Engineering ethics [what is it and why is it important]

Engineering ethics [what is it and why is it important]
Engineering ethics [what is it and why is it important]

Engineers are entrusted with the task of working on projects that impact our daily lives. Whether it is engineering a bridge, designing an aircraft, building a power plant, or managing engineering teams, engineers have the power to shape the world around us.

Engineers are also involved with finding innovative ways to raise crop, fruit, and vegetable yields while reducing the risk of food-borne illnesses. As you can see, consumers rely heavily on engineers to deliver them with safe and dependable goods and services.

There is no room for mistake or dishonesty in engineering!

Professional societies like engineering and medical, have their own set of rules and established code of ethics that govern the ethical conduct of their members. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what engineering ethics are and why they’re important for engineers.

Engineering Ethics

Energy Engineering
An energy engineering professional on-site, Image Courtesy of AdobeStock

Engineering is a very important and learned profession. The practitioners of this occupation are expected to exhibit high integrity and honesty in their tasks, placing the public’s interests and welfare above all else.

To have a better understanding of engineering ethics, let’s start by defining Ethics or personal ethics.

What are ethics?

Ethics is a branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles. Ethics refers to the study of morality and the moral choices that we all have to make in our lives.

What are engineering ethics?

According to Wikipedia,

“Engineering ethics is the field of system of moral principles that apply to the practice of engineering. The field examines and sets the obligations by engineers to society, to their clients, and to the profession.” [1]

The definition above suggests that engineering ethics is a social responsibility taken by engineering professionals to ensure the welfare of the public.

Moreover, engineering ethics emphasizes that engineers shall not promote their own interests at the expense of the dignity and integrity of the profession. It’s about doing what’s right for other people, ensuring their safety and welfare.

That’s why professional engineering organizations like the NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), and ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) have established longstanding rules, standards, and policies to govern the behavior of their members.

These standards, rules, and policies that define ethical behavior comprise the Engineering Codes of Ethics. Let’s define the Engineering Code of Ethics in more detail.

What is the engineering code of ethics?

Engineering code of ethics
Engineering code of ethics

An engineering code of ethics (or engineering code of professional ethics) is a set of principles that establishes professional conduct and moral guidelines that professional engineers are obligated to follow. These principles require engineers to protect public safety, put the interests of clients and employers ahead of their own, and conduct themselves in an honest and ethical manner at all times. Engineering codes of ethics help foster public trust in the engineering profession which allows engineers to innovate and develop new technologies to improve our modern society. [2]

General Principles

The basic concepts of the codes of ethics are mostly similar across engineering organizations around the world, which further extends the code and provides additional advice. The following is an example from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE):

Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:

  1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
  2. Perform services only in areas of their competence.
  3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  5. Avoid deceptive acts.
  6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.

Why are engineering codes of ethics important?

The author of the book “Engineering Fundamentals: An Introduction to Engineering“, Saeed Moaveni gives an excellent explanation of the importance of engineering codes of ethics with an example in his book:

“An incompetent and unethical surgeon could cause at most the death of one man at one time on the operating table, whereas an incompetent and unethical engineer could cause the deaths of hundreds of people at one time. If an unethical engineer, in order to save money, designs a bridge or a part for an airplane that does not meet the safety requirements, hundreds of people’s lives are at risk!” – Engineering Fundamentals: An Introduction to Engineering, Saeed Moaveni

Teaching engineering ethics and professional behavior as a part of engineering education is required in some schools. In fact, most engineering curriculums require engineering students to take at least two credits of ethics education during their engineering programs.

Furthermore, in engineering practice, there are several reasons why engineering ethics is so crucial. Maintaining safety, honesty, and integrity are just a few of them.

1. Maintaining Public Safety

One of the key reasons why engineering ethics is so important is because engineers are responsible for maintaining public safety. If they do not abide by the engineering code of ethics, they could potentially put people’s lives at risk.

Engineers who adhere to a professional code of ethics promise that when performing their task, they will put the safety of society members first. It implies that engineers will employ standard and approved materials, as well as standard engineering methods throughout their careers.

2. Integrity and Honesty

Honesty and integrity are two of the most important values that engineers must uphold. The engineering code of professional ethics demands that engineers be honest in all their dealings, both with the clients and employers, as well as the public.

Engineers must follow an ethical code of conduct to ensure that they are honest in all their transactions. And they must also maintain the integrity of the engineering profession by not engaging in any fraudulent or deceptive activities.

When engineers keep to the code of ethics, even when faced with a problem or other distractions in their work, they will remain honest.

3. Promotes Public Confidence and Trust in the Profession

Engineering ethics codes of conduct should be acknowledged as a significant component of the engineering field since they assist to build public confidence in engineers by demonstrating that they are ethical individuals who will do what is right even if no one is watching.

It also allows others in related industries, such as construction, manufacturing, software development, and so on, to know that they have someone on their side when it comes to safety or quality standards.

Without these standards in place, each engineer would have to create his or her own set of standards, which might lead to issues such as not knowing what is considered acceptable behavior and how significant design specifications should be determined without first consulting relevant stakeholders.

4. Protects Clients and Employers from Harm

The engineering codes of ethics want engineers to protect the privacy of their clients and ensure that personal information is kept secure. They should not reveal any information about the client, such as their name, age, gender, or location as well as information regarding the project.

Similarly, the engineer should not discuss their employer’s information unless specifically permitted to do so.

5. Promotes Ethical Decision-making in Circumstances of Uncertainty

Engineers, like all individuals, face challenges, dilemmas, and moral issues in their line of duty. Engineers are guided in their difficult judgments by a code of ethics, which ensures that they select what is morally correct. They layout a bright line for what decision is moral and promotes social welfare rather than self-interest to protect moral values.

Engineering Codes of Ethics By Professional Societies

Bottom-line

The engineering profession has developed various codes of practice and ethical standards over time; these help engineering professionals make ethical decisions and express professional behavior while performing their engineering tasks.

These engineering codes of ethics set out the principles governing truthful acts while engineering projects are on course or when acting as engineering professionals.

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_ethics

[2] https://www.pdh-pro.com/pe-resources/engineering-code-of-ethics/

Aimal Khan
Aimal Khan is the founder & CEO of Engineering Passion. He is an engineer and has obtained his bachelor's degree in energy engineering from Kandahar University.