by Mike Grossman, P. Eng.
Because many decisions made by engineers affect the safety and welfare of the public and environment, they are required to adhere to high ethical standards. In order to follow these high standards, it is important to have a clear understanding of the ethical terms that are common to the profession.
Measuring current practices against previously established “best practices”. In ethical terms, this could be a comparing a current code of ethics to one previously followed.
Code Of Conduct (Ethics)
Used as a guide for future decisions to clarify what is expected and required. For engineering, a common code is to practice at a level at which the individual is competent, to work with honor and integrity, and to make decisions that serve the well-being of the public and the environment.
Conforming to a legal requirement or rule. A practicing professional engineer is in compliance when he or she has completed all of the requirements by the governing body in his or her province or territory and has been granted a professional license.
Also, an individual practices according to the laws that govern the particular activity in which he or she is participating.
Keeping a promise about information disclosure. Many situations may arise where an engineer is in possession of proprietary information.
Confidentiality is important to maintain an individual’s integrity. However, if the person is in possession of knowledge in confidence that an individual or firm is guilty of some unethical or illegal wrong-doing, the individual is under a moral obligation to confront or report the act to the appropriate authority.
Conflict Of Interest
When an individual is in makes judgment calls on behalf of others and has other obligations or interests that might cause interference with a proper decision. In such cases, the individual should either avoid the situation, or openly acknowledge his or her obligations in order to prevent making a decision, or appearing to make a decision, based on personal benefit rather than the good of those for whom he or she is making the decision.
When an individual abuses his or her power for his or her own private benefit.
Using critical judgment to determine what is morally right or wrong. This can be based on personal morals or universally shared morals. In the engineering profession, judgments must be based on a universal code, particularly in cases where the public’s safety is at stake.
A basic understanding of ethics is required of any engineer that wishes to pursue a professional license and is a large portion of the National Professional Practice Exam.
Changing or misrepresenting important information. This could include a small change in data or calculations in the reporting process, or it could be on a larger scale by misrepresenting an individual’s experience or professional credentials.
A person that is found to be practicing with falsified credentials should be reported to the overseeing professional association such as APEGA.
When an individual or group is intentionally dishonest in order to get an unfair advantage. This could occur in the engineering field when someone falsifies past experience in order to win a proposal. This situation is not only unethical and illegal, it puts the public at risk by allowing the individual to practice without sufficient experience to perform his or her duties.
Entering into a situation with good and honest intentions.
In ethical terms, this when there is no clear moral distinction among the options. In such cases, it may be the option that is the “lesser of two evils” that is the best. It may be a decision to protect the public’s health rather than the local ecology.
Failure to exercise proper care in performing an individual’s duties for which he or she has a responsibility. In the engineering field, negligence can have dire consequences. Even a small calculation error can put those involved at risk. An engineer must be adamant and detailed in his or her work in order to prevent errors that could cause harm to others.
The moral obligation that an individual has to use his or her knowledge and experience to benefit society. For an engineer, this is requires that he or she not only practices at the level he or she is competent, but also that he or she practices with honor and integrity. This is in order to uphold the high standards and the reputation of the profession. Most importantly, he or she is obligated to protect public welfare as well as the environment.
A person that witnesses and reports any unethical or illegal behavior by an individual or company, even if the act is considered to be the norm in the particular environment. The individual has a moral obligation to act by confronting and reporting the wrong-doing to the appropriate authorities.
In order to uphold the honor for which the profession is known, an engineer must practice with ethics as a guiding factor in his or her decision-making. An understanding of common ethical terms is necessary to perform to the high standards expected of the profession, which holds honor and integrity in the highest regard.