The Board’s primary requirements regarding all professional engineering and land surveying work is that it is done competently and ethically, that it meets all applicable codes and standards, and that it protects the health and welfare of the public. To ensure engineering and surveying work is done in a manner consistent with these requirements, all work must be done directly by or under the direct supervision of the professional responsible for the work. Engineers and surveyors demonstrate this control and oversight has occurred by adding their official seal and signature to their final work product before it is released from their control.
We selected the topic of signing and sealing professional work because we routinely receive complaints where one or more of the Board’s requirements are not met on a project, yet the work product still has been signed and sealed by a PE or RPLS. Complaints include a professional signing and sealing work that is not done in a competent manner, that isn't a final version, or that it was not done by the engineer or surveyor or someone under their direct supervision.
It is important to note what is meant by the term “direct supervision”. As defined in the Board rules, “direct supervision” is the control over and detailed professional knowledge of the work prepared under the engineer or land surveyor's supervision. Direct Supervision entails that the engineer or land surveyor personally makes decisions or personally reviews and approves proposed decisions prior to their implementation and has control over the decisions either through physical presence or the use of communications devices. Direct Supervision entails that a land surveyor be able to give instructions for research of adequate thoroughness to support collection of relevant data, the placement of all monuments, and the preparation and delivery of all surveying documents.
Here are important considerations and violations related to signing and sealing your work:
- Competence and Accuracy – When someone hires you as a professional engineer or land surveyor, they are hiring you for your knowledge and expertise, and with the understanding that the work will be done correctly and accurately. If you sign and seal work that has errors, oversights, or does not meet codes, ordinances, or other standards, it is a violation of the law and rules.
- Final Work or Caveats – When engineering or surveying work is release from your control – to the client, to a public entity, or anyone else, the seal and signature indicate that the work is complete, final, and ready to be used. If it is NOT finalized and is being issued as a draft for some intermediate use like client review, initial plan checks, etc. – then there must be a caveat or other clear note indicating that limited intended use and that the work is not final. If this is not clearly apparent on the work, then it can be a violation of the law and rules.
- Oversight and Control – When work is signed and sealed by a professional engineer or land surveyor, it indicates to the public that a professional has done the work or it was prepared under their direct supervision. If you sign and seal engineering or surveying work that you did NOT do yourself or by someone working under your direct supervision, the public can be misled about how the work was completed. When someone reviewing the work sees the seal and signature of a professional engineer or land surveyor, they rightfully assume the work was done by that professional or under his or her direct supervision. If you just seal work without being directly involved in its preparation, you've done nothing to ensure the work is correct or done professionally and ethically. It is commonly referred to as 'plan stamping' and is a clear misrepresentation of your involvement with the work and is a violation of the law and rules.
The public relies on the work that professional engineers and surveyors do, and the seal and signature is an indicator of the high level of knowledge, expertise, and ethics expected of a professional. Using a seal incorrectly is more than just a paperwork issue; it is a violation of the public's trust, it is unethical, and it can directly endanger the public. Know the law and rules for sealing your work and be sure to do it correctly.
For more information on signing and sealing requirements, review rules in Subchapter B of Chapters 137 (engineering) and 138 (land surveying).
You can download the Laws and Rules at https://pels.texas.gov/downloads/lawrules.pdf
As part of our ongoing commitment to education and outreach we are adding a new section to our eNewsletters related to compliance, enforcement and ethics issues. We will cover a different topic each newsletter as a reminder and example of the importance of different aspects of your professional practice. If you have suggestions about a topic for us to consider addressing in a future issue, please email your idea to the Board at email@example.com.
Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors
1917 S. Interstate 35, Austin, TX 78741