal in ABC Engineering, submits qualifications and a proposal to a local municipality TWN to be considered as a consultant to research a former dump site that may be used for reclamation as a wetland. Dump was closed many years prior, used for decades for commercial waste.

    • “A” meets with TWN officials, TWN indicates to “A” that there could be hazardous and toxic wastes in the dump.

    • “A” is awarded contract, informed that he must sign a confidentiality clause precluding him from releasing any results/information without TWN’s written permission. “A” signs contract and the clause.

    • “A” finds dump was improperly closed, surface soil tests inconclusive, but high contaminant levels could be exposed due to erosion of cover, and be washed into the adjacent river.

    • Given these findings, TWN will move wetlands reclamation and planned recreation area elsewhere. River is used for drinking water for other communities.

    • TWN terminates “A’s” contract, “A” tells TWN to remediate the site, TWN refuses, citing expense, reminds “A” of the confidentiality clause and the legal consequences of going public. “A” decides not to inform the appropriate authorities.


E 2 confidentiality agreement1

E-2: Confidentiality Agreement

  • Questions:

    • Was it ethical for “A” not to inform the appropriate regulatory agencies of his findings and the potential dangers?

    • Did “A” behave ethically in signing the confidentiality clause, after he was informed by the city of the possibility of the site being hazardous/toxic?


E 2 confidentiality agreement2

E-2: Confidentiality Agreement

  • Discussion:

    • The most fundamental ethical principal related to the practice of engineering is protection of the public health and safety.

    • This view is not universally shared within and outside the engineering profession. Some dissenters claim that the highest duty is to their employer or client, and not to the public.

    • Examples of similar precedent are BER Cases 92-6, 89-7 (will be E-3), 90-5.

    • “A” cannot remain party to a “conspiracy of silence” against public health and safety.

    • “A” did not carefully think through his signing of the agreement.


E 2 confidentiality agreement3

E-2: Confidentiality Agreement

  • Conclusions:

    • It was unethical for “A” not to inform the appropriate regulatory agencies of his findings and the potential dangers.

    • “A” was not ethical in signing the confidentiality clause, after he was informed by the city of the possibility of the site being hazardous/toxic.

      (Basis: NSPE BER Case 97-5)


E 3 duty to report safety violations

E-3: Duty to Report Safety Violations

  • Facts:

    • Engineer A is retained to investigate the structural integrity of a 60-year old occupied apartment building, which his client is planning to sell. Contract is to keep the structural report confidential, building is to be sold “as is,” no plans to repair or renovate any system within the building prior to sale.

    • “A” determines building is structurally sound. Client confides to “A” that there are deficiencies in building electrical/mechanical systems, violates applicable codes and standards. “A” realizes that these deficiencies could cause injury to the occupants, makes brief mention of this in his report.

    • “A” does not report the safety violations to any third party, in light of the confidentiality agreement.


E 3 duty to report safety violations1

E-3: Duty to Report Safety Violations

  • Question:

    Was it ethical for Engineer A not to report the safety violations to the appropriate public authorities?


E 3 duty to report safety violations2

E-3: Duty to Report Safety Violations

  • Discussion:

    • If the engineer has a legal or ethical responsibility to disclose the information in question, the engineer is released from the obligation to maintain confidentiality. The threshold for such is a gray area.

    • Paramount is public health and safety!

    • “A” went along with the client’s desire.


E 3 duty to report safety violations3

E-3: Duty to Report Safety Violations

  • Conclusion:

    It was unethical for Engineer A not to report the safety violations to the appropriate public authorities.

    .

    (Basis: NSPE BER Case 89-7)


E 4 client request for secrecy

E-4: Client Request for Secrecy

  • Facts:

    • Engineer A is designer of a large commercial building, and used new and innovative design concepts. After construction is complete and the building is occupied, “A” finds an omission in his calculations, building could collapse under severe, but not unusual wind conditions.

    • “A,” the architect, client, and city engineer “B” agree upon remedial construction at night, when the building is unoccupied. A storm monitoring system and evacuation plan for the building and surrounding neighborhood are developed.

    • Architect and client want the situation to be kept secret, to avoid consequences of a public panic, but the city engineer “B” has concern for the public and their right to know.


E 4 client request for secrecy1

E-4: Client Request for Secrecy

  • Questions:

    • Is it ethical for Engineer A, the structural engineer, to comply with the client’s and architect’s desire for secrecy?

    • Is it ethical for Engineer B, the city engineer, to maintain the secrecy?


E 4 client request for secrecy2

E-4: Client Request for Secrecy

  • Discussion:

    • Paramount is public health and safety!

    • “A” is to be commended for promptly reporting his findings.

    • Nevertheless, repairs will take months, occupants and large area of the city are in jeopardy, with an untested evacuation plan.

    • “A” went along with the client’s desire for work at night, maintaining the secrecy.


E 4 client request for secrecy3

E-4: Client Request for Secrecy

  • Conclusions:

    • It was not ethical for Engineer A, the structural engineer, to comply with the client’s and architect’s desire for secrecy.

    • It was not ethical for Engineer B, the city engineer, to maintain the secrecy.

      (Basis: NSPE BER Case 98-9)


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