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, the philosophy of engineering, and the ethics of technology.
Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other things, including bridges, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application. See glossary of engineering.
A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.
Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.
As engineering rose as a distinct profession during the 19th century, engineers saw themselves as either independent professional practitioners or technical employees of large enterprises. There was considerable tension between the two sides as large industrial employers fought to maintain control of their employees.
In the United States growing professionalism gave rise to the development of four founding engineering societies: The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) (1851), the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) (1884),the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) (1880), and the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) (1871). ASCE and AIEE were more closely identified with the engineer as learned professional, where ASME, to an extent, and AIME almost entirely, identified with the view that the engineer is a technical employee.
The American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) was a United States-based organization of electrical engineers that existed from 1884 through 1962. On January 1, 1963 it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) is a professional association for mining and metallurgy, with over 145,000 members. It was founded in 1871 by 22 mining engineers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States, being one of the first national engineering societies in the country. Its charter is to "advance and disseminate, through the programs of the Member Societies, knowledge of engineering and the arts and sciences involved in the production and use of minerals, metals, energy sources and materials for the benefit of humankind." It is the original parent organization of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST), and the Society of Petroleum Engineers. The organization is currently based in Dove Valley, Colorado.
Even so, at that time ethics was viewed as a personal rather than a broad professional concern. 6:
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.
The Tay Bridge Disaster occurred during a violent storm on Sunday 28 December 1879, when the first Tay Rail Bridge collapsed as a train from Wormit to Dundee passed over it, killing all aboard. The bridge—designed by Sir Thomas Bouch—used lattice girders supported by iron piers, with cast iron columns and wrought iron cross-bracing. The piers were narrower and their cross-bracing was less extensive and robust than on previous similar designs by Bouch.
One response was the development of formal codes of ethics by three of the four founding engineering societies. AIEE adopted theirs in 1912. ASCE and ASME did so in 1914.AIME did not adopt a code of ethics in its history.
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.
In 1950, the Association of German Engineers developed an oath for all its members titled 'The Confession of the Engineers', directly hinting at the role of engineers in the atrocities committed during World War II.
Over the following decades most American states and Canadian provinces either required engineers to be licensed, or passed special legislation reserving title rights to organization of professional engineers.The Canadian model is to require all persons working in fields of engineering that posed a risk to life, health, property, the public welfare and the environment to be licensed, and all provinces required licensing by the 1950s.
The US model has generally been only to require the practicing engineers offering engineering services that impact the public welfare, safety, safeguarding of life, health, or property to be licensed, while engineers working in private industry without a direct offering of engineering services to the public or other businesses, education, and government need not be licensed. This has perpetuated the split between professional engineers and those in private industry. Professional societies have adopted generally uniform codes of ethics.
Efforts to promote ethical practice continue. In addition to the professional societies and chartering organizations efforts with their members, the Canadian Iron Ring and American Order of the Engineer trace their roots to the 1907 Quebec Bridge collapse. Both require members to swear an oath to uphold ethical practice and wear a symbolic ring as a reminder.
In the United States, the National Society of Professional Engineers released in 1946 its Canons of Ethics for Engineers and Rules of Professional Conduct, which evolved to the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1964. These requests ultimately led to the creation of the Board of Ethical Review in 1954. Ethics cases rarely have easy answers, but the BER's nearly 500 advisory opinions have helped bring clarity to the ethical issues engineers face daily.
Currently, bribery and political corruption is being addressed very directly by several professional societies and business groups around the world.However, new issues have arisen, such as offshoring, sustainable development, and environmental protection, that the profession is having to consider and address.
|“||Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public||”|
|— National Society of Professional Engineers,|
|“||A practitioner shall, regard the practitioner's duty to public welfare as paramount."||”|
|— Professional Engineers Ontario,|
Codes of engineering ethics identify a specific precedence with respect to the engineer's consideration for the public, clients, employers, and the profession.
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 general principles of the codes of ethics are largely similar across the various engineering societies and chartering authorities of the world,which further extend the code and publish specific guidance. The following is an example from the American Society of Civil Engineers:
The paramount value recognized by engineers is the safety and welfare of the public. As demonstrated by the following selected excerpts, this is the case for professional engineering organizations in nearly every jurisdiction and engineering discipline:
Responsibility of engineers
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).  11/27/11
A basic ethical dilemma is that an engineer has the duty to report to the appropriate authority a possible risk to others from a client or employer failing to follow the engineer's directions. According to first principles, this duty overrides the duty to a client and/or employer.An engineer may be disciplined, or have their license revoked, even if the failure to report such a danger does not result in the loss of life or health.
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.
There are several other ethical issues that engineers may face. Some have to do with technical practice, but many others have to do with broader considerations of business conduct. These include:
Some engineering societies are addressing environmental protection as a stand-alone question of ethics.
The field of business ethics often overlaps and informs ethical decision making for engineers.
Petroski notes that most engineering failures are much more involved than simple technical mis-calculations and involve the failure of the design process or management culture.However, not all engineering failures involve ethical issues. The infamous collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the losses of the Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter were technical and design process failures.
These episodes of engineering failure include ethical as well as technical issues.
The American National Standards Institute is a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. The organization also coordinates U.S. standards with international standards so that American products can be used worldwide.
Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being. Social functioning is the way in which people perform their social roles, and the structural institutions that are provided to sustain them. Social work applies social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social and personal problems; and to bring about social change.
Ethical codes are adopted by organizations to assist members in understanding the difference between right and wrong and in applying that understanding to their decisions. An ethical code generally implies documents at three levels: codes of business ethics, codes of conduct for employees, and codes of professional practice.
Regulation and licensure in engineering is established by various jurisdictions of the world to encourage public welfare, safety, well-being and other interests of the general public and to define the licensure process through which an engineer becomes authorized to practice engineering and/or provide engineering professional services to the public.
Software engineering professionalism is a movement to make software engineering a profession, with aspects such as degree and certification programs, professional associations, professional ethics, and government licensing. The field is a licensed discipline in Texas in the United States, Engineers Australia(Course Accreditation since 2001, not Licensing), and many provinces in Canada.
The Order of the Engineer is an association for graduate and professional engineers in the United States that emphasizes pride and responsibility in the engineering profession. It was inspired by the success of The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, a similar and much older Canadian ceremony, and is a common presence in American engineering schools.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is a tax-exempt professional body founded in 1852 to represent members of the civil engineering profession worldwide. Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, it is the oldest national engineering society in the United States. Its constitution was based on the older Boston Society of Civil Engineers from 1848.
Professional ethics encompass the personal and corporate standards of behavior expected by professionals.
Certified Engineering Technologist is a Canadian professional title awarded on the basis of academic qualification and work experience. Abbreviated as C.E.T., most Canadian provincial engineering and applied science technology associations offer this certification. Certification is voluntary and does not represent a provincial regulatory requirement or a statutory required license.
The American Engineers' Council for Professional Development or simply the Engineers' Council for Professional Development (ECPD), established in June 1932, was an engineering professional body dedicated to the education, accreditation, regulation and professional development of the engineering professionals and students in the United States. ECPD grew and has changed its name to ABET, Inc. and its focus solely to accreditation.
The Engineer's Ring is a ring worn by members of the United States Order of the Engineer, a fellowship of engineers who must be a certified Professional Engineer or graduated from an accredited engineering program. The ring is usually a stainless steel band worn on the little finger of the dominant hand. This is so that it makes contact with all work done by the engineer. Rings used to be cast in iron in the most unattractive and simple form to show the nature of work. The ring is symbolic of the oath taken by the wearer, and symbolizes the unity of the profession in its goal of benefitting mankind. The stainless steel from which the ring is made depicts the strength of the profession.
The Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) is a non-profit incorporated society in New Zealand. As New Zealand's ICT professional body, the IITP exists to promote education and ensure a high level of professional practice amongst ICT professionals. Before July 2012, IITP was known as the New Zealand Computer Society Inc (NZCS).
The CFA Council of India was established by The ICFAI University, Tripura as a constituent body for the development and regulation of the CFA Profession on sound ethical lines. All the CFAs from the ICFAI University, Tripura are eligible to become members of the Council. All members are required to abide by the code of ethics of the Council.
Engineering law is the study of the application of laws in engineering. The application of laws means the study of how ethics and legal frameworks should be adopted to ensure public safety surrounding the practice of engineering. California law defines engineering as the professional practice of rendering service or creative work requiring education, training and experience in engineering sciences and the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences in such professional or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning or design of public or private utilities, structures, machines, processes, circuits, buildings, equipment or projects, and supervision of construction for the purpose of securing compliance with specifications and design for any such work.
Veterinary ethics is a system of moral principles that apply values and judgements to the practice of veterinary medicine. As a scholarly discipline, veterinary ethics encompasses its practical application in clinical settings as well as work on its history, philosophy, theology, and sociology. Veterinary ethics combines veterinary professional ethics and the subject of animal ethics. It can be interpreted as a critical reflection on the provision of veterinary services in support of the profession's responsibilities to animal kind and mankind.
Professional conduct is the field of regulation of members of professional bodies, either acting under statutory or contractual powers.
The National Society of Professional Engineers is a professional association representing licensed professional engineers in the United States. NSPE is the recognized voice and advocate of licensed Professional Engineers represented in 53 state and territorial societies and over 500 local chapters. The society is based in Alexandria, Virginia.
This article gives an overview of professional ethics as applied to computer programming and software development, in particular the ethical guidelines that developers are expected to follow and apply when writing programming code, and when they are part of a programmer-customer or employee-employer relationship. These rules shape and differentiate good practices and attitudes from the wrong ones when creating software or when making decisions on a crucial or delicate issue regarding a programming project. They are also the basis for ethical decision-making skills in the conduct of professional work.
Professional Engineers Day was launched by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 2016 to celebrate and raise public awareness of the contributions of licensed professional engineers in the United States. As of 2015, there were 474,777 licensed professional engineers in the U.S. The first Professional Engineers Day was celebrated on August 3, 2016.
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