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Engineering Ethics Essay

Engineers tend to practice their profession as members of teams, led and managed by senior engineers who are employees, even though they also assume the role of employers in many aspects of their relationships with their juniors

The more senior engineers tend to be concerned with the leadership and management of large resources of men, materials and finance over which they have control

It is the juniors who are more involved in the detailed technical practice of the profession; and technical direction comes from middle levels of the organizational structure

Management implies responsibility and in engineering management, the professional engineer is responsible in a very direct sense for control over the resources of the community

Engineering therefore, is a unique profession in which all of the marks of the professional man have crucial importance:

  • he must have high-level skills and he must develop different skills as his career advances
  • he must have a strong motivation for service because everything he does impinges on the community in some way or other
  • The whole community is the ultimate client rather than the individual clients as in the case with other professions

2.2 Ethics and Professionalism

Engineering is closely involved in human relations and in business and commerce

A great many of the special problems in personal conduct met by engineers are likely to arise from this fact

Ethics means something more than “law” and “morals” , it carries an additional connotation of “rightness”

The Code is a statement of the principles of “rightness”, of broad scope and with enough detail to enable an intelligent man to deduce for himself the course of his own professional conduct

The essence of all professional codes is that the professional man must be worthy, through his conduct, of the trust placed in him by the community and his colleagues

To act every situation in a manner that will add to the confidence and esteem in which his profession is held by the community

A profession is no better than its individual members. If they do not have the professional attitude and live by the rules of the profession, they have no profession

Most professional engineers adopt an institutional view of the organizations of the profession:

deserving, even requiring, the loyalty of each engineer as an expression of his identity as a professional engineer

organizations are the manifestation of the professional entity and they require the giving of effort, loyalty and financial support without thought to direct personal gain

Instrumental view of the professional organizations: support is given, sometimes grudgingly, on the basis of an expected return in some tangible form

The instrumental view should have no place in the value system of the man who aspires to true professional status

2.3 Engineers and Society

We are responsible for our own image

If we want the public to appreciate our work then we must first do an excellent job

We must be aware of technological advancements, be designers instead of users and get involved in research and development

We have the brains, the technology and the expertise, we just need effort and commitment from ourselves

Engineers provide not only the necessary human resources for the infrastructure development of a country but also important devices necessary for the welfare of the public

Engineers yield a degree of influence over formulators of policies and decision makers. If this influence is based on the self-interests of individuals or a minority in which case the interests and welfare of the wider community becomes of secondary importance. Corruption is an extreme example of this

Because of the significance and influence of professionals in society, the value systems which govern their lives and attitudes are needless to say, of great importance

By professional ethics or professionalism, one is referring to a philosophy of work that values and emphasizes the positive qualities in a job or occupation

One would also need to consider the wider implications of one’s occupation in social and moral contexts

2.4 Code of Ethics

In every profession, there are various sets of positive qualities. One, a universal set of qualities which pertain to any job or occupation like dedication, diligence and honesty

A second set of positive qualities are those which are particular to the job or occupation at hand

The third category is professional ethics and this is the category of social and moral awareness of the implication or effects of one’s job on the wider community and environment


Ethics is the study of morality. It studies which actions, goals, principles, policies, and laws are morally justified

It refers to moral values that are sound, actions that are morally required (right) or morally permissible (all right), policies and laws that are desirable

Accordingly, engineering ethics consists of the responsibilities and rights that ought to be endorsed by those engaged in engineering, and also of desirable ideals and personal commitments in engineering

Engineering ethics is the study of the decisions, policies, and values that are morally desirable in engineering practice and research

Morality concerns respect for persons, both others and ourselves

It involves being fair and just, meeting obligations and respecting rights, and not causing unnecessary harm by dishonesty and cruelty

In addition, it involves ideals of character, such as integrity, gratitude, and willingness to help people in severe distress

And it implies minimizing suffering to animals and damage to the environment

As related to engineering ethics, these skills include the following:

Moral awareness : proficiency in recognizing moral problems and issues in engineering

Cogent moral reasoning : Comprehending, clarifying, and assessing arguments on opposing sides of moral issues

Moral coherence: Forming consistent and comprehensive viewpoints based upon a consideration of relevant facts

Moral imagination : Discerning alternative responses to moral issues and receptivity to creative solutions for practical difficulties

Moral communication: Precision in the use of a common ethical language, a skill needed to express and support one’s moral views adequately to others

Moral reasonableness: The willingness and ability to be morally reasonable

Respect for persons: Genuine concern for the well-being of others as well as oneself

Tolerance of diversity: Within a broad range, respect for ethnic and religious differences, and acceptance of reasonable differences in moral perspectives

Moral hope: Enriched appreciation of the possibilities of using rational dialogue in resolving moral conflicts

Integrity : Maintaining moral integrity, and integrating one’s professional life and personal convictions.

2.4.2 Meanings of “Responsibility”


Responsibilities are obligations-types of actions that are morally mandatory. Some obligations are incumbent on each of us, such as to be honest, fair, and decent

Other obligations are role responsibilities, acquired when we take on special roles such as parents, employees, or professionals


Being responsible means accountable. This means having the general capacities for moral agency, including the capacity to understand and act on moral reasons

It also means being answerable for meeting particular obligations, that is, liable to be held to account by other people in general or by specific individuals in positions of authority

We can be called upon to explain why we acted as we did, perhaps providing a justification or perhaps offering reasonable excuses

Wrongdoing takes two primary forms:

voluntary wrongdoing and negligence

Voluntary actions occur when we knew what we were doing was wrong and we were not coerced

Some voluntary wrongdoing is recklessness, that is, flagrant disregard of known risks and responsibilities

Other voluntary wrongdoing is due to weakness of will, whereby we give in to temptation or fail to try hard enough

Negligence occurs when we unintentionally fail to exercise due care in meeting responsibilities. We might not have known what we were doing, but we should have


Morally admirable engineers accept their obligations and are conscientious in meeting them. They diligently try to do the right thing, and they largely succeed in doing so, even under difficult circumstances


Ethical dilemmas, or moral dilemmas : situations in which reasons, conflict, or in which the application of moral values is problematic, and it is not immediately obvious what should be done

Steps in resolving ethical dilemmas :

(1) Moral clarity : Identify the relevant moral values

(2) Conceptual clarity

(3) Informed about the facts. Obtain relevant information

(4) Informed about the options: Consider all genuine options

(5) Well-reasoned: Make a reasonable decision

Right-wrong, better-worse: Some ethical dilemmas have solution that are either right (obligatory) or wrong (morally forbidden); other dilemmas have more that one permissible solution, some of which are better or worse that others either in some respects or overall

2.4.4 Importance of codes of ethics

Codes of ethics state the moral responsibilities of engineers as seen by the profession and as represented by a professional society

Because they express the profession’s collective commitment to ethics, codes are important in stressing engineer’s responsibilities and also the freedom to exercise them

The essential roles of codes of ethics:

(1) serving and protecting the public

(2) providing guidance

(3) offering inspiration

(4) establishing shared standards

(5) contributing to education

(6) deterring wrongdoing

(7) strengthening a profession’s image

2.5 Regulations on professional conducts

All professional groups have two main characteristics:

(1) Professionals in the same discipline institutionalize themselves into a professional body with recognized standards of academic and practice qualifications for membership.

(2) The professional body has a Code of Ethics to govern the conduct of its members and disciplinary procedures in the event of breach of such Code.

When we speak of a Code of Ethics, we are not talking about law

In the Code of Ethics, our concern is with what is morally right or wrong

Situations which require the Professional Engineer to consider the morality of his actions arise under circumstances in which they may exist conflict of interest between the individual professional and any or all of the entities with which he has to interact i.e. Community, Employer, Clients and/or Peers

The professional owes a duty of care towards those he serves in ensuring that their interests are protected, and in this respect, there is a guideline which is what the Code of Ethics is all about

The three Professional Engineering bodies in Malaysia have complementary functions in the regulation of professional conduct

All three bodies have their own Code of Ethics designed to suit their specific requirements according to the objectives for which each body is constituted

IEM Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics of IEM, lays down general guidelines for the conduct of members vis-à-vis his relationships and transactions with:

(1) The community

(2) The Employer

(3) Clients

(4) Peers

The IEM Regulations on Professional Conduct tend to be general because the IEM comprises a very wide cross-section of engineering disciplines as well as types of professional employment and businesses

IEM Code embraces many areas involving moral and philosophical considerations including public safety and health, conservation of resources and environment, upgrading of technology, assuming responsibility within one’s competence

The IEM code also includes the do’s and don’ts in the conduct of affairs between Engineer and employee, clients and peers

While the dos and don’ts are clear cut and easily understood, the moral and philosophical issues can be subject to various interpretation

Board of Engineers’ Code of Professional Conduct

Under Section 15 of the Engineers’ Act 1967, the Board may order the cancellation of the registration of any engineer, if:-

(1) he is guilty of fraud, dishonesty or

moral turpitude;

(2) he accepts illicit commission;

(3) he fails to disclose to his client any

vested financial interest in his

dealings with the client

This “Code of Professional Conduct” has the force of law and breach of any of the rules embodied in the BEM code may subject the offender to penalties provided for under the Engineer’s Act including the ultimate penalty of de-registration

Therefore, in viewing the role of the BEM as a regulating body, its power to act in law must be taken into account

BEM code can at best distinguish between what is legal and what is not, and may be regarded as the baseline or minimum level of ethics that ought to be maintained

All the rules in the Code except two consist of clear cut “Do’s and Don’ts”

These rules concern what an Engineer shall or shall not do in the course of his employment or private practice and are extremely clear cut and unambiguous

All these rules are concerned with the prevention of situations which may possibly give rise to conflict of interest between the Engineer, his employer or his clients

The other two, Rule No. 25 and 26, are more abstract and tend towards issues of morality which may have no useful function in law simply because they are subjective and unenforceable

Association of Consulting Engineers, Malaysia (ACEM)

The affairs of the ACE are governed by their memorandum and articles of association

The Association of Consulting Engineers has prescribed rules in their memorandum and articles of association and these rules are more specific to Engineers who practice as Consultants

The ACE Code of Ethics is enunciated under the heading “Duties of Members” as set out in Articles 16 to 27 of their articles of association

A study of these articles will reveal that when it comes to practice matters, the ACE has gone to great lengths to be more specific and detailed than either the BEM or IEM, and have laid down some clear and strict rules

This is due to a Consulting Engineer’s excessive involvement in business or other commercial ventures, especially those which are of a nature related to his practice

The ACE Code is designed for areas like, advertising and promotion of works, fees and other remuneration, competition with other members, submission of bids or proposals and related subjects.

As for moral and philosophical issues, it is covered by Rule 16 which reads:

“Every member, in his responsibility to his clients and the profession, shall have full regard to these rules, to the rules of the professional Institution or Institutions to which he belongs and to the public interest”.

Code of ACE places an onerous duty on its members to conform to both the IEM and BEM Codes as well as their own specific rules governing the conduct of Consulting Engineering business

2.6 Applying global ethics in engineering organizations

Globalization refers to the increasing integration of nations through trade, investment, transfer of technology, and exchange of ideas and culture

Global interdependency affects engineering and engineers in many ways as in multinational corporations where moral challenges arises:

Who loses jobs at home when manufacturing is taken offshore?

What does the host country lose in resources, control over its own trade, and political independence?

What are the moral responsibilities of corporations and individuals operating in less economically developed countries?

Technology transfer is the process of moving technology to a novel setting and implementing it there

Technology includes both hardware(machines and installations) and technique (technical, organizational, and managerial skills and procedures)

A novel setting is any situation containing at least one new variable relevant to the success or failure of a given technology: example, the setting may be a foreign country

Appropriate technology refers to identification, transfer, and implementation of the most suitable technology for a new set of conditions and it includes social factors

Case study: BHOPAL

Union Carbide in 1984 operated in 37 host countries in addition to its home country, USA

On Dec.3rd, 1984, the operators of Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India became alarmed by a leak and overheating in a storage tank

The tank contained methyl isocyanate (MIC), a toxic ingredients used in pesticides

Within 1 hour, the leak exploded that sent 40 tons of deadly gas into the atmosphere

This is the worst industrial accident in history:

500,000 persons exposed to the gas

2500 to 3000 deaths within a few days

10,000 permanently disabled

100,000 to 200,000 injured

10 years later, 12,000 death claims and 870,000 personal injury claims had been submitted

only $90 million of Union Carbide’s settlement had been distributed

What went wrong?

The disaster was caused by a combination of extremely lax safety procedures, gross judgment errors by local plant operators, and possible sabotage with unintended consequences

Greater sensitivity to social factors was needed in transferring chemical technology to a country foreign to the supplier of the technology

Government of India required the Bhopal plant to be operated entirely by Indian workers

Union Carbide at first trained the plant personnel in its West Virginia plant

US engineers make regular on-site safety inspections

In 1982, financial pressures relinquish its supervision of safety at the plant

2 years later, safety practices eroded:

personnel problems:

high turnover of employees

failure to properly train new employees

low technical preparedness of local labour pool

workers handling pesticides learned from personal experience than from safety manuals

even after suffering chest pains & vomiting, they fail to wear safety gloves and masks due to high temperature a result of lack of air-conditioning

Move away from US standards(contrary to Carbide’s written policies) to lower Indian standards

Extreme hazards:

Tanks storing the MIC gas were overloaded (manual specifies that tanks must not be filled > 60%:extra space needed in emergencies to dilute the gas

Standby tank was not empty for use as an emergency dump

Tanks were supposed to be refrigerated but refrigeration was shut down to cut cost making the tank temperature 3 to 4 times what they should have been


A disgruntled employee unscrewed a pressure gauge and inserted a hose into it not realizing that it would cause immense damage


A new worker was to flush out some pipes & filters. He closed the valves but failed to insert the safety disks to back up the valves in case they leaked. He knew that valves leaked but did not check for leaks: It was not my job! The safety disks were the responsibility of the maintenance dept., and the position of second-shift supervisor had been eliminated

By the time they noticed a gauge showing mounting pressure and began to feel the sting of leaking gas, their emergency procedures were unavailable:

A venting gas scrubber to neutralize the gas was shut down because it was assumed to be unnecessary during times when production was suspended

Flare tower to burn off escaping gas missed by the scrubber was inoperable because a section of the pipe connecting it to the tank was being repaired

Workers sprayed water 100 ft to the air but the stack was 120 ft

Within 2 hours , most of the chemicals had escaped and form a deadly cloud over hundreds of thousands of people in Bhopal

There were thousands of squatters in the areas surrounding the plant with hopes to find employment as well to take advantage of available electricity and water

None of the squatters had been officially informed of the danger posed by the chemicals produced next door to them

No emergency drills

No evacuation plans

What are the moral responsibilities of multinational corporations like Union Carbide?

Ethical relativism: the view that actions are morally right within a particular society when they are approved by law, custom etc.

This is false because it might excuse moral horrors, ex: it would justify low standards if that were all a country requires

Ethical absolutism: retains precisely the same practices endorsed at home, never making any adjustments to a new culture

This is also false because it fails to take account of many variable facts

Ethical relationalism: the view that moral judgments are contextual in that they are made in relation to a wide variety of factors including the customs of other cultures

2.7 Technology and the work ethics

Technology : Value-neutral or value-laden?

Value-neutral : says that technology consists of artifacts or devices -machines,tools, structures perhaps together with knowledge about how to make and maintain devices

Value-laden : says that technology consists of value-guided organizations and general approaches, in addition to artifacts and knowledge

Technological determinism is the view that the primary structures of human society are determined by technology, rather than human beings controlling technology

Social constructionism is the view that emphasizes 2 way causal interactions between technology and society & highlights the importance of human perceptions & interpretations

An example: automobile

It is a necessity but the effects include the depletion of world oil supplies, pollution and deaths(accidents)

If technology dramatically influences us, we also shape the directions of technology

Another example : Tomato harvester- plucks and sorts tomatoes with a single pass. Cost of harvesting tomatoes was reduced. But jobs were lost, small growers forced out of business. Funding to develop new technology comes from the taxpayers

Engineers need to understand how their work affects public life

As managers, entrepreneurs, consultants & government officials, engineers provide many form of leadership that should include moral leadership in developing and implementing technology within their professions & communities

Moral leadership is the success in moving a group toward morally desirable goals using morally desirable procedures

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