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Engineering or Consulting

Engineering or Consulting

Engineering or Consulting

I have a scenario that I would others to weigh in on. It's completely hypothetical, but led to a debate among peers.


Worker "A" provides calculations for a project that Worker "B" stamps with the P.E. seal. Worker "A" does not work for Worker "B" or his firm.

Did Worker "A" provide engineering services or consulting services?

Could one argue Worker "A" simply did math?

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Is it common to stamp an outside entity's work? In my dealings with geotech reports and other specialty consultants, they've always stamped their own report/drawings. Personally I don't think I would stamp a 3rd party's work. I might use their findings/results as part of a larger calculation package/supporting documentation, but not just stamp their output and say it's good to go.

I think the argument that worker A "only did" math is a bit disingenuous. They didn't just solve math problem out of a textbook, it seems like they did engineering calculations. Like most things, I think you'll find the answer is "it depends".

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Consulting services, although it's arguable whether the PE had "responsible charge" of the work, if they didn't supervise it directly. Nevertheless, this is one step removed from, say, a staff engineer doing work for a principal PE, who supervises and stamps the work, so the "A" is consulting.

The way that PE laws are written, usually, implies that the objective is to prevent unlicensed engineers from doing work for the general public; otherwise, all engineers would be required to be licensed, regardless of who they sell the services and work products to.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Engineering or Consulting


Did Worker "A" provide engineering services or consulting services? Could one argue Worker "A" simply did math?

A provided both. As an engineer, anything A does that is technical in nature is engineering. Doing so for another company is consulting. Outside of project management process, companies generally hire consulting engineers to solve a specific problem (usually bc they dont have the experience or ability to), not to teach them how to solve an engineering problem.

If this is another instance of folks being confused as to what is allowable within the limits of a PE license I would recommend they take a 100-series intro to engineering or intro to engineering ethics course. As mentioned, unlicensed engineers selling services to another company is fine stateside. Selling services to the uneducated masses legally known as the public is not. B is also fine to stamp A's work regardless of their separate employers, however B is under a legal and ethical obligation to be an experienced expert capable of reviewing A's work.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

At what point are calculations considered “engineering”? To me is would seem that the calculations mean nothing until Worker “B” decided to accept them and adopt them as an official engineering document.

So if my friend is a lawyer and gives me free advice at the local pub was he providing legal services or advice?

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Some states consider consulting under the umbrella known as the practice of engineering. Try deciphering the below text.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Why do you hypothetically care which it is?

RE: Engineering or Consulting


At what point are calculations considered “engineering”? To me is would seem that the calculations mean nothing until Worker “B” decided to accept them and adopt them as an official engineering document.

So if my friend is a lawyer and gives me free advice at the local pub was he providing legal services or advice?

The moment an engineer begins reviewing a problem they are engineering, regardless if its to put together a free quote or submit a final report.

The govt/courts and bar association dont give two dams where your friend is located nor his relationship to you if its proven that your friend did something illegal or unethical. LOTS of work is done in pubs, particularly sales. The moment a lawyer begins discussing legal matters with anyone they are bound by the laws and association ethical requirements, same as when an engineer starts considering a problem, or any other professional does work within their field.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Quote (CWB1)

B is also fine to stamp A's work regardless of their separate employers

This statement may or may not be true, depending on the "responsible charge" provisions in the applicable jurisdiction (as IRStuff alluded).

I don't think the 'it's only math' argument holds. As soon as A assumes a parameter, or chooses an equation to apply, that becomes engineering. (Separate from, but potentially in addition to CWB's argument, which I agree with).

just call me Lo.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Basically, ANY math and physics applied to ANY covered discipline makes it engineering; the citation below is from the California PE Act, and it's purposefully written vague and broad to catch even hints of unlicensed engineering.


6701. Professional engineer defined
“Professional engineer,” within the meaning and intent of this act, refers to a person engaged in the professional practice of rendering service or creative work requiring education, training and experience in engineering sciences and the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences in such professional or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning or design of public or private utilities, structures, machines, processes, circuits, buildings, equipment or projects, and supervision of construction for the purpose of securing compliance with specifications and design for any such work.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Some of it depends on what state you're in. In New York, I believe the stamping of a third party's product is acceptable as long as the PE has thoroughly reviewed it and understands it as well as his/her own work (I'm not registered in New York, but had to review the regs up there a few months ago for a prospective project that would have put me in B's shoes). In Virginia (where I am registered), on the other hand, that's not allowed - you can only stamp work that has been prepared by your employee or a contractor that you have hired (and over whom you have responsible charge and authority, etc., etc.). So different states have different rules on the EOR/subordinate relationship when it comes to using the stamp.

Did A do engineering? Yes.
Did A provide consultation? If they were hired by B to solve a specific problem for which they were uniquely qualified and B needed their assistance, yes. (This seems doubtful since B then had to seal the work...)
Did A simply do math? Only if B put a series of equations and values in front of A and had them work the calculator without engaging their brain.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

SWCComposites - because a few of us had to do our mandatory Ethics continuing education and started coming up with ridiculous situations. And, there was recently a post on here about someone being sued over flying drones because it was considered land surveying.

I was just curious to see other points of views, especially from engeers, that rarely agree on anything!

RE: Engineering or Consulting

My assumption in these situations is that the engineer doing the calcs would be potentially liable for their work at a significant but lower level. Let's say you were a 10 personal FL based firm and you had a project in TX and you hired someone to supervise and stamp your calcs in TX and there was an issue, both parties would have some liability. If on the other hand you were an employee of a firm and your boss supervised and stamped your calculations, you would have close to zero liability. If you are moonlighting and you provide calcs which you do not stamp, you have low but non-zero liability. Many firms restrict moonlighting because their insurance can get tapped in such circumstances.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

I think it comes down to RVAmeche's answer of "it depends". It depends on how good your lawyer is!

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Who is supervising and stamping?

You can have the smartest 3rd party perform calculations. They are meaningless if based on the wrong context. If I hire a consultant to calculate 2+2 for me, the result likely will be correct. But what if my original question was wrong and the design should have required to calculate 3+2?

the design should be split into meaningful sections and separately stamped. The next designer bases their design on the previous design. For example, a structural engineer designs a footing based on certified geo testing and so on. The structural engineer doesn't just hire the geo contractor and certifies the entire design, they will have a disclaimer that it is based on the geo designer's certified tests.
Or a lighting designer will place EXIT lights based on the architect's egress plan. The lighting designer doesn't take responsibility for that egress plan being correct. Unless we talk about a very obvious error on the previous design.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Funny, this isn't hypothetical for me.
My company does this, for real. It's more complicated than the model you propose, however.

In the OP's model, we take the place of "Worker A". We are managing the project, our engineers do the "analysis" but in most cases it is tests that our engineers prepare and execute. In some domains we can approve our own engineer's work but in my business there are a lot of sub-specializations, and when we need one of those, we hire "Worker B" as a consultant to us. They review the work according to their specialty and accept the results. (They are usually involved early on to also accept the test methods, apparatus, and criteria to pass, too. When they are satisfied with our test results, they sign off on the items related to their specialty, and we move on with our final approval phase of the whole project where the rest of us approve the rest according to our specialty. For us, "Worker B" is a consultant, with a specific project contract.

That turns the OP's model upside-down.
All parties are doing engineering work, and all of us need to be engineers, licensed accordingly, etc.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

I maybe out of date, here. To me, the person that seals the document has to be comfortable with the work undertaken... end of story. The problem, IMHO, comes up when non-engineers (and they my be licensed) have too much time on their hands and think about 'silly' situations that really have nothing to do with engineering.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?


RE: Engineering or Consulting

Quote (SparWeb)

My company does this, for real

How does liability work in your business? Has anyone in your business ever been sued or had a product failure (not the same thing btw)? Does everyone involved carry professional liability insurance?

RE: Engineering or Consulting

Has anyone in your business ever been sued
Not in my experience, but I have heard of it happening. My brushes with the law have been over ownership rights, not liability/blame.

or had a product failure (not the same thing btw)?
Of course. Stuff happens. There are a lot of checks and balances in aero, and AFAIK the chain of responsibility is more clearly laid out in law (not just regulation) than it is in other industries. In my context, product failure occurs >99.9% due to shortcomings in performance or lifetime of a product or part, and discovered by the certification process before entering service, or by maintenance or operations personnel, removed from service, before becoming the <0.1% of a much more unpleasant outcome. Note that in my previous reply, I was referring to multiple engineers involved, examining each others' work, with overlapping realm of experience and responsibilities. We're aiming for full coverage here, and given the redundancy built into our author/checker/approver cycle, there are lots of overlaps, with the intent of not missing anything.

Does everyone involved carry professional liability insurance?
We all have it, like every practicing engineer should.

RE: Engineering or Consulting


Sounds like you guys are pretty organized. The answer to the question "what happens when someone gets sued?" in the construction industry is that everyone and their dog gets named in the lawsuit. At my old firm, we got named when we built the parking structure next door to the building which had an issue, as did the marketing company (and obviously the architect, general contractor, HVAC guy, etc etc). And everyone has to contribute to the settlement to make it go away.

RE: Engineering or Consulting

I would not sign and seal someone else's work outside of my own employees under my supervision, unless that person is a complete genius and does everything 100% correctly. I have not met that kind of person yet.

I have signed and sealed one time in the past for someone else on a 2 story Church for a simple and straightforward project (about 15 beams). I wouldn't consider doing it for anything bigger than that due to liability. Worker "A" didn't just do math because engineering is more complicated than equations and numbers.

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