NSPE Gateway to Industry April 2012
In This Issue of PEI e-News...



NSPE Encourages State Societies to Address Industry Exemption

In July 2011, the NSPE House of Delegates unanimously ratified an amendment to Professional Policy 130 to formally recommend the phasing out of the industrial exemption. In August 2011, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying voted to modify the NCEES Model Law to state that licensed engineers shall be in responsible charge of all engineering design of buildings, structures, products, machines, processes, and systems that can affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Both of these actions signal a new direction that NSPE and NCEES are taking on this critical issue. In the interest of the public health, safety, and welfare, NSPE and NCEES are raising the profile of professional engineering licensure. In February 2012, NSPE President Christopher Stone, P.E., sent a letter to all state society presidents urging them to reach out to their PE boards and/or state legislatures to begin a conversation about the industrial exemption. Modifying state legislative statutes often takes years, or even decades, but all changes start with a conversation, and now is the time to start a dialog.

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Recall Trend Idles Some, But Prevention Still the Best Solution

Steven Storts

Finally, some good news may have arrived! The first quarter of 2012 showed signs of curbing the recall trend within the food processing, drug, medical device, consumer product, and vehicle industries that has doggedly trailed U.S. businesses since 2008. Federal regulatory agencies have continually pointed to a steady rise in recalls for several years, with 2009 and 2010 posting the worst numbers for voluntary and mandatory recall notices. Last year, though, the number of recalls by major industries declined or began leveling off. 

For some businesses, the break from recalls has been a significant improvement; for others, just minor relief, but encouraging nevertheless. For instance, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration reported more than 480 nationwide recalls for vehicles and related mobile equipment in 2008, a figure that went beyond 600 a year later and exceeded 530 in 2010. Last year saw a sharp decline to just over 90 recalls—an 80% drop. To date this year, only three recalls have been announced. 

The food processing industries have been on a rollercoaster scare since 2008 when the Federal Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture logged almost 200 recalls, followed by more than 900 recalls in 2009 and nearly 360 in 2010. The 370% and 220% increases, respectively, were primarily due to the recall of contaminated peanuts, tainted farm produce and mislabeled food products. A substantial decline to just over 200 recalls in 2011 eased business concerns somewhat, and so far in 2012, the FDA and USDA have announced less than five recalls. 

Medical device manufacturers and drug-related businesses have also seen a rise-and-fall recall pattern. Together in 2008, they posted more than 80 recalls, which rose to nearly 135 in 2009 and exceeded 150 in 2010, with increases ranging from 63% to as high as 155%. However, there were slight drops for both industries in 2011, according to the FDA, which recorded 120 recalls. As of the first quarter of this year, the recall figure is less than 15. 

The most contentious recalls still remain in the consumer products category, such as household goods, power tools and lawn equipment, electronics, clothing, and children’s toys. The number of recalls reported in 2008 totaled nearly 400, followed by a small increase in 2009 and decreases in 2010 and 2011 ranging from 7% to 15%. To date this year, just over 80 recalls have been announced by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Ironically, most of the recalls between 2008 and 2011 addressed unusual safety risks, including drawstrings in children’s garments and certain window blind designs, both of which were linked to accidental strangulation of infants and small children.

Any lessening of the recall affliction is certainly welcomed by industry stakeholders, but the omnipresence of even a minor recall notice is still a harsh distinction from the engineering quality movement and zero-defects mindset made popular just a few decades ago. IndustryWeek.com further notes that strict adherence to certified quality programs aimed at maintaining or improving efficiency may not be enough to change a growing recall trend, as evidenced by the efforts of Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Firestone and some European manufacturers. Additional special training is necessary in other vital areas that contribute to product accountability, such as risk evaluation, design reviews, safety and hazard analyses, marketing and public relations, interdepartmental communications, responsible contracting agreements, document management, and supplier control.

Other industry analysts attribute major product recalls to design flaws—not defective manufacturing—which are resulting in accidents, bodily injury, and sometimes death. Whether recalls emanate from defects in design or manufacturing, both contentions can have serious liability implications if companies fail to heed early warning signs that their products are not performing to prescribed standards or customer expectations.

Of course, even the best-laid designs still have the possibility of a defective condition surfacing during the chain of production, IndustryWeek.com points out. In some cases, a design review or product safety team may fail to consider the more likely misuses of a product. Unfortunately, once a company openly admits that its product is defective and voluntarily initiates a recall, the door also remains open for potential product liability lawsuits. And if a company knowingly withholds information regarding a defective product and does not issue a recall, the organization becomes willfully negligent and subjects itself to substantially larger punitive damage awards in the courtroom.

With a no-win scenario as the only guaranteed outcome of a product recall incident, it makes good business sense to “do things right the first time.” To help mitigate recalls, the CBS Interactive Business Network reports that many companies are taking the approach of developing product integrity or product safety committees to formulate and monitor decisions relating to product design and safety. These committees typically include representatives from engineering, manufacturing, quality control, legal, and other major organizational departments, and are responsible for the following:

  • Establishing guidelines and criteria for the evaluation of product hazards;
  • Establishing criteria for warnings, labels, and manuals;
  • Establishing guidelines for advertising, product brochures, and other printed materials;
  • Coordinating the reviews of all product warranties, exculpatory clauses, disclaimers, and liability release statements; and
  • Coordinating and issuing notifications to government agencies regarding product defects or noncompliance with safety standards.

As a key to success, any recall prevention program should include company-wide safety training and awareness initiatives, followed by the implementation and documentation of all necessary procedures and standard practices for advocating product quality and safety. Additionally, there must be a system in place to measure product safety benchmarks, establish corrective actions, and regularly audit the effectiveness of recall prevention efforts.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission Engineer Gets Top Honor

Steven Arndt, Ph.D., P.E., a senior technical advisor for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has been named NSPE’s 2012 Federal Engineer of the Year. Arndt received the honor during the 33rd Annual FEYA Banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 23. This year, NSPE was honored to have Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) serve as the keynote speaker.

Sponsored by NSPE and the Professional Engineers in Government, FEYA recognizes engineers working for federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Naval Facilities Command, and the U.S. Air Force, for their dedication and exemplary service to the public.

For more information on the FEYA program, including the full press release, visit the
FEYA Web page.

You can also watch the keynote speech as well as interviews with several semifinalists and the winner addressing current topics facing the engineering profession on NSPE's YouTube channel.

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Happenings on the Hill

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved by a vote of 4–1 the first licenses to build reactors in more than 30 years. The reactors will be built from a standardized design that promises to speed construction and reduce costs. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the sole dissenter, objecting on the grounds that the NRC has yet to finalize post-Fukushima safety enhancements. Nuclear energy currently provides about 20% of the United States' electricity.
NSPE believes that the United States should lead the world in the advancement and use of nuclear power. Green, clean, renewable nuclear power systems will provide an important component in our nation's efforts to reduce reliance on foreign oil and to reduce the releases of harmful pollutants. NSPE believes, however, that licensed professional engineers should be required to have direct supervision over all engineering design, operations, and maintenance decisions at nuclear power plants. Though the nuclear energy industry has an excellent safety record, it is an inherently dangerous industry whose potential for disaster necessitates an additional degree of protection for the public health and safety. Read NSPE's position statement on nuclear power here.

  • NSPE met with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) and staff to discuss the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction, Architectural, and Engineering Volunteers Act (H.R. 1145). The bill, which Reichert introduced last year, would provide qualified immunity to engineering, architectural, and construction entities volunteering in a declared emergency. NSPE also met with senior staff for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to advocate Good Samaritan protection for professional engineers volunteering in an emergency.

  • Rep. Dan. Lipinski (D-IL-3) sponsored a House resolution (H. Res. 552) supporting the goals and ideals of National Engineers Week. Lipinski, an engineer, has introduced a resolution in support of EWeek every year since 2006. Watch his floor speech here.

  • NSPE cosponsored the Society of Women Engineers' "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM" Capitol Hill Day. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made brief remarks during the legislative briefing, outlining NASA's diversity efforts and urging women to mentor each other in order to increase diversity in the engineering profession.

    The event also included a congressional reception, where Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), Robert Dold (R-IL-10), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-3), and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16) as well as National Science Foundation Deputy Director Cora Marrett spoke about the importance of broadening participation in STEM fields.

  • NSPE President Christopher M. Stone, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP, was the keynote speaker at the Department of Transportation's National Engineers Day, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in engineering. Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez also spoke. As part of his presentation, Stone led students in a rousing game of Jeopardy! The interactive event also included a robotics competition and engaged students in discussion groups. Read Administrator Mendez's blog about National Engineers Day here.

  • NSPE attended the launch of the MathAlive! exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. MathAlive! seeks to increase elementary and middle school students' interest in mathematics by engaging them in hands-on activities that demonstrate math's applications in video games, sports, fashion, music, robotics, and more. NSPE and MATHCOUNTS are cosponsoring the exhibit, which is presented by Raytheon.


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NSPE Spring Educational Offerings

NSPE has many interesting and pertinent Web seminars for the Spring line up. Check out the following webinars, and keep in mind they can be used per site, offering great value to you and your coworkers.

Historical Cases & Engineering Ethics
Cultivating an understanding of ethics is essential for engineers as they conduct their professional lives. A different approach is to examine historical cases, which can offer a different perspective on professional responsibilities. This webinar presentation will consider several issues in engineering ethics, such as unintended consequences; professional responsibility and judgment; and concern for human health, safety and welfare, using historical cases as examples. One of the more important lessons is, as the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel noted, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

April 24, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Business, Employment, and Licensure Issues
Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwarz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the signing and sealing of a subcontractor’s calculations, a Canadian firm’s noncompliance with engineering licensure laws, obtaining professional references, and an employee’s awareness of his employer’s financial improprieties. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH

May 16, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Visit the NSPE Web site to register today.

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Contact the 201112 PEI Executive Board Officers

Curtis A. Beck, P.E.

Stephen A. Hutti, P.E.

Austin Lin, EIT

Immediate Past Chairman
Jonn Nebbe, P.E.

Young Engineer Representative
Peter E. Pisasale, P.E.

NSPE House of Delegates Representative
Richard L. Buchanan, P.E.

Northeastern Region
Thomas J Kesolits P.E.

Southeastern Region

Central Region
Howard R. Jones, P.E.

North Central Region
Donald W. Mitchell, P.E.

Southwestern Region
Neerali J. Desai, P.E.

Western & Pacific Region
Franklin Fong, P.E.

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