SFPE's Canons of Ethics
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From the Technical Director: SFPE's Canons of Ethics

By  Morgan J. Hurley, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering

SFPE's Canons of Ethics The Society of Fire Protection engineers, like professional societies for most learned professions, publishes a code of ethics that describes appropriate professional behavior for members of the profession. Professional organizations like SFPE publish codes of ethics because members of the profession are the best suited to define appropriate conduct. The fundamental tenet of SFPE's canons of ethics is that the work of fire protection engineers has a direct impact on public health, safety, and welfare. Because people outside the profession are not capable of determining if the work of fire protection engineers is adequate, it is up to the profession at large to define an acceptable standard of care. SFPE's canons of ethics were published in 1984 and, other than the addition of a new canon in 1992, have remained unchanged ever since. There are a total of 14 canons divided into three sections.

The first section contains three canons pertaining to fire protection engineers using their knowledge and skill to enhance public welfare. The first canon in this section describes the responsibility to notify the appropriate individuals in the event that fire protection engineers become aware of conditions that threaten public health or safety. The canon states that fire protection engineers should first notify their employer or client; however, if the employer or client does not take proper action, then the fire protection engineer should notify the appropriate public authority. What type of public authority should be contacted is not specified, and given that notifying a public authority frequently entails "whistle-blowing," engineers should proceed with care if they find themselves in such a position.


This canon establishes that the fidelity of a fire protection engineer to the public is paramount. The second canon in the first section relates to the responsibility of fire protection engineers to consider the social issues pertinent to their work and to educate the public about the relationship between their work and the attendant social issues. The third canon encourages fire protection engineers to contribute to the advancement of public health, safety, and welfare in their community.


The second section contains five canons that relate to the need to act in an honest and impartial manner. The canons in this section state that fire protection engineers must only practice in their areas of competence, be honest and truthful when presenting information and opinions, not disclose confidential business information, make unbiased decisions, and disclose any potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment.


The third and final section contains six canons concerning upholding the competence and prestige of the fire protection engineering profession. Two canons in this section relate to the need to advance the knowledge base of the profession and for engineers to advance their own knowledge through continuing education. Three canons involve maintaining the integrity of the profession by performing services and associating with others in a manner that upholds the honor of the profession; by assisting investigations of allegations of violations of the canons of ethics; and by accepting responsibility for their actions, seeking and offering criticism of work, and appropriately crediting the work of others. The last of the canons of ethics was added in response to increased use of computer fire modeling. It states that fire protection engineers should only use those tools and methods for which they have an adequate understanding of the correct use and limitations.


Occasionally, fire protection engineers face conflicts in the course of their work. The canons of ethics are intended to provide a benchmark for resolving these conflicts. The full text of the canons of ethics can be accessed at www.sfpe.org Fire Protection Engineering welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to engineering@sfpe.org or by mail to Fire Protection Engineering, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., #620E, Bethesda, MD 20814.

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