Engineering Ethics

W. Richard Bowen, author of Engineering Ethics: Challenges and Opportunities, says that engineers are in charge of several industrial operations that have the power to change the society they live in. He lists some of the ingenuities that engineers have designed: “Clean water production and sanitation, energy generation, large-scale pharmaceutical manufacture, hygienic food processing, functional buildings transport infrastructure, mechanical devices, medical diagnostic equipment, instrumentation and computing and telecommunications.” 

Bowen says, in the past, “high priority” has been given to the designing of impressive engineering technologies without much attention given to “ethical responsibility”. However, as the title of his book stipulates, these are challenges and opportunities for the engineering man/woman. Engineering companies have historically abided to a code of ethics, a practice that almost all companies in every single industry in the world stick to. But how much do we trust these so-called engineers? 

Gallup, a world renowned American research company with a focus on global performance management recently conducted an over-the-phone survey with the help of 1,028 Americans. The poll was conducted to measure the American public’s perception of honesty and ethics in selected professions. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers of the United States, in one of their recent publications, drew a graph according to Gallup’s figures from 2011-2014, which indicated engineers were second in terms of professional and ethical standing, with nurses gaining the top position. Nursing professionals have been lauded in the survey for the last 14 years, getting the top spot every year since 1999. 

Profession Percentage of respondents
Nurses 85%
Engineers 70%
Military Officers 69%
Medical doctors 65%
Pharmacists 64%
Dentists 61%
College teachers 54%
Police officers Less than 50%
Judges Less than 50%

Gallup’s American’ Ratings of Honesty and Ethics in Selected Professions 2011-2014 ; as reported by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers of the United States

Moreover, The Dean of Engineering at the Engineering Institute of Technology, Steve Mackay, in a YouTube series titled The Engineering News Network has spoken about ethical engineering. He said: “Ethics for engineers means engineers in the fulfillment of their professional duties should uphold, as paramount, the safety, health and welfare of their fellow citizens.” 

With reference to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Mackay outlines what he believes are the fundamentals of ethical engineering. When approaching any engineering project, there are a few “rules of thumb” he believes one can apply: 

Hold safety, health and welfare of your fellow citizen in high regard

Only work in areas where you are competent 

- Don’t build bridges if you’re an electronics design engineer. Focus on your areas of competence,” Mackay said.

Be truthful and objective in everything you do

- Be honest, tell the truth and be objective when communicating with others

Try and hold the highest professional standards in whatever you do 

- Don’t take shortcuts; don’t go for the cheap and nasty approach

Avoid conflicts of interest

Ensure that your professional reputation is built on real, objective successes

Have zero tolerance for fraud, corruption and bribery. Say no

Always focus on enhancing your skills


Works Cited

Bowen, W. Richard. Engineering Ethics: Challenges and Opportunities. Print.

EngInstTech. "ENN39 Engineering Ethics." YouTube. YouTube, 23 June 2016. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

"Honesty/Ethics in Professions." Gallup.com. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.