Canadian Manufacturing

From oath to practice: The critical role of standards in the engineering profession

CSA Group's role in upholding strict codes of commitment to safety, productivity and ethics

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—Sponsored article by CSA Group

Professional engineers have a responsibility to uphold—to create products and processes to advance the world, without compromising the safety of the public. It’s a concept dating back to ancient times, tied to efforts to invent machines and systems that would increase productivity. Even back then, safety was an important consideration.

Today, Canadian engineers are governed by this commitment to safety and productivity. They must adhere to a strict code of ethics and guidelines that support advances in technology and, above all else, protect the public.

But like any well-oiled machine, there are a number of moving parts that help a professional engineer achieve these goals, and standards are one of them.

Standards in engineering practice
Standards play a key role in helping professional engineers uphold the strict code of ethics they commit to when taking their oath — part of which states a promise not to “pass, or be privy to the passing of, bad workmanship or faulty material.”

Standards help to uphold this commitment because they set out minimum acceptable safety and performance requirements. But they do so much more than that. Standards help to reduce uncertainty and promote reliability. They provide critical parameters and guidance to engineers who are responsible for design. In addition, standards help steer engineers toward solutions that uphold public safety, and ensure that the interests of all affected stakeholders are being served.

For example, when it comes to the creation of structures — whether single-storey buildings, skyscrapers or complex bridges — standards help to set the benchmark for safety, reliability, energy efficiency, durability and economy. They can provide critical and innovative information for designers, builders, manufacturers, suppliers and distributors.

Standards and CSA Group

CSA Group has dedicated considerable efforts to facilitating the writing of standards for nearly a century. CSA Group’s role is to manage and guide the standard development process by providing the platform for a balanced group of stakeholders to work together to define minimum accepted requirements for a process or product, and draft the appropriate standards. The non-profit organization has nearly 9,000 volunteer subject matter experts from across the globe, and more than 1,600 in-house technical experts.

Its history dates back to 1919, when it was established to develop engineering standards for railway bridges and the electrical system. Today, CSA offers standards in more than 54 technology areas, from building products and systems, to nanotechnology, environment, sustainability, community safety, health care, occupational health and safety, and energy generation and transmission.

CSA Group construction standards, for example, define the requirements that must be met to help ensure that materials and products used in construction can perform well in their various applications. The requirements defined by these standards aim to reduce the risk as much as possible of potential material failure resulting in compromised construction and possible harm to consumers.

Another example is CSA Group’s Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) standards. Working with multi-stakeholder committees made up of workers, industry government and safety organizations, over 170 OH&S related standards and guidelines have been developed—many of which are referenced in legislation. From the first ever standard for hard hats in 1948, CSA Group’s OH&S standards address a wide array of workplace safety matters.

A ‘living document’
CSA Group has more than 3,000 codes and standards that are regularly revised and updated as advancements are made, and as new information becomes available, so they can meet the changing needs of society.

“With modern design techniques and materials, standards need to continually evolve and be improved upon in order to help keep people safe,” explains Inga Hipsz, Director of Global Programs, CSA Group.

One reason a standard may be revisited is in response to safety concerns or accidents.

In May of 2014, CSA Group released Canada’s first national standard on nuclear emergency management programs—CSA N1600-14, General Requirements for Nuclear Emergency Management Programs. While the standard addresses all components of emergency management, it has a specific focus on preparedness, response, and recovery. The standard was unique in its requirement for the development of recovery plans for both the community and the nuclear power plant.

One of the key drivers behind the development of the new standard was a recommendation made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) Fukushima Task Force to further enhance the safety of nuclear power plants in Canada by developing a dedicated document on emergency management. This resulted in an opportunity for all stakeholders and levels of government to work collaboratively on a new CSA Standard by building upon existing applicable standards and regulation.

The ultimate goal of developing the standard was public safety — a goal very much aligned with that of a professional engineer.

Fulfilling a promise
“As an engineer, the number one goal is to ensure that you’re carrying out your work, not only to the best of your abilities, but more importantly in a responsible way, always bearing in mind how your work affects the safety and well-being of others,” explains Mary Cianchetti, President of Standards, CSA Group.

Standards are a tool that helps professional engineers deliver what they promised when taking the oath—to protect the safety of the public, advance performance and, ultimately, improve the quality of life.

CSA Group is an independent, not-for-profit membership association dedicated to safety, social good and sustainability. The CSA certification mark appears on billions of products worldwide. For more information about CSA Group visit

To view more articles on workplace safety, business strategy and industry standards, see the Safety & Sustainability Success Centre.

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