Chapter 5
Professional Practice - Principles,
Practices and Techniques


5.1 There is an abundance of published material available on professional practice as it relates to the engineering profession. Similar material applicable to the professions of geology and geophysics has been very limited. Perhaps this is because geology, and to a greater extent geophysics, have historically had less impact on public safety than engineering, and have been regarded more as pure rather than applied sciences. But because they are professions (Chapter 1), and have a definite impact on the public interest (Chapter 3), the establishment of professional practice guidelines that are specific to these two professions is a desirable goal. The scope of geophysical and geological activities, the development of new technologies in these fields, and the increasing number of persons entering the professions are additional reasons in favour of setting out some general principles and techniques. Awareness of professional liability, a knowledge of professionalism and ethics are also areas which are important for geologists and geophysicists.

5.2 This chapter approaches the topic by making some general remarks about the need and scope of professional practice guidelines for the geology and geophysics professions, describing some general principles that should be followed, and concludes with articles by senior professionals on three specific areas of practice.

Need and Scope of Professional Practice Guidelines

5.3 Many geologists and geophysicists, either individually or by team effort, provide professional services which consist of investigations, conclusions and recommendations. Clients spend money to achieve desired goals which often are associated with public welfare, such as health, housing, transportation or mineral extraction. It is of prime importance to the profession that they understand the impact of their work on society. Geologists and geophysicists must provide professional work in a form that is thorough and accurate within the limitations of current professional practice. Geological and geophysical work which meets these goals may be considered a means of reducing liability exposure and an aid in loss prevention.

5.4 Professional liability should be an important issue to all professional geologists and geophysicists, since the recourse to legal action has unfortunately become commonplace in the settlement of disagreements which may arise during or after a project is completed. It has become abundantly clear that most of the legal actions which are involved, or may potentially involve, geologists or geophysicists concern either the quality and/or competence of a work product, or are of the "third-party" variety. In third-party suits, all parties to the contract are brought to court in the plaintiff's efforts to find monetary redress through blanket suits.

5.5 The best protection that professional geologists and geophysicists can have in effectively reducing liability exposure, and costly and time-consuming involvement in legal actions, is to maintain professional standards in practice and to develop an awareness of professional liability. A job prudently conducted at the state-of-the-art level of technical competence, according to well-defined items of scope, and in good communication with the client, serves both as a measure of the competency of the practising professional and as an aid in reduction of liability exposure and loss prevention.

Professional Development

5.6 From the very start of professional practice, whether as an independent consultant or as an employed geologist or geophysicist, it is advisable that each evaluate his or her technical competence, in terms of abilities, experience, educational background, and chart a personal plan of ongoing professional development.

5.7 An important aspect of self-evaluation of technical competence is that each geologist and geophysicist should establish the technical bounds of his or her competence. They can be held liable for not recognizing their own shortcomings and should either refrain from practice in certain applied fields, or strive to increase technical competence where necessary. Competence is gained through background study, participation in instruction or technical meetings, careful application of the techniques in practice, close cooperation with more knowledgeable colleagues and demonstration of this understanding with and before others, such as writing and giving papers. Friendships and acquaintances developed in APEGGA and technical societies should be pursued in the form of discussions or cooperative field work.

5.8 Personal professional development should be undertaken by assessing the key elements of professional practice important to each person's career and then establishing the means of attaining sequential goals in the area of key elements. A plan for professional development should address all of the elements of professional practice. The key elements include:

1. the techniques of technical practice;

2. a personal philosophy of application of each technique;

3. an ability to communicate with others;

4. a willingness to establish and meet deadlines;

5. a commitment to meet the full letter of agreements; and

6. an effort towards continuing education.

Techniques of Professional Practice

5.9 Professional geologists and geophysicists are expected to be knowledgeable of current techniques in their field of practice and be capable of applying these techniques to the satisfactory solution of problems or other needs of the client or employer. An understanding of the basic theories and practices of allied fields and disciplines or specialities, provides a familiarity with what data is required by each type of client or the employer, and the ability to provide answers and solutions.

5.10 Philosophy of Application The professional geologist and geophysicist should develop personal philosophies of understanding and application of each technique, theory or procedure that is used in daily practice. This may provide a basis for supplying expert testimony that is ethical, accurate, understandable and to the point.

5.11 Communication Effective communication is vital in professional practice. No matter the extent of one's knowledge, the inability to communicate it clearly and succinctly makes that knowledge of limited use. Endeavours in which job-related communicative skills are exercised include public speaking, effective coordination for group meetings, record-keeping practices and clear and objective writing.

5.12 Establish and Meet Deadlines One element of good professional practice is to understand the client's or employer's needs and then to satisfy those needs in a competent manner, on time and within budget. Learned project management skills may be applied to achieve goals and objectives. Meeting the established deadlines within the budgetary restrictions of a project is aided by such management skills as organizing, administering and controlling staff member participation.

5.13 Commitment to Agreements Incidents related to professional liability leading to disciplinary proceedings have generally been linked to a misunderstanding of the client's needs, poorly prepared proposals, negotiations and contracts, and work products which, in some way, did not meet the client's objectives of the terms of the contract. In this connection, Chapter 18 of the text "Law for Professional Engineers" provides appropriate guidelines on this subject. A standard form of client/consultant agreement developed by APEGGA for use as a guide by APEGGA geologist and geophysicst members is in Appendix B.

Continuing Education

5.14 A program of continuing education which includes pursuit of graduate degrees, attending APEGGA's Professional Development Seminars, attending special or short courses and technical meetings, participation in field trips, home study of journals and textbooks and membership in geological/geophysical societies provides a means for geologists and geophysicists to grow professionally for the entire tenure of their professional practice. The continuing education programs organized by the CSPG and CSEG are especially noteworthy (see Chapter 6). Additionally, each should acquire and maintain a professional library of reference material that should be used continually as the basis of his or her state-of-the-art technical assistance to the client or employer. If personal resources are limited, access to a good library is invaluable and usage of it is essential.

5.15 Geologists and geophysicists must recognize participation in the profession as a serious undertaking, which requires continued and substantial commitment beyond the baccalaureate degree. With a plan for professional development, they will be in a position to further recognize that continued professional development is absolutely essential as a means of effectively reducing professional liability and of maintaining a professional standing.


5.16 Every professional geologist and geophysicist should strive to practice the profession in accordance with ethical standards of conduct, whatever organizational level, employment sector or specific activity he or she may be categorized or engaged in. APEGGA's Code of Ethics should be used as a basis for ethical practice.

5.17 Some of the geological and geophysical technical societies and institutes have codes of ethics. While the phraseology and wording is different, the general principles are essentially the same as the principles reflected in the APEGGA Code. Both the CSEG and CSPG expect ethical conduct on the part of their members - CSEG members are expected to "conform with established principles of professional ethics"; CSPG members should be "guided by the highest standards of ethics, personal honours, scientific integrity and personal conduct."

5.18 Many of those US states which have legislation to regulate the practice of geology also have codes of ethics embodied in their legislation (see Chapter 7).

5.19 The APEGGA Code of Ethics, as revised in 1987, is contained in Schedule A of the Regulations accompanying the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions Act, and is repeated in Appendix C. It consists of brief statements of ethical principles in the form of a Preamble and 11 enforceable Rules of Conduct. Supplementary to the Code, APEGGA has published a "Manual of Professional Practice under the Code of Ethics" which is an interpretive document that exemplifies the Code. In it each article of the Preamble and the Rules of Conduct is repeated, followed by further guidelines and commentary to assist APEGGA members in dealing with ethical situations and to assist all professionals in their understanding and application of the Code. After the commentary on each rule, case studies of typical ethical examples are included.

5.20 The codes of ethics of two major US geoscience organizations, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the American Institute of Professional Geologists, are reproduced in Appendices D and E. The introductory portions of these codes are worth repeating:

Society of Exploration Geophysicists

The Constitution of the SEG, Article IV, Section 1, states that "Membership of any class shall be contingent upon conformance with the established principles of professional ethics". As an elaboration of these principles, the following Code of Ethics is enunciated. It shall be your duty as a geophysicist, in order to maintain the dignity of your chosen profession: (followed by nine articles).

American Institute of Professional Geologists - Parts of the Preamble:

Members of the American Institute of Professional Geologists are dedicated to the highest standards of personal integrity and professional conduct. The Institute's Code of Ethics comprises three parts: the Canons, which are broad principles of conduct; the Ethical Standards, which are goals to which Members aspire; and the Rules of Conduct.

The Code of Ethics applies to all professional activities of Members, wherever and whenever they occur. A Member shall not be relieved of any ethical responsibility by virtue of his or her employment, because the Member has delegated an assignment to a subordinate, or because the Member was not involved in performing services for compensation.

Submission of Reports for Securities Commissions

5.21 Geologists and geophysicists are frequently involved in preparing and submitting reports on mineral and oil and gas properties to Canadian Securities Administrators. Detailed policies covering such submissions are contained in National Securities Policies No. 2-A and 2-B which are reproduced in Appendix F. Policy 2-B, which was issued in 1982, was a direct result of the deliberations of an APEGGA Task Force chaired by G. J. De Sorcy, P. Eng., of the Energy Resources Conservation Board. A summary of the major points stated in these policies is given below. Complete details are contained in Appendix F.

Reports on Mining Properties (Policy 2-A)

5.22 Reports must be factual and the recommendations must be warranted based on the information and data contained therein. The author must state that in his judgement, the venture is of sufficient merit to make it a worthwhile undertaking. Authors with professional affiliations will use their seal. Where the proceeds of the issue are being applied to the property being reported upon, the person making the report must be free of any association with the issuer.

5.23 Source of Information If any of the information is not based on the author's own observations and investigations, their source should be clearly stated, giving the exact reference to reports and records, with copies attached as appropriate. Whenever reasonable and practicable, reports must be based on the author's personal inspection of the property being reported upon.

5.24 Content A complete report should include a description of the properties of the issuer in accordance with the requirements of the appropriate provincial legislation and should contain all pertinent exploration data including plans and sections. (Headings, format and detailed content of the report are described in the policy.) The information supplied in the report should be sufficient and positive enough to warrant the recommendations made. An estimate of the costs for the proposed program should be included. Reports must be well illustrated by plans and by sections to give an adequate picture of the property. In case the potential merit of a property is predicated on geophysical or geochemical results, maps showing results of the surveys and the interpretation should be submitted.

5.25 Consent to Use of Name in Prospectus Where the author of the report or valuation is named as having prepared or certified any part of a prospectus or is named as having prepared or certified a report or valuation used in connection with a prospectus, the written consent of such author to its inclusion shall accompany the report on valuation. It is the responsibility of the author when giving such consent to have assured himself that it can properly be given.

Oil and Gas Reports (Policy 2-B)

5.26 As for mining reports, reports must be factual and the recommendations must be warranted based on the information and data contained therein. The author must state that in his judgement, the venture is of sufficient merit to make it a worthwhile undertaking. If any of the information is not based on the author's own investigations and observations, their source shall be clearly stated, and reference made to records and reports with the author stating the degree of reliance he has placed on them. (Headings, format and detailed content of the report are described in the policy.)

5.27 If principals in an independent consulting firm which prepared the report have or will acquire direct or indirect interests in properties or securities of the issuer or any associate or affiliate of the issuer, such interests must be clearly disclosed in the report.

5.28 Reports shall be prepared only by a registered professional engineer or a registered professional geologist who is independent of the issuer or any associate or affiliate of the issuer. Notwithstanding, in-house reports may be accepted at the discretion of the Director of the Securities Commission, but only for large well-established issuers.

Employees as Professionals

5.29 The viewpoint is often expressed that geologists and geophysicists who are employees in large corporations need not be registered. These excerpts from an article by David T. Irving, P. Eng., President of APEGGA 1989-90, provides a different view and conveys APEGGA's position on this matter.

Our Association is made up of some 25,000 members with over 80% of them being what would be referred to as employee members - members who report directly to an employer rather than to the public at large. This large segment of our membership consists of members in a diverse range of positions, from the new graduate to the chairman of the board of a corporation. The size of employer varies dramatically from small businesses with fewer than five employees to multi-billion dollar corporations with many thousand employees.

Our members are also trained in different disciplines within their individual profession. Many have gone down the management path rather than the technical path in their careers - some still supervising or managing professionals, but not carrying out directly, the activities of the profession with hands-on effort. These employees very often work within guidelines set by their organization and have little exposure or involvement with their Association.

The Government of Alberta has delegated the responsibility to the Association to regulate and control our own membership entrance requirements, the activities of our members and most importantly, to ensure to the public that the quality of service that they are receiving from a member of the Association is of high standard and comes from a person who is fully trained in the area of expertise claimed by the individual.

The employee member, while not offering services to the general public in a direct manner, certainly undertakes professional activities within the corporation that fall within the Code of Ethics under which all members must operate. The practices of engineering, geology and geophysics are defined in our Act and are broad enough to include most of the technical activities carried out by professional members who are employees of organizations. As professionals, we must take responsibility for our own work and ensure that it is accurate and acceptable by the organization while being safe for the public at large.

It is also the responsibility of each engineer, geologist or geophysicist to recognize that his or her employer has certain goals which must be reached, whether these be goals of profitability, efficient operation, personal satisfaction, service of customers, effective public relations and good employee relationships. The engineer, geologist and geophysicist must realize that "professional" is not just status which is automatically attained by the granting of a certificate by the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, but a personal standard of performance which must be demonstrated through enthusiasm, ability, leadership and willingness to accept responsibility. The fact that he or she is talented or well-educated will earn no personal recognition unless his or her education and abilities are satisfactorily applied to the good of the employer's organization. Recognition as a true professional can only come through effort and contribution. Employee members need to adopt the employer's mission as their own and dedicate their entire working energies to the employer. If they cannot accept, for various reasons, the employer's raison d'etre, the professionals have no choice but to change employers.

As a professional, the employee engineer, geologist and geophysicist also has certain expectations of the employer. These goals include the need for personal achievement, opportunity for advancement, a satisfactory salary level based on their contribution to the organization and the responsibilities he or she is required to assume, and the necessity to be considered a person of stature among other employees. It is the definite responsibility of the employer to show an intention to recognize professionalism in the employees, and that careers can be supplied which will give adequate challenges.

The employer must recognize that a professional engineer, geologist and geophysicist has a Code of Ethics set by the professions and under which the professional must work. If there is conflict with the Code of Ethics and what the employer wants the professional to do, then the Code must prevail.

Although the public may not be aware that the regulatory authority for our professions is APEGGA - rather than the provincial government - the public has an appreciation that individuals who hold themselves out to be Professional Engineers, Professional Geologists or Professional Geophysicists operate under a Code of Ethics and follow high professional standards. The use of the title P. Eng., P. Geoph. or P. Geol. after their name shows the public that they have high ethical standards in their work and hopefully in their personal life. This creates a status for them and their organization.

The public also recognizes that members of a professional organization who do not live up to the standards set by their professional organization are subject to disciplinary action and corrective directional coaching.

The employed registered engineer, geologist or geophysicist can proudly say "I have obtained qualifications which have been examined by my peers and found adequate, and I have undertaken to practice my profession in the best interest of my client, employer and the public in accordance with the Code of Ethics adopted and enforced by my own profession."

Expert Witness Duty

5.30 Serving as an expert witness is an activity which professional geologists and geophysicists are likely to encounter in their practice. Mr. James R. Dunn, CPG, Chairman of a New York consulting geology firm, wrote a pertinent article in Geotimes on this subject. Excerpts from his article are repeated below:

Society needs the special knowledge of geoscientists for public hearings, litigation, making laws and regulations. Competent professionals can contribute significantly by giving expert testimony in their fields of specialization. Without their input, judicial and administrative decisions may result in ineffective regulations. Too often, only non-scientists with good intentions offer their opinions when scientific information is needed.

Most geoscientists do not feel comfortable in the public arena. Explaining a technical subject to those unfamiliar with it can be frustrating and may seem demeaning.

Geoscience information is often critical in public hearings about environmental issues; legislative staff briefings and committee hearings; administrative agency hearings on regulations; and civil trials that involve such things as environmental conflicts, eminent-domain cases, personal injury and damage or value disputes.

Should you be a witness? First, are you an expert? The subject on which you testify must be one in which you are an authority. Although you know more about most areas of the physical sciences than judges, juries, or legislators, you should testify only in your field of specialization. There will usually be another authority on the other side of any conflict. That person is the most critical part of your audience and will know when you are stretching beyond your expertise. Clearly, the more secure you are with your opinions, the more effective you are likely to be.

Second, do you feel comfortable on your side of the conflict? In nearly all cases, you will be expected to give your opinion as an expert, and theoretically, that opinion would be the same whichever side you are on. No reputable legislator or lawyer will ask or expect you to be dishonest. If such a situation occurs, you should withdraw from the case immediately. Personal doubts will usually mean that you will not be effective, and you should decline to testify.

What can an expert witness expect for ground rules? Environments in which you may give testimony have many things in common. For example, you will be talking to lawyers and to the general public. Your audience will want you to defend your opinions clearly, simply, and in detail. As a geoscientist you will serve yourself and your client best by remaining detached from any emotional conflicts and by presenting only the facts as you understand them.

Professional Practice in the Universities

5.31 In a paper presented by Dr. Lee C. Gerhard, CPG, to the 1983 AIPG Annual Meeting, some very pertinent advice is provided to geologists engaged in teaching activities. Excerpts from the paper are repeated below.

All geologic academicians, whatever level, are learning, if they indeed, are professional geologists as well as being professional in education. Closed minds and dogmatism have no place in academic professionalism, although we all suffer the malady on occasion. Continued renewal of the learning process is part of the professional responsibility of the educator. Paraphrased, to educate is to learn.

Absolute integrity of science and ethics is as crucial to the academician, student or professor, as learning itself. Without integrity of science, graduates will have little reference base upon which to model their professional standards. The ethical integrity of the faculty is the role model of the student. We do well never to forget that bond. Integrity includes the meeting of professional requirements as well, whether student coursework and field exercises or simply the proper faculty preparation for classes. Integrity means proper regard and reference to the work of others.

Professional geologists in the academic world have an obligation to teach and defend the standards of professional behaviour. It is incumbent upon the academician to stand and be counted when these standards are challenged or denigrated; to defend highest quality and standards in education, research and student guidance. Participation in professional society and community affairs is an integral part of professional behaviour in the academic world. In this respect academicians have identical responsibilities with all geologists.

The professional geologist must be dedicated to education and science and have considerable patience. Here are some suggestions that are both old and new, but which can serve to distinguish truly professional geologic service from that of lesser stature.

1. The geological professional will bring the real world into the classroom. Despite other's opinions to the contrary, I strongly encourage use of real models and data in the classroom, including the financial , legal and ethical problems of the geologic industries. We have a responsibility to the students to give them a fair appraisal of life after school. Our job includes ensuring that they have the knowledge and tools to be effective for at least five years after they leave our care, and the foundations to learn additionally during those five years so that they remain competitive for the rest of their career. Some of my colleagues from other institutions protest that the job of the university is to educate, that they are not faculty members in a 'Trade School', and other such arguments. Nonsense. Our responsibility is education, but in the world today the students have the right to expect training that will enable them to be competitive in the job market. The days of the 'Gentlemen's Degree' in geology are gone. We must face the world and our market if we are to do an effective job of education.

2. The geological professional is a professor. Professors must profess, not merely recite. Proper classroom preparation is not only a survey of the appropriate literature and text books which reflect what others have thought and interpreted, it must include what the faculty member believes, backed by the data and rationale that leads to these ideas. Be honest - if your idea is pure air, say so, but don't either hide the concept nor pretend it is data-supported. Encourage discussion of your ideas as well as those of the literature - that is why you are there. Ph.D. degrees are not necessary to recite literature. Do not back away from scientific controversy, but plunge ahead with your students, helping them to become creative by exploring and critiquing ideas - including your own. Be prepared to have your balloons burst frequently.

3. Set professional standards of excellence for yourself and your students, including participation in public affairs as a scientist. As difficult as it is to be verbally critical of others' work, it is necessary to be objective and demanding in appraising the performance of others and to expect them to be equally demanding of you. If you expect excellence, it is likely to occur. If you expect mediocrity, the best that you will receive is mediocrity. The challenge exists in all levels of work, including the challenge to graduate study and research. 'We both know that you are intellectually capable of better than this!' is one approach. It is not necessary to be blunt, in fact tact is a blessing as long as the message is clear. Lead students into excellence rather than permit the system to reward mediocrity.

Educated and productive people infused with the spirit to succeed and excel are the strength of the free world. Professionalism in geology in the academic world must produce these people, or we all ultimately fail. All of us, in academia or business, share responsibility for excellence in our field.