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Engineering ethics

 

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. As a scholarly discipline, it is closely related to subjects such as the philosophy of science, philosophy of engineering, and the ethics of technology.

When the 19th century drew to a close and the 20th century began, there had been series of significant structural failures, including some spectacular bridge failures, notably the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster (1876), Tay Bridge Disaster (1879), and the Quebec Bridge collapse (1907). These had a profound effect on engineers and forced the profession to confront shortcomings in technical and construction practice, as well as ethical standards.

Concerns for professional practice and protecting the public highlighted by these bridge failures, as well as the Boston molasses disaster (1919), provided impetus for another movement that had been underway for some time: to require formal credentials (Professional Engineering licensure in the US) as a requirement to practice. This involves meeting some combination of educational, experience, and testing requirements.

Many engineering professional societies have prepared codes of ethics. Some date to the early decades of the twentieth century. These have been incorporated to a greater or lesser degree into the regulatory laws of several jurisdictions. While these statements of general principles served as a guide, engineers still require sound judgment to interpret how the code would apply to specific circumstances.

The engineers recognize that the greatest merit is the work and exercise their profession committed to serving society, attending to the welfare and progress of the majority. By transforming nature for the benefit of mankind, engineers must increase their awareness of the world as the abode of humanity, their interest in the universe as a guarantee of overcoming their spirit, and knowledge of reality to make the world fairer and happier. The engineer should reject any paper that is intended to harm the general interest, thus avoiding a situation that might be hazardous or threatening to the environment, life, health, or other rights of human beings. It is an inescapable duty of the engineer to uphold the prestige of the profession, to ensure its proper discharge, and to maintain a professional demeanor rooted in ability, honesty, fortitude, temperance, magnanimity, modesty, honesty, and justice; with the consciousness of individual well-being subordinate to the social good. The engineers and their employers must ensure the continuous improvement of their knowledge, particularly of their profession, disseminate their knowledge, share their experience, provide opportunities for education and training of workers, provide recognition, moral and material support to the schools where they studied, thus returning the benefits and opportunities they and their employers have received. It is the responsibility of the engineers to carry out their work efficiently and to support the law. In particular, they must ensure compliance with the standards of worker protection as provided by the law. As professionals, the engineers are expected to commit themselves to high standards of conduct (NSPE).

In many cases, this duty can be discharged by advising the client of the consequences in a forthright matter, and ensuring the client takes the engineer's advice. In very rare cases, where even a governmental authority may not take appropriate action, the engineer can only discharge the duty by making the situation public. As a result, whistleblowing by professional engineers is not an unusual event, and courts have often sided with engineers in such cases, overruling duties to employers and confidentiality considerations that otherwise would have prevented the engineer from speaking out.