Meeting the required standards for signing and sealing engineering documents is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a Professional Engineer (PE).
In all states, engineering boards have enacted laws and rules regarding the proper use of PE stamps/seals by licensed engineers. While the rules differ, some guidelines are similar across all states.
Following these guidelines is the first step in ensuring that you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit or state board disciplinary hearing.
What Should a Professional Engineer Consider Before Using a PE Stamp? — Legal and Ethical Guidelines
Legal and ethical aren’t identical.
Legal requirements are laws set by government authorities. On the other hand, ethical guidelines are based on morals and the perception of an act or conduct’s right or wrongness.
When, where, and how should you use engineering seals/stamps?
Here are several guidelines you can follow:
If you aren't a licensed engineer, don’t use an engineer stamp/seal, period.
Other legal provisions to consider before using a PE seal/ stamp are:
If You’re Not Licensed in the State, Don’t Stamp/ Seal
If you’re licensed in a different state from where you’re offering your services, don’t stamp. It’s unlawful for anyone other than a professional engineer licensed in that state to stamp or seal any plans, specifications, plans, reports, etc.
Don’t Stamp or Seal When Your Certificate of Registration Isn’t in Force
It’s unlawful for anyone to stamp or seal documents after their certificate of registration has expired, been suspended, or revoked — unless the certificate has been renewed or reissued
Don’t Seal if the Engineering Documents Aren’t in Conformity With Applicable Standards
If the client or employer insists on such unprofessional conduct, notify the proper authorities and withdraw from further service on the related project.
Don’t Seal Any Plans or Documents Dealing With a Subject in Which You’re Unqualified or Lack Competence
Only seal plans in the field(s) in which you’re licensed and are — by education and/ or experience — fully competent.
Don’t Seal Any Plan or Document not Prepared by You or Under Your Direction and Control
Only stamp if you’ve prepared all the work, or it was prepared under your direct supervision.
What to Seal
Stamp/seal all engineering plans and specifications that are to be released for construction. All final engineering calculations and reports should also have a professional engineer stamp. Include the signature and date of sealing or stamping.
What Not to Seal
You shouldn't use engineer stamps on draft or incomplete engineering documents.
Further, don’t use the PE stamp/seal where a notary/corporate seal is required.
Also, a request by an employer, client, or regulatory official for a professional engineer stamp isn’t sufficient reason to stamp.
Ethical guidelines come from the collective experience of many professionals.
Laws give clear rules on how to legally use a PE stamp. However, the best way to go about an ethical dilemma involving the proper use of professional engineer stamps varies from one situation to another.
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics specifies guidelines (canons) of acceptable behavior for professional engineers when performing their duties — including using engineering stamps.
Whose interests should come first?
NSPE’s hierarchy of ethical obligations sheds light on this.
- Primary obligation — Public Protection of the public is the highest priority. Whenever the protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests, protecting the public shall be paramount.
- Secondary obligation — Employer/ Client
- Tertiary obligation — Other Stakeholder
NSPE code recommends the following nine steps to make ethical engineering decisions:
Step #1. Stop and Think
Take a step back and quietly reflect on the situation. Review the details and find out whether other engineers have encountered similar situations. Understand why you’re in the situation and evaluate the consequences.
Step #2. Clarify Goals
Define whether it’s an ethical or legal situation — or both — and determine the most desired outcome.
Step #3. Determine Known and Unknown Facts
Determine whether there are missing facts. Which resources, legal or ethical, can you consult to shed light on the situation?
Step #4. Develop Options
Identify and outline alternate approaches.
Step #5. Consider the Foreseeable Results of Each Option
What are the risks and benefits of each option? Use a scoring system to highlight the best option.
Step #6. Refer to NSPE Ethics Resources
- NSPE Code of Ethics
- NSPE Board of Ethical Review Cases
Step #7. Refer to State Registration Law for Guidance
Review the specific registration law of both your home state and the state where the project is located.
Step #8. Consult
Discuss the situation with trusted professionals. This could be the members of state boards or a close friend.
Step #9. Decide on the Best Course of Action and Take It
Get clear on what is expected. In the most professional way, act on the decision. This may entail:
- Professionally and respectfully declining the assignment.
- Referring the work to another professional who will not be placed in the same situation.
- Informing the authorities, if necessary
Use the Right PE Stamps and Seals
If you decide to stamp, you need the right PE stamp.
A professional engineer stamp comes in various forms. From the classic wood and rubber stamp to digital electronic engineer seals, the right stamp is determined by the state in which you’re offering your services.
- In Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, acceptable PE stamps include rubber stamps and digitally created seals.
- In Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, acceptable engineer seals include impression (embossed) seals, electronic stamps, and rubber stamps.
- In New Jersey, acceptable engineer seals include digital and impression-type seals. However, rubber stamps aren’t allowed.
- In New York, there is no rule on the type of PE seal needed. The type of stamps and engineer seals is determined by the jurisdiction where the sealed document is to be submitted.
- Guam and Hawaii don’t accept a computer-generated signature and date.
Order Your Professional Stamp Today
Whichever state you’re in, Pro Stamps has the right stamp for you. We offer superior quality, professional engineer stamps and seals in all 50 states. We guarantee that our stamps — self-inking, electronic, or rubber stamps — meet your state requirements of diameter and wording.
Furthermore, our fast turnaround time will exceed your expectations. We deliver electronic stamps within one business day while physical stamps, ordered before 3 pm EST, ship on the same day.
Order your PE seal by simply entering your details (name, license number, and branch) and choosing your preferred format. Bonus — all rubber stamps and self-inking stamp purchases come with free digital stamps.
Electronic stamps come as .jpg, .tiff, .pdf, or .dxf formats which you can affix to electronic files.
Featured Image: Unsplash by Javier Allegue Barros