Engineering ethics are the moral principles and guidelines engineers should follow when they practice or research engineering technology. These standards or norms are designed to help engineers to make decisions and work with responsibility towards society, employers, clients and the public in general, keeping their obligations to them as the top priority. Many professional bodies, both global and local, prepare a code of ethics outlining the standards of ethics that apply globally or are specific to a country, region or discipline, such as the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).
Every engineer, whether working as an individual or for a company, must face some ethical issues in the workplace. Engineering ethics are a set of principles and guidelines for engineers to follow in conducting their role as engineers. These ethical standards ensure that engineers’ professional behavior, work and decisions are aligned with their obligations for the good of society, individuals and their profession in all circumstances of their practice of engineering and research.
Engineering ethics helps identify specific ethical issues that may arise and to avoid potential problems. These ethical standards may vary by country, profession, discipline or jurisdiction. Some engineering ethics are applicable internationally or are applied to the engineering community worldwide.
Development of Engineering Ethics
The origin of codes of ethics for engineering dates to the growth of engineering as an independent applied science discipline in the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century. Engineers learned from both failures and successes experienced in their work and tried to analyze and record experiences to avoid future failures. These experience records are codified to help engineers in their future and day-to-day work to avoid ethical and technical issues.
The growing professionalism gave rise to the development of professional bodies of engineers or engineering societies in different countries, which took it upon on themselves to write a code of ethics for the engineers within their domain. Some of the professional bodies assumed global status in the 20th century.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, many structural projects failed, leading to human casualties and concern among society. In an attempt to address these failures, many professional bodies of engineers developed formal codes of ethics or morals for the individual and broad professional practice. This forced engineers to confront the deficiencies in their research, analysis, design and implementations, as well as moral standards, at a personal level.
Later developments to regulate the industry included an oath for engineers, similar to that required of medical professionals, and licensing for practicing and professional engineers, required by all individuals working in fields of engineering that pose a risk to life, health, property, society, environment and animals. Many countries believe that any person working in a technical field is identified as an engineer or a technical employee and should follow engineering ethics.
Business, computer, environmental, leadership and managerial ethics are all closely associated with engineering ethics.
There are many offshoots of engineering codes of ethics for specific engineering fields, such as software, naval, mechanical, electrical, chemical, professional and civil engineering.
Recent Developments in Engineering Ethics
Design deficiencies uncovered after the completion of an engineering project are often found to be due to the poor ethical conduct of one or more engineers. Bribery, political corruption or other personal/group gains are considered a failure of moral ethos and are addressed directly by several professional societies as a part of engineering ethics worldwide. Newer issues such as environmental impact, protection of nature and natural resources and sustainable development are also being considered and addressed in engineering ethics.
Somewhat different guidelines for engineering ethics are required for the development of critical safety systems that involve newer engineering disciplines such as software engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The engineering ethics for these newer areas, in addition to conventional areas, are constantly reviewed and revamped as new experiences provide guidance.
By making engineers aware of their role in society, efforts have continued to promote ethical practices. Many professional societies or chartering organizations require members to adopt or swear an oath to proudly uphold engineering ethics.
Ethics violation cases have no easy solutions. To clarify the ethical issues faced by engineers daily and resolve breach of ethics cases, review boards and committees with advisors have been created. These bodies also seek to continuously improve and upgrade existing engineering codes of ethics.
Advantages of Engineering Ethics
Engineering ethics provide the following advantages to engineers and society. They set out the ideals, moral and behavior standards for all engineers, which helps to improve the quality and consistency of engineers’ work. This provides a regulatory environment for protecting engineers and clients in addition to guidance on what constitutes acceptable conduct by engineers. Engineering ethics also help in raising awareness and consciousness of engineering-related issues.
Importance of Ethics in Engineering
Engineering is applying science to develop efficient engineering systems with the help of technology that improves human life by easing human effort, increasing efficiency and the use of limited resources. Engineers have some moral responsibilities while playing a vital role in shaping the world and making it comfortable for humans through engineering. A code of conduct is important for engineers to remain committed.
In developing or modifying an engineering system, engineers perform experiments, whether in the laboratory or through real implementation, involving risk to life; engineers must acknowledge that their decisions will have far-reaching consequences. To best serve society, engineers should always follow engineering ethics and uphold high ethical standards.
It is widely acknowledged that ethical issues exist in engineering, and by following engineering ethics, engineering systems can be improved to reduce risks of all kinds. Understanding why engineering ethics are important for engineers will give us an understanding of the challenges engineers face and the profession’s responsibilities. Engineering ethics are important for the following reasons:
- Public trust
The public’s trust in engineers working for them is critical to the successful implementation of the engineered product. The public develops trust in engineers that follow engineering ethics.
- Public safety
Ensuring that an engineersâ€™ actions do not negatively impact public safety is the top priority in ethics. Compliance with applicable standards is a must to prevent harm to individuals and communities and ensure the highest standards of safety and reliability. Safety in the workplace is also in the engineering ethics domain. This protects employees and customers, improves productivity and reduces costs associated with accidents and injuries.
- Public opinion
The code of ethics requires engineers to be trustworthy in public communications and dealings by requiring honest statements free of personal interests. Honesty in public relations is crucial to building public opinion and trust, as the actions or decisions of the engineer directly affect the public’s safety and wellbeing. Public opinion is built by ethical interactions with the public using communication skills. This helps to improve perceptions about the engineering industry and engineers’ commitment to ethical, responsible behavior.
Engineers are required to play the role of a leader and architect in enabling work to happen rather than performing it themselves. According to ethics, engineers should perform a role to which they are qualified. In following this, the quality of work and system quality increases.
Adhering to engineering ethics helps ensure and protect intellectual property and other confidential information, the company’s assets and investments and team members. Following engineering ethics also helps provide security to employers, employees and clients. The engineer’s code of ethics discourages unethically harming other engineers’ professional reputations. Individual engineers receive legal protection if they avoid engaging in any unethical practice for their benefit.
Sustainability is built into engineering ethics by requiring the consideration of long-term impacts on the environment and society. Today, it is vital for businesses to measure their social and environmental impacts. Engineers are required to understand sustainability’s context and their role in it as an engineer.
General Guidelines for Engineering Ethics
Many engineering professional bodies worldwide have prepared codes of ethics for engineers or engineering ethics. The general guidelines are largely similar across the various published engineering ethics with explicit add-ons depending on the country, region, discipline, jurisdictions or public policy.
The following are some of the common inclusions in engineering ethics.
- Hold the safety, health and welfare of the public and individuals as supreme.
- Strive for sustainable development.
- Work only in areas of their competence.
- Build their professional reputation on honesty and ethical practices.
- Always attempt to uphold and enhance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession.
- Have zero tolerance for bribery, fraud and corruption.
- Follow specific precedence for their professional conduct.
- Not discriminate against anyone concerning race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, family, marital or economic status.
Codes of ethics are written briefly and provide general principles for engineers but still require interpretation of how the code would apply to specific circumstances.
Addressing the Challenges of the Engineering Profession
Engineers are challenged to efficiently address the vast range of responsibilities that they face in their profession.
One of the challenges of engineering ethics is a moral dilemma. A situation may occur when one cannot make immediate decisions due to conflicting moral reasons such as duties, rights, obligations, standards or codes, which make decision-making complex. Complexities that make decisions difficult include vagueness, conflicting reasons and disagreements. Vagueness makes it confusing to understand whether the result of the action will be good or bad. Conflicting reasons applies to choosing among the available options while disagreement may occur between stakeholders regarding the decision being considered.
A moral dilemma challenge may be resolved stepwise to arrive at the best solution. The final solution is decided upon by thoroughly understanding the duties and responsibilities of the persons involved, conflicting moral issues, competing solutions and clashing ideas and responsibilities. All these are ranked according to importance and include discussions among stakeholders to consider all viewpoints. The final solution is arrived at after analyzing the differing perspectives and all aspects.
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Â Responsibility of Engineers to the Profession
As professionals, engineers are expected to commit themselves to the highest possible standards of conduct in performing their role as engineers, which may include acting as inventors, discoverers, researchers, designers, managers or simply engineers. In every role, engineers work on transforming nature or other resources for the benefit of mankind and work towards society’s development, welfare and progress.
The responsibilities of engineers are diverse and cover all aspects of engineering ethics, including loyalty, respect for the profession, liability for authority, teamwork and respect for authority.
The primary responsibilities of engineers are to execute their duties meticulously and flawlessly by being fully aware of the world, nature and humanity. Their knowledge of the universe is important to make the world happier. The engineer should reject any idea, design or project that may harm society or individual interest.
Engineers should avoid any situation that might be hazardous or threatening to human beings’ environment, life, health or other rights. It is the duty and responsibility of engineers to uphold the prestige of the engineering profession and maintain professional conduct with honesty, magnanimity, resilience, modesty and justice.
The engineer’s responsibility includes ensuring the continuous improvement of their knowledge and keeping up with the developments within their profession. It is the responsibility of engineers to carry out their work efficiently and to support the law.
Loyalty is normally considered faithful adherence to an organization or employer, but engineering ethics require every engineer to be loyal to the code of ethics.
The work environment where authority is shared among engineering colleagues is another important aspect of the engineering code of ethics for the responsibility of engineers. Accountability comes with authority.
According to the professional engineers’ code of conduct, the liability for authority demands that an engineer with authority shall not attempt to injure or harm the professional reputation, prospects, practice or employment of other engineers, directly or indirectly. According to engineering ethics, another responsibility for engineering professionals is to have respect for authority to meet organizational goals.
A very important engineering ethic is work confidentiality of information, which is a big responsibility for engineers. For the individual’s work or the workplace, an engineer shall maintain the confidentiality of information and only share it with those authorized to have access to a particular set of information.
An engineer’s work generates intellectual property that is owned by themselves or their organization and is protected by the law as patents, trademarks or copyrights. The responsibility of engineers is to follow moral rules and protect intellectual property according to the code of ethics.
Changing jobs also raises responsibility issues for engineers regarding the confidential information and trade secrets of the previous employer. Managing conflicts of interest among engineers within organizations or colleagues is another responsibility for engineers, and engineering ethics provide guidelines for managing conflicts of interest. Managing conflicts of interest or conflicting interests requires the avoidance of gifts, bribes or kickbacks, in cash or kind.
Engineering ethics also define the rights of engineers, including the freedom to pursue their legitimate interests in their profession, receive a salary according to work and have special rights as engineering professionals.
An engineer’s basic ethical duty or responsibility is to report any violations of the code of ethics to the appropriate authority. This whistleblowing has the risk of causing others to distance themselves from the whistleblower engineer but there is a higher risk to the public or individual for not reporting violations.
Protecting whistleblowers is another responsibility for engineers because whistleblowers are at a substantial risk of retaliation. Ethics provides lawful protection to the whistleblower against reprisals for disclosure of any violation of engineering ethics, an abuse of authority or a danger to public health and safety.
Responsibility for safety or breach of safety is very critical for engineers. The engineer is expected to know all the risks associated with the designs, analysis, experiments or other professional tasks carried out and should address disasters if they occur despite all care and following a code of ethics. Safety may differ for different people at different times due to varying perceptions regarding safety.
Engineer’s responsibilities for experimentation, an essential prerequisite for engineering projects, require the experimenting engineer or the team to consider all aspects of the code of ethics including safety, consent and awareness, and to be accountable for the experiment’s outcomes.
In conclusion, engineering ethics are an essential aspect of the engineering profession and involves addressing engineers’ ethical challenges and responsibilities. Engineers are responsible for ensuring that their work is safe, reliable and serves the best interests of society. Engineers can uphold the profession’s integrity and promote public trust by adhering to ethical principles and codes of conduct. It is crucial for engineers to continuously reflect on their ethical responsibilities and engage in ongoing education and training to ensure that they are equipped to address the complex ethical challenges that arise in their work.