Engineering Ethics - Quick Guide

Engineering Ethics - Introduction

Engineering is the process of developing an efficient mechanism which quickens and eases the work using limited resources, with the help of technology. Ethics are the principles accepted by the society, which also equate to the moral standards of human beings. An engineer with ethics, can help the society in a better way.

Hence the study of Engineering ethics, where such ethics are implemented in engineering by the engineers, is necessary for the good of the society. Engineering Ethics is the study of decisions, policies and values that are morally desirable in engineering practice and research.


The word “Morality” originates from the Latin word “mos” meaning “custom”. Morals are the principles or habits with respect to right or wrong of one’s own conduct. They are not imposed by anyone. Morals are what you think is good and bad personally.

Though morals are not imposed, they can be understood as the preaching of our inner self. Depending on a few factors, our mind filters things as good or bad. These are the ideas that help frame our personality so that we can distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

A moral is the code of conduct that you develop over time and set for yourself to follow, just like

  • Being good to everyone
  • Speaking only the truth
  • Going against what you know is wrong
  • Having chastity
  • Avoid cheating
  • Being a nice human being etc.

Morals are always defined by one’s own personality. Morals can be changed according to one’s beliefs as they are completely dependent on one’s perception towards the ethical values.


The word “Ethics” originates from the Greek word “ethos” meaning “character”. Ethics are a set of rules or principles that are generally considered as standards or good and bad or right and wrong, which are usually imposed by an external group or a society or a profession or so.

Ethics can be understood as the rules of conduct proposed by a society or recognized with respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group or culture. Ethics are dependent on others definition. They may or may not vary from context to context.


A person who strictly follows a set of ethical principles, may not have any moral at all while a person who violates ethical principles at times, may maintain a high moral integrity. The ethical theories include duty ethics, right ethics, virtue ethics and so on. A best example that can explain ethics is utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is the philosophy which explains that the happiness or pleasure of a greatest number of people in the society is considered as the greatest good. According to this philosophy, an action is morally right if its consequences leads to happiness of the people and wrong if the action leads to their unhappiness. This theory moves beyond the scope of one’s own interests and takes into account the interests of others.

Ethics in Engineering

Ethics are principles followed depending upon the moral responsibility that a person feels. The study of related questions about moral ideals, character, policies and relationships of people and organizations involved in technological activity, can be termed as Engineering ethics.

An engineer whether he works individually or works for a company, has to go through some ethical issues, mostly under the conditions such as, conceptualization of a product, issues arising in design and testing departments, or may be on the issues involving the manufacturing, sales and services. Questions related to morality also arise during supervision and team works.

The ethical decisions and moral values of an engineer need to be considered because the decisions of an engineer have an impact the products and services - how safe they are to use, the company and its shareholders who believe in the goodwill of the company, the public and the society who trusts the company regarding the benefits of the people, the law which cares about how legislation affects the profession and industry, the job and his moral responsibilities and about how the environment gets affected, etc.

Ethics in Engineering

Not only an engineer, but everyone has to follow a set of morals in order to keep away from getting morally degraded. Our behavior should include the following −

  • Respecting others and ourselves.
  • Respecting the rights of others.
  • Keeping promises.
  • Avoiding unnecessary problems to others.
  • Avoiding cheating and dishonesty.
  • Showing gratitude towards others and encourage them to work.

Morality commands 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 or by hubris.

Steps to Deal with Issues

Whenever there occurs an issue, one should possess a few skills in order to sort out the problem. The issues that engineers face, have to be dealt with patience and few moral goals have to be kept in mind while dealing with such issues. They are as follows −

  • Moral Awareness − One should be able to recognize the moral problems and issues that occur in Engineering. The analysis on the problem is necessary in order to differentiate and judge according to ethics or according to the rules to follow.

  • Cogent Moral Reasoning − In order to come to a conclusion on an issue, the argument has to be assessed and comprehended. The argument on both sides has to be considered with all the probabilities and the nature of the argument should be logical and moral.

  • Moral Coherence − After having gone through all the logical and moral facts, consistent and comprehensive view points are to be formed based upon a consideration of relevant facts.

  • Moral Imagination − The moral issues and the practical issues have to be dealt separately. Alternative responses are to be found out for dealing with moral issues while creative solutions should be found out for practical difficulties.

  • Moral Communication − The language to communicate about one’s moral views should be so precise and clear, that the expression or words should not alter the original meaning.

Though one has all these moral goals, the ethical reasoning for achieving moral conduct with responsibility and commitment is obtained by a few skills that are described below.

Important Skills for Ethical Reasoning

Let us now discuss the important skills for ethical reasoning −

  • Moral Reasonableness − The ability and willingness to be morally reasonable that one should have while dealing such issues. Unless one is willing and improve such ability, justice cannot be done.

  • Respect for Persons − The persons involved in the issue, should be treated with genuine concern by one. Such concern should also be there with oneself along with being there for others.

  • Tolerance of diversity − One should have a broader perspective towards ethnic and religious differences that the people have. Every person differs with another when compared on grounds of moral reasoning. The acceptance of those differences is really important.

  • Moral hope − The moral conflicts can be resolved by using better communication and having rational dialogue which is evident-based and open-ended which is acceptable and appreciable by both the parties.

  • Integrity − The moral integrity has to be maintained. Being honest and having strong moral principles helps one to resolve an issue in an efficient manner. An individual also needs to consider other’s professional life and personal convictions while solving a problem.

Engineering Ethics - Moral Issues

A moral issue can be understood as an issue to be resolved not only by considering the technical stuff but also by keeping moral values in mind. To be more precise, let us consider the definition in general.

“Moral issue is a working definition of an issue of moral concern is presented as any issue with the potential to help or harm anyone, including oneself.”

Types of Moral Issues

There are mainly two types of Moral issues that we mostly come across while keeping the ethical aspects in mind to respond. They are −


This approach stresses more on the problems that occur on a daily basis in the field of engineering and its practice by engineers.


This approach deals with social problems which are unknown. However, these problems may unexpectedly face the heat at both regional and national levels.


Let us now understand a few examples related to moral issues.

Example 1

After a recent collapse of a structure in which many people died, an Engineer came to know about a bridge which is marginally safe. He informed his superior who asked him to stay calm and not to discuss with anyone, while waiting for the next year budget sessions to get some financial help for the repair required. What should the engineer do?

Example 2

What should an Engineer who observes his colleague copying confidential information unauthorized, do immediately? If he chooses to stop his friend, what if this gets repeated without his notice? If he chooses to report the management, what if his friend loses the job? Which is morally correct?

Example 3

An engineer who develops a proto-type for the project, loses it due to a mishap exactly the day before the submission. Is it morally correct to outsource the prototype of the project and reduce the risks of job insecurity? What should he do?

These are the few examples just to understand the kind of moral dilemmas. There might be one or more correct answers at times. There can be some other way around to deal with the issue, which one can’t easily notice. However, the decisions have to be made by following a slow and clear process in order to avoid further problems and also to solve this in a manner that leads to no regrets.

Types of Inquiries

The issues can be resolved by following an investigation procedure, step by step in order to have a clear understanding towards the issue. Here we have three different types of inquiries.

Judging the issues has to be followed by a systematic procedure to avoid any flaws. Engineering ethics involves investigations into values, meanings and facts. Following are the different types of inquiries made for this.

  • Normative inquiries
  • Conceptual inquiries
  • Factual or descriptive inquiries
Types of Inquiries

Normative Inquiries

Normative Inquiry refers to the description that describes what one ought to do under a specific circumstance. This is the expected ideal response, which might differ from what one believes to be right or wrong.

This list identifies and justifies the morally desirable nature for guiding individuals or groups. This includes the responsibility of engineers to protect the public safety and how they should respond under such dangerous practices. Normative inquiries also quote the laws and procedures that affect the engineering practice on moral grounds. They refer to the thought process where the moral rights are to be implemented in order to fulfill their professional obligations.

Conceptual Inquiries

Conceptual Inquiry refers to the description of the meaning of concepts, principles and issues related to engineering ethics. The ethics that an engineer should possess to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public, etc. are described under conceptual inquiries.

It describes what safety is and mentions the marginal issues of safety along with the precautions an engineer should take to avoid risk. Conceptual inquiries mention the moral aspects of bribery and how its effects, along with the professional ethics and professionalism.

Factual and Descriptive Inquiries

Factual Inquiry or the descriptive inquiry help to provide the facts for understanding and finding solutions to the value based issues. The engineer has to conduct factual inquiries by using scientific techniques.

This helps in providing the information regarding the business realities such as engineering practice, history of engineering profession, the effectiveness of professional societies, the procedures to be adopted when assessing risks and psychological profiles of engineers.

Let us now go through the concept of Moral dilemma that a person faces when confronted with a situation.

Engineering Ethics - Moral Dilemmas

At times, the situations occur where one cannot make immediate decisions as the moral reasons come into conflict. The moral reasons can be rights, duties, goods or obligations, which make the decision making complex.

Moral Dilemmas

Types of Complexities

The difficulties in arriving to a solution, when segregated, can be divided into the following three sections.


This refers to the condition where the doubt lies in whether the action refers to good or bad. This is just like having a thought that following the rules is mandatory. This sometimes includes the unwritten rules like being loyal, having respect, maintaining confidentiality, etc.

Conflicting reasons

When you know about the solutions you have, the making of better choice among the ones you have, will be the internal conflict. Fixing the priorities depends upon the knowledge and the moral values one has. The reason why the particular choice is being made, makes sense.


When there are two or more solutions and none among them is mandatory, the final solution selected should be best suitable under existing and the most probable conditions. The interpretation regarding the moral reasons behind the choice and analysis should be made keeping in mind whether this is the better or the worse solution in the probable aspects.

Steps in Facing Moral Dilemmas

Whenever a person is faced with a moral dilemma, the issue is to be solved with a stepwise approach as this will generate a better output. The steps include the following −


The step of identification involves the following −

  • The issue has to be thoroughly understood.

  • The duties and the responsibilities of the persons involved are to be clearly known.

  • The moral factors related to the issue are to be understood.

  • The conflicting responsibilities, the competing rights and the clashing ideas involved are to be identified.


The considerations in the issue are to be listed down. Then they have to be ranked according to the priorities. The moral aspect has to be considered to rank the issues. The advantages of a single person should never be given any importance unless any moral reason is there behind it. No partiality is allowed.


The inquiry of details involved in the issue is to be completely made. All the facts related to the issue are brought into light. Considering the alternative courses of action for resolving and tracing, full implications are also needed.


Discussions are to be made with other members, as different minds look at the issue in different views to give different solutions. The complete analysis of a problem gives chances to different viewpoints, perspectives and opinions from which a better solution can be drawn.

Final Solution

After analyzing different perspectives and considering the facts and reasons on the basis of truths and understanding the flaws which lead to the issue, a final solution has to be drawn out. This solution will add value to the whole analysis, in all aspects.

Engineering Ethics - Moral Autonomy

Moral Autonomy is the philosophy which is self-governing or self-determining, i.e., acting independently without the influence or distortion of others. The moral autonomy relates to the individual ideas whether right or wrong conduct which is independent of ethical issues. The concept of moral autonomy helps in improving self-determination.

Moral Autonomy is concerned with independent attitude of a person related to moral/ethical issues. This concept is found in moral, ethical and even in political philosophy.

Moral Autonomy – Skills Needed

In this section, let us discuss the skills needed for moral autonomy.

  • Ability to relate the problems with the problems of law, economics and religious principles − It is essential to have the ability to analyze a problem and finding the relation with the existing law or the topic of issue with the existing principles on that topic. The ability to distinguish between both of them and finding the moral reasons.

  • Skill to process, clarify and understand the arguments against the moral issues − If the issue is against some moral values or the ethical values to be followed in the society, then clarity should be maintained about the differences and similarities. Both of these differences and similarities are to be judged based on why they are a matter of concern and in what aspect.

  • Ability to suggest the solutions to moral issues on the basis of facts − If the moral issues are not fulfilling and needs to be, then the solutions are to be suggested according to the moral issues based on the facts and truths of the issue. These suggestions must be consistent and must include all the aspects of the problem. No partiality is to be allowed in any such aspect.

  • Must have the imaginative skill to view the problems from all the viewpoints − After having known about the facts and illusions of the issue, a clear understanding is attained in viewing the problem in all kinds of viewpoints. This enables one to be able to suggest a proper alternative solution.

  • Tolerance while giving moral judgment, which may cause trouble − When the whole analysis is made considering all the viewpoints of the issue, the final output might be or might not be pleasing to the persons involved. Hence while declaring the judgment or the decisions taken, a detailed description of the actions done should be given, while the actions ought to be done should be presented in a better way, to ensure others that the decisions have been taken without any partialities towards any party.

  • Tolerance while giving moral judgment, which may cause trouble − When the whole analysis is made considering all the viewpoints of the issue, the final output might be or might not be pleasing to the persons involved. Hence while declaring the judgment or the decisions taken, a detailed description of the actions done should be given, while the actions ought to be done should be presented in a better way, to ensure others that the decisions have been taken without any partialities towards any party.

Moral Autonomy Skills Needed

Skills for Improving Moral Autonomy

Moral autonomy reflects the concept of individuality. This relates to the idea of building one’s self with the moral values one has while developing psychologically.

To have moral autonomy in all the aspects, one should have a lot of patience and interest. One should adhere to the basic principles of humanity and should be strict with the Don’ts he has in mind and liberal with his Do’s. The kindness towards his fellow beings is also an important concept to be kept in mind. Inculcation of all these important qualities, enhances the skills of Moral autonomy in a person.

A Person must have adequate knowledge and understanding about the use of ethical language so as to defend or support his views with others. He must have better knowledge in understanding the importance of suggestions and better solutions while resolving moral problems and also about the importance of tolerance on some critical situations.

Above all, one must understand the importance of maintaining moral honesty and should be liberal to understand the human behavior under certain circumstances.

Engineering Ethics - Kohlberg’s Theory

Lawrence Kohlberg was a professor at Harvard University during the early 1970s and was famous for his works on developmental psychology. He conducted many studies at Harvard’s Center for Moral Development and proposed a theory on moral development which is popularly known as Kohlberg’s theory.

His theory of moral development was dependent on the thinking of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and the American philosopher John Dewey. He was also inspired by James Mark Baldwin. These men had emphasized that human beings develop philosophically and psychologically in a progressive fashion.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory

Kohlberg proposed that people progress in moral reasoning based on their ethical behavior. He postulated this theory based on the thinking of younger children throughout their growing period as adults. He conveyed that younger children make judgment based on the consequences that might occur and the older children make judgment based on their intuitions.

He believed that there are six stages of moral development which are further classified into three levels. The following illustration shows the different levels.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory

The process being discussed here is about the judgment made by the thinker about the protagonist in a given situation. The steps of the thinking process show the moral development of the thinker.

Pre-conventional Level

This can be understood as the first level of moral thinking, which is generally found at Elementary school level. The thinker at this stage tends to think and behave based on the direct consequences that might occur. There are two sub-stages in this.

Pre-conventional Level

Avoid Punishments

A thinker at this stage generally thinks and believes that the judgment are to be made as per the socially acceptable norms as they are said so by some higher official (a teacher or a parent). This is a child-like obedience, in order to avoid punishments.

These thoughts are based on the idea that the protagonist should not disobey the law or rules.


A thinker at this stage, shows interest in making decisions according to the rewards they get in exchange. This second stage is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.

In this stage, they tend to follow the rules of authority because they believe that this is necessary to ensure positive relationships and societal order.

Conventional Level

This can be understood as the second level of moral thinking, which is generally found at the primary and high school level. The thinker at this stage tends to think and behave based on the want to please others. There are two sub-stages in this.

Conventional Level

Getting people to like them

At this stage, the ideas of the society are considered. This level can be that where the protagonist behaves on account of the moral grounds which people decide for decision making. This decision may or may not support the law. Whatever the result is, the thinking process is based on how to impress others or society and on how to please the people around.

Maintain functioning in society

A thinker at this stage, considers to follow the rules for the good of the society. The moral grounds on how people in the society will consider the job done will be the priority, because the thinker believes that a social order is maintained by abiding by the rules.

Hence a thinker sticks to the idea that the protagonist should follow the moral values. The thinker’s behavior is driven by the authority while his thinking conforms to the social order.

Post-Conventional Level

This can be understood as the third level of Moral thinking, which is generally found after the high school level. The thinker at this stage tends to think and behave based on a sense of justice. There are two sub-stages in this.

Post-Conventional Level

Reject rigidity of laws

In this level, the thinker uses his moral thinking skills at a commendable pace. He starts to feel for the protagonist based on moral grounds. He also might have an opinion that the rules have to be changed according to humanitarian values. The thinker rejects the rigidity of the existing laws and rules at this stage.

Sense of justice

This is the pinnacle stage of Moral development where the thinker feels a sense of justice for the protagonist. The thinker has great moral values that he keeps himself free from the external factors that might influence his thinking process.

These are the three main sections of moral development proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg. Let us now try to have some detailed idea on this with an example.

Engineering Ethics - Heinz’s Dilemma

Lawrence Kohlberg quoted an example for his Moral development theory. This example is popularly called the Heinz’s Dilemma.

Story of Heinz

A story of a middle-aged ordinary middle-class man, called Heinz is considered as an example. Heinz is an ordinary man having a wife. His wife suffers from a dreadful disease. Doctors believe that a special drug which was invented recently and is available at the BIG pharma store, can only save his wife.

When Heinz went to buy the drug, the drug-seller costed it around $2,000 dollars, while the actual manufacturing cost of the drug is $20 dollars. Heinz borrowed the money from friends and lenders and could finally collect only $1,000 dollars. Though Heinz pleaded a lot, the greedy drug-seller refused to sell the drug at low cost.

Now, Heinz had no other option but to steal the drug from the shop to save the life of his wife. Is this a better option to do? What is your judgment?

Story of Heinz

Now, to solve this Heinz’s dilemma, a thinker has the following options.

Options for the Thinker

In this section, we will discuss the options for the Thinker.

  • Heinz should not steal the drug because it is the disobedience of law.

  • Heinz can steal the drug, but should be punished by the law.

Heinz can steal the drug and no law should punish him.

The answer which you choose indicates your moral development. Each answer has its consequences and explanation. Let us go through the answers.

Heinz should not steal the drug because it is the disobedience of law.

This decision makes it impossible for Heinz to save his wife. His wife dies and the rich drug-seller becomes richer. Though the law was obeyed, no moral justice was done. This is a pre-conventional level of moral thinking.

Heinz can steal the drug, but should be punished by the law.

This decision helps Heinz save his wife, but Heinz will be kept in prison. Though Heinz took a moral decision, he had to undergo the punishment. This is a Conventional level of moral thinking.

Heinz can steal the drug and no law should punish him.

This decision lets Heinz save his wife and both of them can live happily. This thinking is based on the thought that the rigidity in law should be rejected and justice should be done on moral grounds. This is a post-conventional level of moral thinking.

Engineering Ethics - Gilligan’s Theory

This is an advancement of Kohlberg’s theory. It had been observed that Kohlberg’s theory was proposed based on the moral thinking of privileged white men and boys. Hence this theory was popularized by taking both male and female thinking capabilities into account.

Carol Gilligan, a psychological theorist was born on Nov 28, 1936 in the New York city. She pursued her doctorate degree in Social Psychology from the Harvard University. Gilligan was a research assistant for Lawrence Kohlberg, but she eventually became independent and criticized some of his theories.

Gilligan’s Theory

Carol Gilligan opines that Kohlberg’s theories are biased upon the male thinking process. According to Gilligan, Kohlberg seemed to have studied only privileged men and boys. She believed that women face a lot of psychological challenges and they are not moral widgets. The women’s point of view on moral development involves caring which shows its effect on human relationships.

Hence she proposed a theory which has the same three stages of Kohlberg but with different stages of moral development. Let us understand the stages in detail.

Gilligan’s Theory

Though the names of the stages are the same, the stages differ in this method. The moral development in Gilligan’s theory are based on pro-social behaviors such as Altruism, caring and helping and the traits such as honesty, fairness and respect.

Pre-conventional Level

  • A person in this stage cares for oneself to ensure survival.

  • Though the person’s attitude is selfish, this is the transition phase, where the person finds the connection between oneself and others.

Conventional Level

  • In this stage, the person feels responsible and shows care towards other people.

  • Carol Gilligan believes that this moral thinking can be identified in the role of a mother and a wife. This sometimes leads to the ignorance of the self.

Post-conventional Level

  • This is the stage, where the principle of care for self as well as others, is accepted.

  • However, a section of people may never reach this level.

According to the Carol Gilligan’s theory of moral development, changes occur due to the change of self rather than the critical thinking. It was stated that the post-conventional level of Kohlberg is not attained by women. But Carol Gilligan researched and found that the post-conventional level of thinking is not being easy for women to go through because they care for the relationships.

Levels of Thinking

Carol Gilligan states that the post-conventional level of moral thinking can be dealt based on the two types of thinking. Gilligan’s theory is based on the two main ideas, the care-based morality (usually found in women) and the justice-based morality (usually found in men).

Levels of Thinking

Care-based Morality

Care-based morality is the kind of thinking found in women. This is based on the following principles.

  • More emphasis is given to inter-connected relationships and universality.

  • Acting justly focuses on avoidance of violence.

  • Women with this are usually interested in helping others.

  • More common in girls because of their connections to their mothers.

  • Because girls remain connected to their mothers, they are less inclined to worry about issues of fairness.

Justice-based Morality

Justice-based morality is the kind of thinking found in men. This is based on the following principles.

  • They view the world as being composed of autonomous individuals who interact with one another.

  • Acting justly means avoiding inequality.

  • Individuals with this are usually interested in protecting individuality.

  • Thought to be more common among boys because of their need to differentiate between themselves and their mothers.

  • Because they are separated from their mothers, boys become more concerned with the concept of inequality.

The Carol Gilligan’s theory can be better understood if explained with an example.

Example of Gilligan’s Theory

In order to understand Gilligan’s theory, a popular example is usually considered. A group of moles give shelter to a porcupine. But they are being continuously stabbed by the porcupine’s quills. Now, what should they do?

Example of Gilligan’s Theory

The Pre-conventional level of thinking states that to think for the good of oneself, either the moles or the porcupine only can live there. The other has to leave the place.

According to the Conventional level of thinking, which brings a transition, from self to the good of others and which might even lead to sacrifice, either the moles or the porcupine has to sacrifice and again this leads to a stage where only moles or the porcupine can live in the burrow.

According to the Post-conventional level of thinking, which states that the good of both the parties has to be considered, both the moles and the porcupine come to an agreement that both will have separate places in the same burrow, where they limit to behave themselves and will not cause any trouble to other. This helps both of them to live in the same place with peace.

Gilligan’s Post-conventional Level

The researchers found that the solution to this scenario is different with different individuals; gender also plays an important role. The thinkers were observed viewing the problem in two different perspectives, the care-based and the justice-based.

In a Justice-based perspective, the solution to the problem is viewed as a conflict between two individual groups. Only one of them can have the property. Either moles or the porcupine will get the place in the burrow. Hence the solution to the dilemma, is not a resolution of the conflict, it is a verdict.

In a Care-based perspective, the approach differs. The problem is viewed as a difficult situation faced by both the parties together, rather than a fight between both of them. Hence the solution is sought in a way around the problem or to remove the problem completely. The solution may sound compromising but not damaging. The relationship will still be the same, after the resolution.

Researchers found that Justice-based perspective is pre-dominant among males while Care-based prospective is among females.

Consensus and Controversy

The moral judgment may lead to conflicts if they are not delivered properly without hurting the feelings of the persons involved. There are two stages after the judgement. The stages are described below −


This is that state where people come into agreement with the judgement given by getting convinced with the moral reasons. This will leave the persons with a feel that justice has been done, the verdict may favor any party.


This is that state where the persons involved in an issue are not satisfied by the verdict and might feel that it was decided on partial interests. This will leave the people with a sense of dissatisfaction that justice was not done, which might lead to another conflict.

Professions and Professionalism

In our previous chapters, we discussed the different aspects of solving a conflict. Let us now understand what do we mean by profession and professionalism. The words “Profession” and “Professionalism” are often referred in the moral issues.


Profession means a job or an occupation, that helps a person earn his living. The main criteria of a profession involves the following.

  • Advanced expertise − The criteria of a profession is to have sound knowledge in both technical aspects and liberal arts as well. In general, continuing education and updating knowledge are also important.

  • Self-regulation − An organization that provides a profession, plays a major role in setting standards for the admission to the profession, drafting codes of ethics, enforcing the standards of conduct and representing the profession before the public and the government.

  • Public good − Any occupation serves some public good by maintaining high ethical standards throughout a profession. This is a part of professional ethics where each occupation is intended to serve for the welfare of the public, directly or indirectly to a certain extent.


A person who is paid for getting onvolved in a particular profession in order to earn a living as well as to satisfy the laws of that profession can be understood as a Professional. The definition of a professional is given differently by different experts in the field. Let us see the following definitions −

  • “Only consulting engineers who are basically independent and have freedom from coercion can be called as professionals.”Robert L. Whitelaw

  • “Professionals have to meet the expectations of clients and employers. Professional restrains are to be imposed by only laws and government regulations and not by personal conscience.” − Samuel Florman

  • “Engineers are professionals when they attain standards of achievement in education, job performance or creativity in engineering and accept the most basic moral responsibilities to the public as well as employers, clients, colleagues and subordinates.” - Mike martin and Ronald Schinzinger

Models of Professional Engineers

An engineer who is a professional, has some tasks to perform by which he acts as any of the following, which can be termed as Models of Professional Engineers.

  • Savior − A person who saves someone or something from any danger is called a Savior. An engineer who saves a group of people or a company from a technical danger can also be called a Savior. The Y2K problem that created problems for computers and computer networks around the world was solved by engineers who were the saviors.

  • Guardian − A person who knows the direction towards a better future is known to be the Guardian for the same. An engineer who knows the direction in which there is scope for the technology to develop can also be called a Guardian. This engineer provides the organization with innovative ideas for technological development.

  • Bureaucratic Servant − A person who is loyal and can solve problems when they occur using his own skills, is a Bureaucratic servant. An engineer who can be a loyal person to the organization and also the one who solves the technical problems the company encounters, using his special skills can be termed as a Bureaucratic servant. The company relies on his decision-making capability for the future growth.

  • Social Servant − A person who works for the benefit of the society without any selfish interest and does not work on any business grounds, is called a Social servant. An engineer who receives a task as part of the government’s concern for the society considering the directives laid by the society and accomplishes the assigned tasks can be termed as a Social Servant. He knows what the society needs.

  • Social Enabler or Catalyst − A person who makes the society understand its welfare and works towards the benefits of the people in it, is a Social Enabler. An engineer who plays a vital role in a company and helps company along with society to understand their needs and supports their decisions in work can be termed as a Social Enabler or Catalyst. This person quickens the procedure and helps maintain good environment in the company.

  • Game Player − A person who plays a game according to the rules given is a Game player in general. An engineer who acts as neither a servant nor a master, but provides his services and plans his works according to the economic game rules in a given time, can be termed as a Game player. He is smart enough to handle the economic conditions of the company.


Professionalism covers comprehensively all areas of practice of a particular profession. It requires skills and responsibilities involved in engineering profession. Professionalism implies a certain set of attitudes.

The art of Professionalism can be understood as the practice of doing the right thing, not because how one feels but regardless of how one feels. Professionals make a profession of the specific kind of activity and conduct to which they commit themselves and to which they can be expected to conform. Moral ideals specify virtue, i.e., desirable feature of character. Virtues are desirable ways of relating to other individuals, groups and organizations. Virtues involve motives, attitudes and emotions.

According to Aristotle, virtues are the “acquired habits that enable us to engage effectively in rational activities that defines us as human beings.”

Professional Ideals and Virtues

The virtues represent excellence in core moral behavior. The essentials for any professional to excel in the profession are behavior, skills and knowledge. The behavior shows the moral ideology of the professional.

The moral ideals specify the virtue, i.e., the desirable character traits that talk a lot about the motives, attitude and emotions of an individual.

  • Public spirited virtues
  • Proficiency virtues
  • Team work virtues
  • Self-governance virtues

The virtues mentioned above show the professional responsibility of an individual. Hence, the professionalism that comes in with these virtues is called Responsible Professionalism. Let us now understand each virtue in detail.

Public-spirited Virtues

An engineer should focus on the good of the clients and the public at large, which means no harm should be done intentionally. The code of professional conduct in the field of engineering includes avoiding harm and protecting, as well promoting the public safety, health and welfare.

Maintaining a sense of community with faith and hope within the society and being generous by extending time, talent and money to professional societies and communities, an engineer can maintain the public-spirited virtue. Finally, justice within corporations, government and economic practices becomes an essential virtue that an engineer should always possess.

Proficiency Virtues

These refer to the virtues followed in the profession according to the talent and intellect of an engineer. The moral values that include this virtue are competence and diligence. The competence is being successful in the job being done and the diligence is taking care and having alertness to dangers in the job. Creativity should also be present in accomplishing the assigned task.

Teamwork Virtues

These virtues represent the coordination among team members which means working successfully with other professionals. These include cooperative nature along with loyalty and respect towards their organization, which makes the engineers motivate the team professionals to work towards their valuable goals.

Self-governance Virtues

These virtues are concerned with moral responsibilities which represent integrity and self-respect of the person. The integrity actually means the moral integrity which refers to the actions, attitude and emotions of the person concerned during his professional period.

The self-governance virtues center on commitment, courage, self-discipline, perseverance, self-respect and integrity. The truthfulness and trustworthiness which represent his honesty are the crucial moral values to be kept up by a professional.

Engineering Ethics - Ethical Theories

Ethics is that branch of philosophy that deals with morality. An engineer with ethics is a person who is expected to possess the moral integrity with rich ethical values. The ethics are mainly divided into two categories depending upon the morality of humanity. They are −

Consequential Ethics

The Consequential ethics are values the outcome of which determine the morality behind a particular action. A lie which saves a life, comes under this.

Non-consequential Ethics

The non-consequential ethics are values followed where the source of morality comes from the standard values. The moral law which states that a lie is a lie, and shouldn’t be done, though it ends in a good deed can be taken as an example of non-consequential ethics.

Types of Ethical Theories

Depending upon the ethics a person is intended to follow, four theories were postulated by four different philosophers. These theories help to create the fundamentals of obligation suitable and applicable to professional and personal conduct of a person in his everyday life.

Types of Ethical Theories

Let us discuss each theory in detail.

Golden Mean

The Golden Mean ethical theory was proposed by Aristotle. According to this theory, the solution to a problem is found by analyzing the reason and the logic. A “Mean value of solution” which will be between the extremes of excess and deficiency.

For example, the solution to the problem of environment pollution is neither by avoiding industrialization and civilization, nor by neglecting the environment completely. A mean solution that will work towards controlling the pollution and protecting the environment will also help.

Problem in Application

The application of this theory varies from one person to another with their powers of reasoning and the difficulty in applying the theory to ethical problems.

What is Golden Mean?

The Golden Mean virtue can be understood as the virtue of reaching a proper balance between extremes in conduct, emotion, desire and attitude. This theory phrased by Aristotle states that virtues are tendencies to find the golden mean between the extremes of too much (excess) and too little (deficiency) with regard to particular aspects of our lives.

The most important virtue is practical wisdom, i.e., morally good judgment, which enables one to discern the mean for all the other virtues. There are internal goods such as products, activities and experiences should never clash with the external goods such as money, power self-esteem and prestige. The standards of excellence enable internal goods to be achieved. The external goods when extremely concerned, though by individuals or by organizations, threaten the internal goods.

Rights-based Ethical Theory

The Rights based ethical theory was proposed by John Locke. According to this theory, the solution to a problem is by realizing that every person has a right to live. Live and let live is the philosophy behind this theory. The rights of a person towards life, health, liberty, possession, etc. are taken care of under this theory.

For example, any action in terms of Capital punishment, Jails, Income taxes and Medical charges etc. come under this category.

Problem in Application

One rights of a person may be in conflict with rights of the other.

What does it mean?

Rights-based ethics is the recognition of human dignity at its most basic form. The ethics refer to the basic human rights whether they are positive or negative. Everyone has a right to live, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Beauchamp and Childress, authors and ethical theorists, have defined the term "right" to be a "justified claim that individuals and groups can make upon other individuals or upon society; to have a right is to be in a position to determine by one's choices, what others should do or need not do."

The natural law states that human laws are defined by morality and not by some authority. This law is derived from the belief that human morality comes from nature. Any action done by a person that would prevent a fellow being from living a good and happy life, is considered immoral or unnatural. Any law should have some morals. Moral duty is the obligation to act based on ethical beliefs.

Duty-based Ethical Theory

The duty-based ethical theory was proposed by Immanuel Kant. According to this theory, every person has a duty to follow which is accepted universally, with no exceptions.

An example of this can be expecting all to be honest, kind, generous and peaceful.

Problem in Application

The universal application of this theory can be misleading.

What are these ethics?

Kant observed that everyone is bound to follow some moral laws. It is the choice we make to be morally sound though we have chances to do anything. This theory can also be called as Deontological theory or the Absolutist theory. According to this, it is our duty to obey the categorical imperative rules. To have good will, is to perform one’s duty for the sake of duty and for no other reason.

The categorical imperative law states that “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

There are four virtues that come under this law, which have to be discussed here.


The quality of prudence states that every individual has a life that should be respected and every individual has duties which should be done without any exception. One should always be cautious to perform one’s duties.


Temperance is the voluntary self-restrain from the attractions. The temptations that might lead to the violation of duties and ethics have to be restrained. No false promises are to be made as they contradict the principles of duties.


Fortitude is the sense of having tolerance. No perfection can be maintained if happiness alone is sought and no happiness is achieved if perfection alone is sought. Both may or may not go with each other.


Every individual is a human being with a set of intrinsic values and morals. Truth and fairness are the aspects one should always bear in mind. People should be treated as separate individuals but never as a mere means of existence.

A free will and a will under moral laws are one and the same. We are free only when we act in accordance with our own best natures, while we are slaves whenever we are under the rule of our passions and wills. There should be a universally valid will, under which everyone can be free.

Utilitarian Ethics

The Utilitarian ethics was proposed by John Stuart. According to this theory, the happiness or pleasure of a greatest number of people in the society is considered as the greatest good. According to this philosophy, an action is morally right if its consequences lead to happiness of people and wrong if they lead to their unhappiness.

An example of this can be the removal of reservation system in education and government jobs, which can really benefit the talented. But this can have an impact on the rights of the minorities.

Problem of Application

Qualification of the benefits can be difficult.

What are these ethics?

Consider the cost-benefit analysis in engineering. A typical cost-benefit analysis identifies the good and bad consequences of some action or policy in a monetary aspect. It weighs the total good against total bad and then compares the results to similar tallies of the consequences of alternative actions or rules. This supports the idea of maximizing benefits against cost.

There are two main types of Utilitarianism. They are −

Act Utilitarianism

The Act Utilitarianism focuses on each situation and the alternative actions possible in the situation. Act Utilitarianism states that “A particular action is right if it is likely to produce the higher level of good for the most people in a given situation, compared to alternative choices that might be made.”

In accordance with this theory, the good done is only considered but not the way how it is done. For example, looting the richer to feed the poor, can satisfy and make a group of poor people, happy. But looting is not a way of morality. Hence act-utilitarianism seems to justify the wrong-doing.

Rule Utilitarianism

The Rule Utilitarianism states that “Right actions are those required by rules that produce the higher level of good for the most people.” We need to consider a set of rules, where they interact with each other. This was developed to clear the problem that occurs with act-utilitarianism.

Engineers with ethics should follow the rule-utilitarianism considering the point, “Act as faithful agents or trustees of employers”. So, engineers should abide by it even when an exception might happen to be beneficial. Like in the above example, one should seek the help of law and order to prove the guilt of richer and let see that the poor get benefitted.

Formulation of Ethical Theories

After having gone through the various ethical theories, one can understand that these ethical theories have to be formulated considering the following points −

  • The concepts of the theory formulated must be coherent.

  • The tenets of the theory should never contradict the other.

  • The theory should never be defended upon false information.

  • The theory should guide in specific situations comprehending all aspects possible.

  • The theory should be compatible with individual’s moral convictions in any situation.

Uses of Ethical Theories

Ethical theories help in the following areas −

  • Understanding moral dilemmas.
  • Justifying professional obligations and ideas.
  • Relating ordinary and professional morality.

Engineering Ethics - Social Experimentation

Engineering itself is based on the improvement of current life, whether in terms of technology or efficiency or availability with less financial efforts. The process of engineering lets you go through a series of different experiments when it comes to practical use. Though it is not like an experiment in laboratory under controlled conditions, which is done while learning, an engineer should be ready to do the same on a social scale involving human subjects.

Experimentation is the main aspect of designing process. An engineer who is ought to design the parts of a car, will be able to understand the result only when it is tested practically. Preliminary simulations are conducted from time to time to know how the new concept of engineering acts in its first rough design. Materials and processes are tried out, usually employing formal experimental techniques. Such tests serve as a basis, which help in developing the final product.

Engineers as Experimenters

In the process of developing a product, an engineer generally learns through experimentation. To simply put, a trial and error method is the mostly used one to obtain results, but that goes with some calculations. Hence, we can say that, primarily any experiment is carried out with partial ignorance. Even the outcomes of the experiments may not be as expected. An engineer should always be ready for the unexpected output. The improvement of current prototype will lead to some change which may or may not be fruitful.

The experiments made are mostly subjected to risks though the project is small. Many uncertainties are likely to occur depending upon the changes that might occur in the altered model or materials purchased. At times, when the materials were subjected to continued stress and strain, or some process, it might happen that the nature of the substance changes which might lead to some destruction. These are the areas of experiment where nothing is really predictable.

Responsibility in Experimentation

Although the experiments and the results are uncertain, there are few things which an engineer is ought to keep in mind. Consider the following points which are related to the moral aspects of human behavior −

  • To maintain the safety of human beings.

  • To procure their rights of consent.

  • To keep them aware regarding the experimental nature of the project.

  • To warn them about the probable safety hazards.

  • Should monitor the results of the experiment continuously.

  • Having autonomy in conducting experiments.

  • Accepting accountability for the results of the project.

  • Exhibiting their technical competence and other characteristics of professionalism.


The ethics that an engineer should follow depends upon the moral standards of the individual. Conscientiousness implies consciousness which means the sense of awareness. Every engineer is expected to have some moral standards irrespective of the role he is performing.

The present working environment of engineers, narrow down their moral vision fully with the obligations accompanied with the status of the employee. But this might break the moral laws. Along with satisfying the employer’s goals, by behaving as a responsible employee, by not doing any fraud, not breaking confidentiality and violating patent rights etc., an engineer should be conscious about the unexpected. Adverse outcome may come up as unexpected result of their experiments; for this, they are answerable to the public.

Informed Consent

As a responsible engineer, one should be informed of the facts so as to be conscious. The engineered products of the company should be in such a way that they can never be used to perform any illegal or unsocial activities, which causes destruction.

It is to be observed that if a company produces some products that are out of fashion or the items which promote wastage of energy and do not fetch in benefits, such things are to be well explained to the employer and alternative solutions should also be suggested by the engineers.

Moral Autonomy

Any person can be morally autonomous only when one is being genuine in one’s commitment towards moral values. Moral beliefs and attitudes must be integrated into an individual’s personality which leads to a committed action.

The responsibility to answer an unexpected result, influences an engineer to involve himself personally into the work. This leads to moral autonomy wherein, he also gains the trust of the employer, through his commitment. Such responsible actions lead to great outcomes.


Accountability can be understood as the moral responsibility that we have towards our actions. It means a tendency to be willing to openly accept the moral examinations towards one’s actions and being responsive to the assessment of others. The gap between casual responsibility and moral accountability is common in any profession, along with engineering.

Let us now consider the following instances to understand accountability −

  • When a group of persons are involved in the completion of a project, then the accountability refers to the group minimizing the chances of acceptance of moral responsibility towards a specific action, where each person makes only a small contribution to something much larger.

  • The accountability is diffused within the organization and one has to accept it. Both credit and failure need to be considered for accountability where the work is diffused and the areas of personal accountability are delimited within the organization.

  • At times, when the engineers are pressurized to move to another project while the current is still underway, then the accountability is limited only for meeting schedules.

  • There is always a moral involvement beyond the laid down institutional role, where the engineers cannot separate themselves from personal responsibilities of their work.

Codes of Ethics

The engineers who are represented as professionals, and who belong to a professional society need to have some moral responsibilities. A code of conduct is important for engineers to remain committed to their world.

Codes of Ethics

The engineering societies such as AAES, ABET, NSPE, IEEE and AICTE have framed these codes of ethics which are helpful to engineers to strengthen the moral issues on their work. The codes of ethics play at least eight important roles such as the following −

  • Serving and protecting the public − Engineers are in a responsible position where trust and trustworthiness, both are essential. A code of ethics functions as a commitment by the profession as a whole that engineers will serve the public health, safety and welfare.

  • Guidance − Codes are written in brief yet prove effective in offering general guidance to the engineers. More specific directions may be given in supplementary statements or guidelines, which tell how to apply the code. If needed, the assistance is obtained for further specification.

  • Inspiration − Codes of ethics, which specify a collective commitment towards a profession, help in motivating the engineers towards ethical conduct. Actually, these codes make one feel really responsible and proud to be a professional thus motivating towards the commitment one should have towards one’s profession.

  • Shared Standards − The standards established should be applicable to all individuals, in their particular professions. With the codes of ethics, the public is assured of engineers with minimum standard of excellence and the professionals are provided a fair way to compete.

  • Support for Responsible Professionals − The professionals who act ethically have more positive support through these codes. A professional engineer who has the intention to stand by the codes of ethics, can have no harm from immoral professional obligations, as he can reject smoothly yet formally. As well, these codes can provide legal support for engineers criticized for living up to work-related professional obligations.

  • Education and Mutual understanding − The codes which are widely circulated and officially approved by professional societies, promote a shared understanding among professionals, the public and government organizations about the moral responsibilities of engineers. These codes prompt discussion and reflection on moral issues.

  • Deterrence and Discipline − The professionals who fail to follow the codes exhibit unethical conduct, which is evident from the disobedience towards their profession. Such an investigation generally requires paralegal proceedings designed to get at the truth about a given charge without violating the personal rights of those being investigated. This might lead to expulsion of those whose professional conduct has been proven unethical, which also leads to loss of respect from colleagues and the local community.

  • Contributing to the Profession’s Image − Codes project the engineers as the professionals of ethically committed profession, which inspires them to work with great commitment and more effectively to serve the public. It can also win greater powers of self-regulation for the profession itself, while lessening the demand for more government regulation.

Advantages of Codes of Ethics

Let us now see the following advantages of codes of ethics. The codes

  • Set out the ideals and responsibilities of the profession.

  • Exert a de facto regulatory effect protecting both clients and professionals.

  • Improve the profile of the profession.

  • Motivate and inspire practitioners, by attempting to define their raison d’etre.

  • Provide guidance on acceptable conduct.

  • Raise awareness and consciousness of issues.

  • Improve quality and consistency.

Balanced Outlook on Law

The necessity of laws and regulations and the limitations they have in engineering practice can be understood with an overview of the laws in the Engineering profession. To live in harmony in the society, one should learn to maintain a balance between individual needs and collective needs of the society.

The ethical conduct which can maintain such balance, can be applied with the help of laws. Laws are important as the people are not completely responsible and because of the competitive nature of the free enterprise system which does not encourage moral initiative.

Let us look at a few examples from the past that represent the importance of law.

Babylon’s Building Code (1758 BC)

This code was set by Hammurabi, king of Babylon. It aimed at the builders of his time wherein, they were forced to follow the code by law. He ordered them,

“If a builder has built a house for a man and has not made his work sound, and the house which he has built was fallen down and so caused the death of the householder, that builder shall be put to death. If it causes the death of the house holder’s son, they shall put that builder’s son to death. If it causes the death of the house holder’s slave, he shall give slave to the householder.

If it destroys property, he shall replace anything it has destroyed; and because he has not made the house sound which he has built and it has fallen down, he shall rebuild the house which has fallen down from his own property. If a builder has built a house for a man and does not make his work perfect and the wall bulges, that builder shall put that wall into sound condition at his own cost”.

The above portion of Babylon’s building code was respected duly. But the aspects find only little approval today. This code gives a powerful incentive for self-regulation.

The United States Steamboat Code (1852 AD)

The steam engines used for travel during those days were really heavy and bulky. James Watt who invented steam engine worked with two more scientists Oliver Evans and Richard Trevithick who had modified the old steam engines by removing condensers and made them compact.

These redesigned engines though made lighter, couldn’t solve the problem of boiler explosions. The speed of the boats if increased led to the explosion of the boilers on steam boats causing disasters. Then Alfred Guthrie, an engineer of Illinois had inspected around 200 steam boats with his own funding and found out the reasons for the boiler explosions and later prepared a report relating to the care that could be taken later.

The recommendations made by him were published by Senator Shields of Illinois and incorporated in senate documents which later was made a law, which made the mechanical engineers of America (ASME), to formulate the standards in the manufacturing of steam boats.

The Challenger Case study

The world has known about many number of accidents. Among them, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger is one of the most familiar ones. Back then, this case had been reviewed vigorously by media coverage, government reports and transcripts of hearings. This case deals with many ethical issues which engineers faced.

It poses many questions before us. A few questions are listed below −

  • What is the exact role of the engineer when safety issues are concerned?

  • Who should have the ultimate authority for decision making to order for a launch?

  • Whether the ordering of a launch be an engineering or a managerial decision?

Challenger space shuttle mainly consisted of an orbiter, two solid propellant boosters and a single liquid-propeller booster, which was actually designed to be a reusable one. All the boosters were ignited and the orbiter took a lift-off from the earth. But the cold temperature caused trouble to the O-rings which were eroded.

Challenger Case study

The cause behind the challenger accident

The accident took place on 28th January 1986, due to the failure of one of the solid boosters. In the design of the space shuttle, the main parts which needed careful design of the fields joints where the individual cylinders were placed together.

The assembly mainly consists of tang and clevis joints which are sealed by two O-rings, whose function is to prevent the combustion gases of the solid propellant from escaping. The O-rings were eroded by hot gases, as these were made up of synthetic rubber. But this was not a serious problem, as the solid rocket boosters were only for reuse initially for the few minutes of the flight. If the erosion of the O-rings could be restrained from completely burning out then the design of the joint would be acceptable.

Challenger Accident

In the post flight experiment in 1985, the Thiokol engineers noticed black soot and grease on the outside of the boosters due to the leakage of hot gases blown through the O-rings. This raised a doubt on the resiliency of the materials used for the O-rings. Thiokol engineers redesigned the rings with steel billets to withstand the hot gases. But unfortunately this new design was not ready by that time of flight in 1986.

Delay in launch

The political conditions under which NASA operated is the main cause for unavoidable delay in the decision to be taken for the shuttle performance. The launching date had already been postponed for the availability of the then Vice President George Bush, the space NASA supporter. Later, the launch further got delayed due to a problem in micro switch in the hatch-locking mechanism. The cold weather problem and long discussions went on among the engineers. The number of tele-conferences further delayed the previous testing in 1985 itself.

The O-rings required temperature bearings of 53°F whereas the challenger had temperature bearings of only 29°F, which was far below the environment temperature at which NASA had the previous trail. This might not be matter of concern, as the revised final decision made with the available data then, was that there was no correlation between the temperature and the degree at which O-rings had eroded by the blow-by gas in the previous launch. Assuming a safety concern due to cold weather, though the data were not concluded satisfactorily, a decision was taken not to delay further for so many reasons, and the launch was finally recommended.

Unexpected Change

But unexpectedly the overnight temperature at the time of launch was 8°F colder than ever experienced. It was estimated that the temperature of the right hand booster would be only at 28°F. The camera noticed a puff of smoke coming out from the field joints as soon as the boosters were ignited. But the O-rings were not positioned properly on their seats due to extreme cold temperature. The putty used as heat resistant material was also too cold that it failed to protect the O-rings. All these effects made the hot gases to burn past both the O- rings, leading to a blow-by over an arc around the O-rings.

Though immediately further sealing was made by the by-products of combustion in the rocket propulsion, a glassy oxide formed on the joints. The oxides which were temporarily sealing the field joints at high temperature, later were shattered by the stresses caused by the wind. Again the joints were opened and the hot gases escaped from the solid boosters. But the boosters were attached to the large liquid fuel boosters as per the design. This made the flames due to blow-by from the solid fuel boosters quickly to burn through the external tank. This led to the ignition of the liquid propellant making the shuttle exploded.

Unexpected Change

Roger’s Commission

Later the accident was reviewed and investigations were carried out by the number of committees involved and by various government bodies. President Regan appointed a commission called the Rogers Commission which constituted of many distinguished scientists and engineers. The eminent scientists in the commission after thorough examination and investigations gave a report on the flexibility of the material and proved that the resiliency of the material was not sufficient and drastically reduced during the cold launch.

After the hearings of the commission, Thiokol engineers and NASA investigated possible causes of the explosion, which led to a lot of arguments among the other officials that this investigating team is trying to look for other causes, which are not at all plausible. However, the debacle highlights how lack of responsibility and morality, improper functions, and lax performance of duties of the engineers resulted in the failure of the launch.

Engineering Ethics - Responsibility for Safety

Till now, we have come across many reasons why an engineer needs to be responsible. The responsible engineers follow the codes of ethics to avoid unnecessary problems. The problems majorly occur in two different ways. One of them is when you can assess and the other is when you cannot. A mistake made by an engineer at work may result in huge losses.

An engineer is supposed to assess the risks of his experiments. The disasters do occur at times, though enough care is taken, as stated in the examples given in previous chapters. But knowing all the possibilities, if an engineer neglects the precautions, the results can be really disastrous. So, let us try to analyze the importance of safety in engineering.

Safety and Risk

The terms of safety and risk are inter-related. It is amazing to know that what may be safe enough for one person may not be for someone else. It is because of either different perceptions about what is safe or different predispositions to harm.

For better understanding, let us explore safety and risk further.


According to William W Lowrance, the famous consultant of those times, Safety was defined as “A thing is safe if its risks are judged to be acceptable.”

To be more clear on this, let us consider three cases.

Let the first case be where we seriously underestimate the risks of something. Buying a non-brand electric dryer from a local market without any guarantee, may eventually send us to a hospital with a severe electric shock or burn. While buying this dryer, according to Lowrance definition, this is quite safe, as the risks are judged to be acceptable.

Let the second case be where we grossly overestimate the risks of something. If we suddenly know that the consumption of carbonated beverages like cola are the cause of cancer for 5% of the world’s cancer patients, then we start worrying considering Cola as a poisonous drink. So, in this case, according to Lowrance definition, the Cola becomes unsafe the moment we judged the risks of using it to be unacceptable for us.

Safty First

Let the third case be a situation wherein, a group makes no judgment at all about whether the risks of a thing are acceptable or not. As defined by Lowrance, this is the position where the thing is neither safe nor unsafe with respect to that group. Just like using the products of certain brands are considered safe, while others are not where nothing seems to differ.

Safety is frequently expressed in terms of degree and comparisons. The words like fairly-safe and relatively-safe are used where an individual is judged on the basis of settled values and it is further decided that the risks of anything are more or less acceptable in comparison with the risks of the other thing. For example, the consideration that roadtravel is safer than air-travel.


Any work which might lead to harm us and is not considered safe, can be understood as a risk. According to a popular definition, “A risk is the potential that something unwanted and harmful may occur.” According to William D Rowe, potential for the realization of unwanted consequences from impending events.

Risk is a broad concept covering many different types of unwanted occurrences. When it comes to technology, it can equally well include dangers of bodily harm, of economic loss or of environmental degradation. These in turn can be caused by delayed job completion, faulty products or systems or economically or environmentally injurious solutions to technological problems.


With the advancement in technology, people are now aware of all that goes into a process. Further, risks are understood as those that can be identified. Overall, the public perception has also undergone a change.

Acceptability of Risk

Lowrance in his definition observed safety as acceptable risk. Let us relate to this and further see the definition by William D. Rowe, “a risk is acceptable when those affected are generally no longer apprehensive about it”.

Influential factors that lead to such apprehension are −

  • Whether the risk is accepted voluntarily.

  • The effects of knowledge on how the probabilities of harm (or benefit) are known or perceived.

  • If the risks are job-related or other pressures exist that cause people to be aware of or to overlook risks.

  • Whether the effects of a risky activity or situation are immediately noticeable or are close at hand.

  • Whether the potential victims are identifiable beforehand.

The acceptability of risk depends upon the types of risks such as voluntary and involuntary risks, short term and long term consequences, expected probability, reversible effects, threshold levels for risk, delayed and immediate risk, etc.

Let us have a better understanding on the acceptability of risks in our subsequent sections.

Voluntarism and Control

In our daily life, we come across many such things where the scopes of risk might or might not be low. The person who breaks a red signal, is prone to be a victim of an accident, but risks. A person who lives near a dumping yard is prone to ill-health, but neglects. A boy who rides a vehicle at a high speed cannot rely on the perfect functioning of the brakes. But these people take voluntary risks thinking they can control.

In this manner, they may well display the characteristically unrealistic confidence of most people when they believe hazards to be under their control. Enthusiasts worry less about the risks they might face and hence neglect the dangers behind them. The chance of getting affected is unpredictable in such cases.

Effective information on Risk assessment

The acceptance of risks also depends on the manner in which information necessary for decision making is presented. A person can be motivated to violate the safety rules by explaining the higher probability of success, whereas the same person can be demotivated from such task, by explaining the probability of failure and the fatal effects of it.

Hence, options perceived as yielding firm gains will tend to be preferred over those from which gains are perceived as risky or only probable. Emphasizing firm losses will tend to be avoided in favor of those whose chances of success are perceived as probable. In short, people tend to be more willing to take risks in order to avoid perceived firm losses than they are to win only possible gains.

Job-related Risks

In some jobs where the workers are exposed to chemicals, radiations and poisonous gases etc., they are not informed about the probable risks the workers would be facing, in doing their jobs. These are such dangers where the toxic environments cannot readily be seen, smelled, heard or sensed otherwise.

The workers at such places are simply bound to their work and what they are told to do. The health condition of a person who gets affected under such environments cannot be neglected because that will be the future condition of co-workers.

Magnitude and Proximity

It is unfortunate that most of us, realize the magnitude of risk only when we ourselves or the person who is in our close proximity or a relative, gets affected. A group of 20 friends including us, if gets affected or if had a narrow escape from death, affects us more than the incident occurred to a group of 50 strangers, in a group of a 1000. This proximity effect arises in perceptions of risk over time as well.

A future risk is easily dismissed by various rationalizations including −

  • The attitude of “out of sight, out of mind”.

  • The assumption that predictions for the future must be discounted by using lower probabilities.

  • The belief that a counter-measure will be found in time.

A continuous enthusiasm that fosters us to do such task without thinking is really dangerous. Either the attitude that everything is under control and nothing is going to happen or the negligence upon the number of accidents occurred is equally risky. It is important that engineers recognize as part of their work such widely held perceptions of risk and take them into account in their designs.

Risk Analysis

The study of risk analysis covers other areas such as risk identification, risk analysis, risk assessment, risk rating, suggestions on risk control and risk mitigation. In fact, risk analysis can be deeply discussed with a view on risk management study. The risk management study also includes residual risk transfer, risk financing, etc.

A step-wise risk analysis includes −

  • Hazards identification

  • Failure modes and frequencies evaluation from established sources and best practices.

  • Selection of credible scenarios and risks.

  • Fault and event trees for various scenarios.

  • Consequences-effect calculations with work out from models.

  • Individual and societal risks.

  • ISO risk contours superimposed on layouts for various scenarios.

  • Probability and frequency analysis.

  • Established risk criteria of countries, bodies, standards.

  • Comparison of risk against defined risk criteria.

  • Identification of risk beyond the location boundary, if any.

  • Risk mitigation measures.

All of these again depend on how the risk is compared with the benefit in doing the work with some risk. How far it is beneficial to risk also counts the actions of a person while coming out of the safety bounds.

Risk Benefit Analysis

As per the famous saying, “A Ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for” risk is somewhat common to be accepted. The most common risk we all take is driving an automobile in a traffic. Though we are not sure about the perfect functionality of the brake system and the timings of other drivers’ responses, we take risk. The controlling factor appears to be their perception of their individual ability to manage the risk-creating situation.

Risk Benefit Analysis

Just like the above instance, people mostly calculate the ratios of risk to benefit, while accepting the risks. The risk to benefit analysis is made depending on the types such as the ones mentioned below.

  • The risk to be occurred in future is completely known after it gets fully developed. It is called as Real future risk.

  • If the idea of risk is developed using current data, such one is called as Statistical risk.

  • The risk which is analytically based on system models structured from historical studies is called as Projected risk.

  • The risk which is intuitively seen by individuals is called as Perceived risk.

If risks of traveling on an air-plane is considered for observation, then the flight insurance. company can observe it as a statistical risk, while the risk the passenger faces is Perceived Risk and the Federal aviation administration, faces a Projected risk. Hence, the view of accepting the risk and the idea of risk to benefit ratio motivates the individual.

Risk Reduction

The risks we generally face can be reduced to a great extent by proper analysis with steps. as mentioned below −

  • Define the Problem.
  • Generate Several Solutions.
  • Analyze each solution to determine the pros and cons of each.
  • Test the solutions.
  • Select the best solution.
  • Implement the chosen solution.
  • Analyze the risk in the chosen solution.
  • Try to solve or move to next solution.

The Government’s Approach

The risk management has to be viewed in a wider angle at times when sudden disasters occur due to lack of proper care and assessment. The government which has the responsibility to take care of all the public needs to take some risk. The government’s approach towards the public lies in saving as many lives as possible.

The two major approaches of the government are −

  • Lay person − Wants to protect himself or herself from risk.

  • The government regulator − Wants as much assurance as possible that the public is not being exposed to unexpected harm.

For example, at the times of flood or some fire accident, the government of any place should aim at protecting as many lives as possible rather than looking for a benefit or protecting some property. It will count as a successful attempt towards facing risk if the authority is able to protect its people even after the destruction of property.

Engineering Ethics - Chernobyl’s Case Study

The Chernobyl disaster was nuclear accident that occurred at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986. A nuclear meltdown in one of the reactors caused a fire that sent a plume of radioactive fallout that eventually spread all over Europe.

Chernobyl nuclear reactor plant, built at the banks of Pripyat river of Ukraine, had four reactors, each capable of producing 1,000 MWs of electric power.

On the evening of April 25th 1986, a group of engineers, planned an electrical engineering experiment on the Number 4 Reactor. With their little knowledge on Nuclear physics, they thought of experimenting how long turbines would spin and supply power to the main circulating pumps following a loss of main electrical power supply.

Following is an image of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power

What Led to the Disaster?

Let us now see what led to the disaster.

The reactor unit 4 was to be shut down for routine maintenance on 25 April 1986. But, it was decided to take advantage of this shutdown to determine whether, in the event of a loss of station power, the slowing turbine could provide enough electrical power to operate the main core cooling water circulating pumps, until the diesel emergency power supply became operative. The aim of this test was to determine whether cooling of the core could continue in the event of a loss of power.

Due to the misconception that this experiment belongs to the non-nuclear part of the power plant, it was carried out without a proper exchange of information between the testing department and the safety department. Hence the test started with inadequate safety precautions and the operating personnel were not alerted to the nuclear safety implications of the electrical test and its potential danger.

The Experiment

According to the test planned, the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) of the reactor, which provides water for cooling the reactor core, was shut down deliberately.

For the test to be conducted, the reactor has to be stabilized at about 700-1000 MW prior to shut down, but it fell down to 5000 MW due to some operational phenomenon. Later, the operator working in the night shift committed an error, by inserting the reactor control rods so far. This caused the reactor to go into a near-shutdown state, dropping the power output to around 30 MW.

Since this low power was not sufficient to make the test and will make the reactor unstable, it was decided to restore the power by extracting the control rods, which made the power stabilize at 200 MW. This was actually a violation to safety law, due to the positive void co-efficiency of the reactor. Positive void coefficient is the increasing number of reactivity in a reactor that changes into steam. The test was decided to be carried out at this power level.

Actually, the reactors were highly unstable at the low power level, primarily owing to the control rod design and the positive void coefficient factors that accelerated nuclear chain reaction and the power output if the reactors lost cooling water.

The following image shows the reactor 4 where the experiment was conducted. This picture was taken after everything was restored.

Emergency Core Cooling System

At 1:23, on April 26th 1986, the engineers continued with their experiment and shut down the turbine engine to see if its inertial spinning would power the reactor’s water pumps. In fact, it did not adequately power the water pumps and without the cooling water the power level in the reactor got surged.

The water pumps started pumping water at a slower rate and they together with the entry to the core of slightly warmer feed water, may have caused boiling (void formation) at the bottom of the core. This, along with xenon burn out, might have increased the power level at the core. The power level was then increased to 530 MW and continued to rise. The fuel elements were ruptured and lead to steam generation, which increased the positive void coefficient resulting in high power output.

The high power output alarmed the engineers who tried to insert all the 200 control rods, which is a conventional procedure done in order to control the core temperature. But these rods got blocked half the way, because of their graphite tip design. So, before the control rods with their five-meter absorbent material, could penetrate the core, 200 graphite tips simultaneously entered the core which facilitated the reaction to increase, causing an explosion that blew off the 1,000-ton heavy steel and concrete lid of the reactor, consequently jamming the control rods, which were halfway down the reactor. As the channel pipes begin to rupture, mass steam generation occurred as a result of depressurization of the reactor cooling circuit.

As a result, two explosions were reported. The first one was the initial steam explosion. Eventually, after two to three seconds, a second explosion took place, which could be possibly from the build-up of hydrogen due to zirconium-steam reactions.

All the materials such as Fuel, Moderator and Structural materials were ejected, starting a number of fires and the destroyed core was exposed to the atmosphere. In the explosion and ensuing fire, more than 50 tons of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere, where it was carried by air currents. This was 400 times to the amount of radioactive materials released at the time of Hiroshima bombing.

Fatal Effects of the Disaster

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Ukraine, is the only accident in the history of commercial nuclear power to cause fatalities from radiation.

There were many fatal effects due to the radiation released. A few of the effects are listed below −

  • Two workers had died. One immediately got burnt to ashes after the accident, while the other was declared dead at the hospital within few hours of admission.

  • 28 emergency workers and staff died within 4 months of the accident due to the thermal burns and the radiation effect on their bodies.

  • This accident created 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer.

  • Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was diagnosed in 237 people, who were on-site and involved in cleaning up

  • The land, air and ground water were all contaminated to a great extent.

  • The direct and indirect exposure to radiation led to many severe health problems such as Downs Syndrome, Chromosomal Aberrations, Mutations, Leukemia, Thyroid Cancer and Congenital Malfunctions, etc.

  • A number of plants and animal faced destruction as after-effect.

Engineering Ethics - Bhopal’s Gas Tragedy

Bhopal’s Gas tragedy is the world’s worst industrial disaster that occurred in 1984, due to the gas leakage from a pesticide production plant, The Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) located in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

It was believed that slack management and deferred maintenance together created a situation where routine pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into the MIC tank, triggering the disaster.

What Led to The Disaster?

In the early hours of December 3rd, 1984, a rolling wind carried a poisonous gray cloud from the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh of India. The poisonous gas released was 40tons of Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC). This particular gas is very toxic that leaked and spread throughout the city.

The following image shows how the plant got destroyed after the accident.

Plant Destroyed

The residents of the city, woke up to the clouds of suffocating gas and struggled to breath. They started running desperately through the dark streets. The victims arrived at hospitals, breathless and blind.

The people who survived had their lungs, brain, eyes, muscles affected severely. Their gastro intestinal system, neurological, reproductive and immune systems were also dangerously affected. By the morning, when the sun rose clearly, the roads were all filled with dead bodies of humans and animals, the trees turned black and the air filled with foul smell.

Cause of The Accident

The Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) team and also the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) team conducted separate investigations on the cause of the incident and came to the same conclusion. It was understood that a large volume of water had been released into the MIC tank and this further caused a chemical reaction that forced the pressure release valve to open and allowed the gas to leak.

UCC’s investigation proved with virtual certainty that the disaster was caused by the direct entry of water into Tank 610 through a hose connected to the tank.

Cause of The Accident

The documentary evidence gathered after the incident reveals that the valve near the plant’s water-washing section was fully closed and leak-proof. Based on several investigations, the safety system in place could not have prevented a chemical reaction of this magnitude from causing a leak.

The safety systems are designed in such a way that water cannot enter unless it is deliberately switched and the water flow is allowed forcefully. The causes and the persons responsible for this deliberate operation are not known.

The Fatal Effects

As per government’s announcement, a total of 3,787 deaths occurred immediately. Around 8,000 of the survivors died within two weeks and other 8,000 or more died from acute diseases caused due to the gas later.

A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the gas leak incident caused 5,58,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. None can say if future generations will not be affected.

Initial effects of exposure were −

  • Coughing
  • Severe eye irritation
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Burning sensation in the respiratory tract
  • Blepharospasm
  • Breathlessness
  • Stomach pains
  • Vomiting

The staff at the nearby hospitals lacked the knowhow required to treat the casualties in such situations. To add to this, there is no antidote known for MIC. Hence, even after running to the hospitals, the survivors could not be cured and most of them had to face death eventually.

Primary causes of deaths were −

  • Choking
  • Reflexogenic Circulatory Collapse
  • Pulmonary Edema
  • Cerebral Edema
  • Tubular Necrosis
  • Fatty Degeneration of the Liver
  • Necrotizing Enteritis

As an after effect of this disaster, the rate of stillbirths increased by 300% and the neonatal mortality rate by around 200%. This came to be known as the world’s worst disaster in the industrial sector.

Responsibilities of Engineers

In our previous chapters, we discussed many things about the ethics to be possessed by an engineer. The responsibilities of an engineer, if not taken proper care of, results in the adverse effects just like the above discussed incidents. In this chapter, we will discuss the responsibilities of an engineer.

Loyalty to corporations, respect for authority, collegiality and other teamwork are a few important virtues in the field of Engineering. Professionalism in engineering would be threatened at every turn in a corporation driven with powerful egos. Robert Jackall, a Sociologist criticizes professionalism saying, “what is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That’s what morality is in the corporation.”

In order to understand how good the ethical factors in a corporate world should be, let us consider the following points −

  • Ethical values in their full complexity are widely acknowledged and appreciated by managers and employees alike.

  • In an ethical corporate climate, the use of ethical language is honestly applied and recognized as a legitimate part of corporate dialogue.

  • Top management sets a moral tone in words, in policies and by personal example.

  • The procedures should be followed for conflict resolution.


Loyalty is the faithful adherence to an organization and the employer. Loyalty to an employer can be either of the two types −

  • Agency-loyalty − Agency-loyalty is acting to fulfil one’s contractual duties to an employer. This is entirely a matter of actions, such as doing one’s job and not stealing from one’s employer, irrespective of the motive behind it.

  • Attitude-loyalty − Attitude-loyalty has a lot to do with attitudes, emotions and a sense of personal identity as it does with actions. It can be understood that people who work grudgingly and spitefully are not loyal; in spite of the fact they may adequately perform all their work responsibilities and hence manifest agencyloyalty.


Collegiality is the term that describes a work environment where responsibility and authority are shared among the colleagues. When Engineering codes of ethics mention collegiality, they generally cite acts that constitute disloyalty. The disloyalty of professionals towards an organization, reflects the attitude they have towards the work environment for the salaries they are paid and the trust the company has for them.

The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code, for example, states that “Engineers shall not attempt to injure, maliciously or falsely, directly or indirectly, the professional reputation, prospects, practice or employment of other engineers. Engineers who believe others are guilty of unethical or illegal practice shall present such information to the proper authority for action”.


The main factors that help in maintain harmony among members at a workplace are −

  • Respect
  • Commitment
  • Connectedness

In detail, the colleagues are to be respected for their work and contribution towards the organizational goals and should be valued for their professional expertise and their dedication towards the social goods promoted by the profession. Commitment observed in the sense of sharing a devotion to the moral ideals inherent in one’s profession. The coordination among all the members at a workplace or the awareness of participating in cooperative projects based on shared commitments and mutual support, also encourages the quality of the work.

Respect for Authority

In order to meet the organizational goals, the professionals should possess respect for authority. The levels of authority maintained by the organization provides a means for identifying areas of personal responsibility and accountability.

Following are the major types of authority −

  • Executive Authority − The corporate or institutional right given to a person to exercise power based on the resources of an organization.

  • Expert Authority − This is the possession of special knowledge, skill or competence to perform a particular task or to give sound advice.

According to the goals of the company, the hierarchical authority is distributed. A service oriented or engineer-oriented company concentrates on the quality of the products which are decided by the engineers as they are the subject matter experts. Whereas a company when it is customer-oriented company, focuses primarily on the satisfaction of the customers. Hence the goal of the company decides the power between a General Manager and a Technical Manager or an Engineer.

Collective Bargaining

It is the responsibility of an organization to look into the welfare of the section of people working in it. Their issues need to be discussed. When we discuss issues, there can be issues which need to be discussed among the employees themselves and resolutions can be found for the same. However, there can be issues which might require the intervention of the management. In order to deal with such complex situations, an Employee Union is formed wherein, each employee becomes a member and a leader is elected to represent the group whenever needed.

At the time of conflicts or arguments, there will arise the need for negotiation between the parties. Conflicting situations which call for negotiation might occur on areas related to pay scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms, rights in work places or company affairs, etc. The process of voluntary negotiations between the employers and a group of employees to resolve the conflicts is called Collective Bargaining.

The parties often refer to the result of the negotiation as a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or as a Collective Employment Agreement (CEA).

Collective Bargaining

The underlying idea of collective bargaining is that the employer and employee relations should not be decided unilaterally or with the intervention of any third party. Both the parties must reconcile their differences voluntarily through negotiations, yielding some concessions and making sacrifices in the process. Both should bargain from a position of strength. There should be no attempt to exploit the weaknesses or vulnerability of one party.

With such an awareness, the necessity of formation of Unions was observed in all the organizations and the idea was strengthened to form larger labor unions. Both parties have, more or less, realized the importance of peaceful co-existence for mutual benefit and continued progress.

Types of Collective Bargaining

Let us now discuss the types of collective bargaining. There are four main types of collective bargaining −

  • Distributive Bargaining − In this, one party’s gain is another party’s loss. Example − Wages

  • Integrative bargaining − In this, both the parties may gain or none of the parties may face a loss. Example − Better training programs

  • Attitudinal Structuring − When there is backlog of bitterness between both the parties then attitudinal structuring is required to make smooth industrial relations.

  • Intra-organizational Bargaining − There can be conflicting groups in both management and unions also. So, there is need to achieve consensus in these groups.

Engineering Ethics - Confidentiality

The other important responsibility of an employee or an engineer is to maintain the confidentiality of the organization or the employer. To understand confidentiality, we need to understand what is Intellectual Property.

Intellectual Property

This term is often used in the world of business. Intellectual property refers to creations of mind such as inventions; literary and artistic works, designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

The ideas and formulations in one’s mind are put in action or may not be done so, but that idea is the result of one’s intelligence and it cannot be stolen. Such problems are mostly encountered by scientists, engineers, business people or the upcoming entrepreneurs, and such. Intellectual Property, i.e., IP is protected by the law; patents, trademarks and copyrights enable people to earn recognition from what they invent or create.

While being associated with an organization, an engineer is expected to follow a few moral rules and avoid affecting the intellectual properties of anyone. These when adopted by an organization, through some agreement, it becomes the responsibility of every employee to maintain the confidentiality throughout that project.


When the word confidential is added to any information, it means that it should not be shared with one and all. It is mostly a trade secret. Maintaining confidentiality and avoiding harmful conflicts of interest are especially important aspects of teamwork and trustworthiness.

Confidentiality is that practice which helps to keep secret all information deemed desirable to keep secret. The maintenance of secrecy refers to the unrevealing of any data concerning the company’s business or technical processes that are not already in public knowledge. Every company has some knowledge and can identify the individuals and groups that might have access to a particular set of information. The members of such groups share the responsibility of maintaining confidentiality.


Types of information

The confidential information can be understood as Privileged Information and Proprietary information. Privileged information means “available only on the basis of special privilege” such as a privilege accorded an employee working on a special assignment. Proprietary information is the information that a company owns or is the proprietor of, and hence is a term carefully defined by property law. It is simply called trade secret.

The patents legally protect the products from being manufactured and sold by other competitor unless a patent holder grants permission. Whereas the trade secret, has no such legal protection. Hence a reverse engineering can be done by analyzing a product to estimate its manufacturing so as to duplicate it or to develop something more than that, without any kind of permissions.

Changing jobs

The obligation to protect confidential information does not cease when employees change jobs. The former employees are bound by moral rules and are not supposed to indulge in revealing or selling such information to the new employers. An employee may change his job for his personal financial or career-oriented growth. But that should never effect the old company, which he used to work for.

An engineer’s knowledge base generates an intuitive sense of what designs will work and will not work, and trade secrets form part of this knowledge base. It is usually considered a better deal, if the employee is not allowed to change the job until the project finishes; this helps in avoiding unnecessary revelation of information.

Management Policies

To protect the personal interest and rights of engineers and other employees while recognizing the rights of employers, employment contracts with a few restrictions imposed, helps. Usually, those restrictions centered on the geographical location of future employers, the length of time after leaving the present employer before one can engage in certain kinds of work and the type of work it is permissible to do for future employers.

But such contracts threaten the right of individuals to pursue their careers freely and hence courts tend not to recognize them as binding. The employers might try different plans such as an agreement not to work for similar project for few years or to be an outside consultant for the same project until it finishes so as to make them abide morally. Other tactics like restricting trade secrets to employees where absolutely essential might result in lessening the knowledge base of engineers involved in research and development.

One potential solution for employers might be generating a sense of professional responsibility among the staff that reaches beyond merely obeying the directives of current employers.


The primary justification is to respect the autonomy (freedom, self-determination) of individuals and corporations and to recognize their legitimate control over some private information concerning themselves. The rights and duties of autonomy along with its utilities are to be observed. The trust and trustworthiness can grow once confidentiality is maintained properly.

Conflicts of Interest

A person may have different types of interests. Such interests can be pursued according to the will, convenience and the laws prevailing. A person working in an organization might have multiple interests related to the job he is doing; if he does some side business which means he might be a competitor or he might work with a competitor, it might pose a problem for the employer. Such an employee is usually fired from the organization.

Thus, we can refine our definition of conflicts of interest by saying that they typically arise when the following two conditions are met −

  • The professional is in a relationship or role that requires exercising good judgment on behalf of the interests of an employer or client.

  • The professional has some additional or side interest that could threaten good judgement in serving the interests of the employer or client.


There occurs a usual dilemma between conflicts of interest and conflicting interests. To get a clear understanding between both, let us consider two examples.

Example 1

Let us consider a girl who needs to choose from among her interests in order to fit in her timetable. She wants to attend the exam in college, to attend the music class, to go out for a movie, to deliver a seminar and also go visit her friend. As she is falling short of time, it is her interest to choose what to do and what not. The term used to mention this can be “Conflicting interests” and this cannot be morally wrong.

Example 2

If another instance is considered where a man works for a company, being in some crucial position where he has access to all the confidential information and if he works as an unofficial adviser to his wife’s company, it would be morally wrong, where a moral conflict definitely arises. This can be termed as “Conflict in interests”.

Hence, the two concepts are different.

There arise very subtle situations with various conflicts of interests. Let us see the most common ones −

Gifts, bribes and kickbacks

The following definitions will help us understand this −

  • A bribe is a substantial amount of money or goods offered beyond a stated business contract with the aim of winning an advantage in gaining or keeping the contract and where the advantage is unfair or otherwise unethical.

  • Gifts can be small gratuities offered in the normal conduct of business.

  • Prearranged payments made by contractors to companies or their representatives in exchange for contracts actually granted are called Kickbacks.

At times, if the money or gifts offered are substantial enough to threaten the fairness of competitive situations, then such gifts turn out to be bribes. They cannot be accepted as simple gratuities. Hence there is a thumb rule stating such condition as, “If the offer or acceptance of a particular gift could have embarrassing consequences for your company if made public, then do not accept the gift”.

Interest in other companies

An Employee while working in his company, if supports another company, during his leisure time to earn more or for some other career aspects, can be understood as committing an immoral act. Such an act is called Moonlighting which usually creates conflicts of interests. Instances creating such conflicts can be working for competitors, suppliers or customers.

The want of additional income or the need for personal and professional growth might foster one to pursue such ideas, which usually creates problems. A special kind of conflict of interest arises, however, when moonlighting leaves one exhausted and thereby harms the job performance.

Insider information

The insider information might concern one’s own company or another company with which one does business. Leakage of the information for the interest of some other benefits is like digging one’s own pit. The interest in other’s companies makes a person morally low and lets him to go beyond moral boundaries and this might create an impact on the confidentiality for the reception of special privileges. When a person crosses his moral grounds, even the beneficiaries stop trusting him further.

Employee conflicts of interest occur when employees have interests that if pursued can keep them from meeting their obligations to serve the interests of the employer or client for whom they work.

Engineering Ethics - Rights of Engineers

The basic rights of engineers include the right to live freely and pursue their legitimate interests as any human being, along with the right to be against racial or sexual discrimination, receiving one’s salary according to the work, choosing of political activities, etc., as other employees. Besides all of them, engineers have some special rights as professionals.

Professional Rights

The rights that engineers have as professionals are called Professional Rights. These professional rights include −

  • The basic right of professional conscience.
  • The right of conscientious refusal.
  • The right of professional recognition.

Right of Professional Conscience

This is a basic right which explains that the decisions taken while carrying on with the duty, where they are taken in moral and ethical manner, cannot be opposed. The right of professional conscience is the moral right to exercise professional judgement in pursuing professional responsibilities. It requires autonomous moral judgement in trying to uncover the most morally reasonable courses of action, and the correct courses of action are not always obvious.

There are two general ways to justify the basic right of professional conscience.

  • The exercise of moral reflection and conscience that justifies professional duties is necessary, with respect to that duty.

  • The general duties to respect persons and rule-utilitarianism would accent the public good of allowing engineers to pursue their professional duties.

Right of Conscientious Refusal

The right of conscientious refusal is the right to refuse to engage in unethical behavior. This can be done solely because it feels unethical to the doer. This action might bring conflicts within the authority-based relationships.

The two main situations to be considered here are −

  • When it is already stated that certain act is unethical in a widely shared agreement among all the employees.

  • When there occurs disagreement among considerable number of people whether the act is unethical.

Hence it is understood that engineers and other professionals have a moral right to refuse the unethical acts such as bribery, forging documents, altering test results, lying, padding payrolls or coercing employees into acting by threatening, etc.

Right to Recognition

An engineer has a right to the recognition of one’s work and accomplishments. An engineer also has right to speak about the work one does by maintaining confidentiality and can receive external recognition. The right for internal recognition which includes patents, promotions, raises etc. along with a fair remuneration, are also a part of it.

The fulfillment of right to recognition motivates the employee to be a trustful member of the organization, which also benefits the employer. This makes the employee morally bound which enhances the ethical nature to be abide by the professional ethics.

Employee Rights

An employee right can be any right, moral or legal, that involves the status of being an employee. They involve some professional rights also, such as the right to be paid according to the salary mentioned in one’s contract. Privacy and equal opportunity can be considered essential rights too.


The right to privacy refers to the right of having a private life, off the job. It is the right to control the access to and the use of information about oneself.

The examples of situations where the functions of employers conflict the rights of employees will be when the job-related queries or any other tests conducted in a job, includes questions relating to personal life such as alcohol usage or sexual conduct. The instances when a supervisor unlocks and checks the desk of his subordinate in his absence or when the management questions about his likes, dislikes or posts on social media regarding his personal opinions where it has nothing to do with the company.

Employers should view the relationship with their employees concerning confidentiality that cannot break the trust. The personal information in such cases is given based on the special professional relation and trust.

Equal Opportunity – Non-discrimination

The demeaning of a person based on trivial factors such as one’s sex, race, skin color, age or political or religious outlook can be understood as Discrimination. Such a discrimination should never be allowed at any workplace; this is where everyone has to be treated equally. These things internally affect the person’s self-identity and self-respect which is pernicious within the work environment, where the work itself should represent a person’s self-image.

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “It shall be unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin”.

Equal Opportunity – Sexual Harassment

In today’s world, there is an increase in the number of sexual harassment cases across the world. This is quiet an unfortunate scenario. There were a number of cases where the charges were levied since last two decades, which kept on growing. A definition of Sexual harassment is, “The unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power”. Sexual harassment is a display of power and aggression through sexual means. It takes two forms, quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo includes cases where supervisors require sexual favors as a condition for some employment benefit (a job, promotion or raise). It can take the form of a sexual threat (of harm) or sexual offer (of a benefit in return for a benefit). Hostile work Environment by contrast, is any sexually oriented aspect of the workplace that threatens employee's rights to equal opportunity. It includes unwanted sexual proposals, lewd remarks, sexual leering, posting nude photos and inappropriate physical contact.

Equal opportunity – Affirmative Action

Affirmative action refers to the preference given to a person or a group who was denied equal importance in the past. For example, the women and the minority communities were not given equal treatment and were ill-treated in the past. So to compensate that, amendments were made in recent laws to provide them special quota for reservations in education, employment and social sectors.

These preferential treatments are made in order to compensate the previous ill-actions. Ideally such compensation should be given to those specific individuals who in the past were denied jobs. But the practical possibilities of such actions are limited. Sexism and racism still permeate in our society and to counterbalance their insidious impact reverse preferential treatment is warranted in order to ensure equal opportunity for minorities and women.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property right is a type of property right which allows the creators or owners of patents trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment. These rights enable the right person to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from the authorship of scientific, literary or artistic productions. These rights are outlines in the article 27 of the Universal declaration of Human rights.

Protection of IPR

Like the other rights, the intellectual rights also should be protected and supported. The IPR (Intellectual property Rights) need to be protected in order to serve the following reasons

  • The creations and inventions are the paths which lead to the progress of human development, either in technology or culture.

  • These inventions should be protected legally in order to develop the commitment and interest for more creations.

  • These intellectual properties must be protected and promoted which indirectly promote the economic growth that creates new jobs and industries, and enhances the quality and enjoyment of life.

The Intellectual property rights are protected by certain measures like patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyrights, etc.


A Patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. It provides the patent owners with protection generally for a period of 20years. With the patent rights one can access any material reward for their marketable innovations.

Once the patent protection is granted, that invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the patent owner’s consent. Courts provide the legal safety for these patent rights. Conversely, if a third party challenges the invention and is successful, the court can declare the patent invalid.


We often come across certain distinctive marks or signs that identifies certain goods or services produced or provided by an individual or a company. These trademarks ensure the belongingness of products to the authorized owners. The owners can authorize other persons in return for some payment. The protection offered through the trademarks is limited for a period, but can be renewed indefinitely upon payment of the corresponding fee.

These trademarks can be one or a combination of words, letters and numerals. They may even consist of drawings or signs such as shapes, colors, holograms, sizes or some non-visible signs such as smell, taste and sound also. The collective trademarks are owned by an association whose members use them to indicate products with a certain level of quality and who agree to adhere to specific requirements set by the association.

Industrial Designs

The ownership of an industrial design protects it from any duplication. Industrial designs are what make an article attractive and appealing and add commercial value to the product. This further increases marketability. Duplication will definitely mislead consumers and might also lead to the defamation of the original product.

Geographical Locations

The geographical location indications are helpful for the customers to identify the original and quality products, which are produced using the raw materials of that geographical area. This indication guarantees the customers that a product was produced in certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to the place of production. It may be used by all the producers who make products that share certain qualities in the place designated by a geographical location.

Some examples include “Brazil” for coffee beans, “Bordeaux” of France for wine, and “Habana” of Cuba for tobacco.


The intellectual property rights are protected by an International organization called as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which was established in 1970. This organization was established to ensure the protection of rights of creators and owners of Intellectual property across the world. The inventors and authors are therefore recognized and rewarded for their ingenuity.

Following is an image of the headquarters of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) situated at Geneva, Switzerland.


Whistleblowing occurs when an employee or former employee conveys information about a significant moral problem to someone in a position to take action on the problem and does so outside approved organizational channels (or against strong pressure).

When the information is passed outside the organization, it is External Whistleblowing. When the information is conveyed to someone within the organization, it is Internal Whistleblowing. While conveying the information, if the individuals openly reveal their identity, it is Open Whistleblowing; and if one conceals their identity, it is Anonymous Whistleblowing.

Concerns of Whistleblowing

It is generally believed to be permissible and obligatory to whistleblow if the following conditions are met −

  • The actual or potential harm reported is serious.

  • The harm has been adequately documented.

  • The concerns have been reported to immediate superiors.

  • After not getting satisfaction from immediate superiors, regular channels within the organization have been used to reach up to the highest levels of management.

  • There is reasonable hope that whistleblowing can help prevent or remedy the harm.

Protecting Whistle blowers

Whistle blowing entails a substantial risk of retaliation which is difficult and expensive to challenge. So, the Government introduced protections to the employees of an organization to protect the whistleblowers against reprisals for lawful disclosures of information believed to show a violation of any law, rule or regulation, mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

Laws, when carefully formulated and enforced, provide two types of benefits for the public, in addition to protecting the responsible whistleblower. They are episodic and systemic. The episodic benefits help in preventing any harm to the public in particular situations. The systemic benefits are in sending a strong message to the industry to act responsibly or be subject to public scrutiny once the whistle is blown.

Beyond Whistleblowing

The need for internal whistleblowing occurs when there is no openness or freedom to communicate the odds within the organization. There should be direct access to the higher levels of management, at least under certain special circumstances. A further better step can be the involvement of an ombudsperson or an ethics review committee with genuine freedom to investigate complaints and make independent recommendations to top management.

The crucial factor that must be involved in any structural change is the creation of an atmosphere of positive affirmation of engineer’s efforts to assert and defend their professional judgment in matters involving ethical considerations.

Engineering Ethics - Global Issues

In this chapter, let us the discuss the global issues concerning Engineering Ethics. The concept of globalization increases with the integration of nations through trade, investment, transfer of technology and exchange of ideas and culture.

So far as the engineers and companies are concerned, the Multinational Companies play crucial roles in promoting globalization. The ethics related to business, environment and computer will also be discussed in this chapter.

Multinational Companies

Multinational Companies, also called Transnational Companies are the companies that have a main branch in a country called the Home country and its other branches in different companies called the Host countries, as International Labor Organization (ILO) defines it.

International Labor Organization

Multinational Corporations can have a powerful influence in local economies, and even the world economy, and play an important role in enhancing international relations and globalization. These MNCs also get tax benefits, pledges of governmental assistance or improved infrastructure or lax environmental and labor standards enforcement as they help in increasing the national GDP. MNCs should produce high degree of operational efficiency pertaining to high standards in the jurisdiction of the place where they are. The wages, safety measures, employee benefits are all should be taken care of by the MNCs.

There have been instances of corporate and government confrontations when governments tried to force MNCs to make their intellectual property public in an effort to gain technology for local entrepreneurs. Such an idea paves way for conflicts where either the government has changed its rules or the companies have withdrawn their investments. Multinational corporate lobbying is directed at a range of business concerns, from tariff structures to environmental regulations. The threat of nationalization or changes in local business laws and regulations can limit a MNCs power.

Business Ethics

Ethics are the set of rules of conduct that the concerning persons need to abide by. These ethics when related to the field of business, are called Business Ethics. Business ethics are similar to professional ethics. Business ethics are related to the aspects of business dealing with all employees in an ethical manner.

An organization is expected to follow certain ethical values in its functioning, establishment, employee welfare, operations, environmental factors, waste management and the issues related to the people living around, etc. These factors affect the reputation of the company and indirectly affect the value of its shares in the global market. The main principles of admirable business ethics can be - being trustful, open minded, meeting obligations, having the documents clear with good accounting control, etc.

The general business ethics include the following aspects −

  • Be it any industry or a corporate office, the infrastructure and the working environment should be comfortable and encouraging.

  • The safety precautions and maintenance of the organization are to be taken care of.

  • The work and the skills of the employees are to be identified and encouraged for the development of the organization.

  • A hierarchical procedure is to be followed, maintaining the ethical standards for the execution of work.

  • The product maintenance right from the procurement raw material to the dispatch of product should be done in a standard procedure uninfluenced by any unethical issues.

  • No tolerance should be there for any kind of unethical behavior or influences that affect the production and organizational standards.

  • To encourage the activities that promote social good and are environment-friendly.

Environmental Ethics

Globalization and industrialization have impacted the environment on a very large scale. The long term effects of the environment are usually neglected unless it is gross and immediate effect.

We are getting habituated to the ill-effects of pollution and industrial negligence shows on our environment. The aftermath can be seen in acid rains, water and land contamination, effect on crops and food sources, the cattle getting affected, the drying of lakes and canals, floods, drought, tsunamis and earthquakes due to drilling of underground wealth, the effect on marine being, the effect on ozone and the melting of snow mountains due to global warming, etc. The aftermath can be an alarming call for the required environmental changes.

Globalization and Industrialization

Engineers need to show some responsibility towards the environment and should be ethical in their approach and find mitigating solutions for the protection of environment. Organizations should support the activities that promote environment protection. The environment ethics include −

  • The study of moral issues concerning the environment
  • Moral perspectives, beliefs and attitudes concerning those issues.

Let us now consider the ethics that need to be followed by a corporation dealing with the manufacture of computers. The organization needs to set priorities for the efficient use of resources, the design of the energy-efficient products, easy disassembly for recycling and waste minimization. The application of high standards throughout its operation and placing priority to companies that have an environmental concern can also extend the support for environmental protection.

Computer Ethics

Computers with Internet raise a host of difficult moral issues, many of them connected with basic moral concerns such as free speech, privacy, respect for property, informed consent and harm. To evaluate and deal with these issues, a new area of applied ethics called Computer Ethics has come up. These ethics are related to all the computer professionals such as programmers, analysts, operators, designers, etc. along with the users.

The ten commandments of Computer Ethics, created in 1992 by the Computer Ethics Institute consists of the following −

One should never use a computer −

  • To harm the people (anti-social activities)

  • To interfere with other’s work (illegal manipulations)

  • To snoop into other’s files (malware)

  • To steal a computer/data (hacking)

  • To bear false witness (manipulation and morphing)

  • To use/ copy a software you didn’t pay for (like illegal downloads and usages)

  • To use or copy other’s software without compensations (illegal pirated versions)

  • To use other’s intellectual output inappropriately (violating IPR)

  • Doing without thinking of social consequences of the program being written (libeling)

  • Always use a computer ensuring consideration and respect towards fellow beings.

However, these ethics are facing lax in today’s world. A very small section of concerned individuals seems to be following these ethics. A large section seems to be violating these ethics. With this, there is an unprecedented increase in cybercrime.

Role of Computers in Technological Development

In this section, we will discuss the role of Computers in Technological Development. The limitations of Internet usage and free speech are to be known clearly by every netizen. In this digital era, the morals expected from a human being are the basic tools that control the unethical and sleazy manner of handling the internet.

Internet which is now a global network of networks, initially used the infrastructure of the telephone system and is now being handled by many telecommunication systems by wire, fiber or wireless systems. The Internet provides a spring of new ways to be in contact with other people and with sources of information. It has also created greater convenience in ordering consumer items, paying bills and social experimentstrading stocks and bonds. Like other major , it also has raised a host of new issues. One set of issues centers on free speech, including control of obscene forms of pornography, hate speech, spam which is unwanted commercial speech and libel. Computers contribute to greater centralization or decentralization insofar as human decision makers direct them.

There come issues which call for trouble wherein, computers are used in embezzlement and other forms of stealing money or financial assets. The issues concerning theft of software and information is again a similar one. The computers are centrally involved when an unauthorized person uses a telephone computer system to obtain private phone numbers or when maliciously alters or scrambles the programming of a telephone computer. In today’s world, malicious people have come up with not one but various ways of exploiting money, goods, services, assets, etc. through the computers and internet. The Internet besides easing our work has also paved way to gather an individual’s confidential details easily.

The two main factors that make computers troublesome are their speed and geographical coverage, which allows the masses to be victimized further. The difficulty lies in tracing the underlying transactions to apprehend the thieves. This problem is compounded when the communication lines linking the computers involved cross national boundaries.

The most commonly discussed cases of computer abuse are instances such as −

  • The stealing or cheating by employees at work.
  • The stealing by non-employees or former employees.
  • The stealing from or cheating clients and consumers.
  • The violation of contracts for computers sales or services.
  • The many conspiracies to use computer networks to engage in widespread fraud.

Alarmingly, the Internet has led to an explosion of identity theft, in which personal information is obtained and used to forge documents and commit fraud.

Privacy Factors

The misuse of Internet also influences privacy factors. The illegal attackers or hackers get access to restricted data which is a security threat.

  • The inappropriate access which leads to security breach in an office leads to the leakage of confidential information which might severely affect the growth of the company.

  • The hackers who crack the security and get unauthorized entry into the highly secured information zone, tend to copy the content or they may change the content, delete the content or get it affected with virus as soon as the authorized personnel opens the file.

  • The different types of viruses such as Trojan Horse, Memory Resident, Overwrite, Browser Hijacker, Directory Virus, etc. can create instances wherein, the data on computer system get affected in various ways.

  • The legitimate access to information is restricted to protect individual privacy, national security and freedom within a capitalist economy to protect proprietary information essential in pursuing corporate goals.

  • The Privacy Act of 1947 prohibits the information contained in government files from being used for purposes beyond those for which it was originally gathered.

Weapons Development

Based on the size of expenditures, direct or indirect involvement of engineers and innovative developments, military technology is an area that calls for serious discussion on engineering ethics. As modern weapons of war progressed through catapults, cannons, machine guns and bombs released from airplanes and missiles to reach further and further, the soldiers firing them were less likely to see the individual human beings, the soldiers as well as citizens, they had as their general target.

For some engineers, their involvement with weapons develop conflicts with personal conscience, such as knowing that making weapons in a company, is the job which would be done by someone else if he doesn’t do and that cannot change the results. Though working in a toxic chemical manufacturing plant can make you feel guilty, the idea abolishing this disastrous thing once you become the CEO of the company, makes you get the feeling of being in good books, though you might or might not do that when the time comes.

There can also be instances where an engineer can feel that the development of weapons is an expression of conscientious participation in national defense. An engineer who is a specialist in missile control and guidance, can feel proud that he is being able to help his country through his efforts in the defense industry, especially as part of the “War on terrorism”. In a broader context, weapons include anything used to gain an advantage over an adversary or to place them at a disadvantage. Examples include the use of sieges, tactics, and psychological weapons which reduce the morale of an enemy.

Engineers as Managers

An engineer, whether he works individually or works for a company, has to go through some ethical issues, mostly under conditions such as, conceptualization of a product, issues arising in design and testing departments, or may be on the issues involving the manufacturing, sales and services. An Engineer is responsible in promoting ethics in an organization, through framing organizational policies, responsibilities and by personal attitudes and obligations.

Suppose, an issue occurs which might lead to a conflict, an engineer or say a professional should respond pertaining to specific morals and professional ethics. An engineer should be able to work as a manager in such situations, resolving conflicts according to priorities, keeping the organizational benefits in mind. The issue must be resolved without hurting anyone’s feelings and by developing a mutual understanding with subtlety. Not only the engineers who act as managers or the managers alone will share the responsibility, but there lies some social responsibility to stakeholders, customers and employers of a company. They act to develop wealth as well as the welfare of the society.

Engineers as Managers

Ethicists project the view that the manager’s responsibility is only to increase the profit of the organization, and only the engineers have the responsibility to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public. But the manager, though an engineer or not, has the ethical responsibility to produce safe and good products (or useful service), while showing respect for fellow human beings including his employees, customers and the public. Hence, the objective for the managers and engineers is to produce valuable products that are also profitable.

Managing Conflicts

A conflict is a result of differences in opinions. Conflicts generally arise where the work is shared among more than one members. In fact, the situations of conflicts should be tolerated with patience, understood impartially and resolved by the participation by all the concerned.

When a project is distributed among a few members, the conflicts that generally occur are −

  • The schedule based conflicts might occur at different levels of execution of a project, depending upon the priorities and limitations at each level.

  • The prioritizing of projects or departments which can be arrived from end requirements may change from time to time.

  • The deficiency of personnel availability for certain project completion in due time may also lead to a conflict.

  • Conflicts that occur over technical, economic, and time factors such as cost, time, and performance level.

  • Conflict arising in administration such as authority, responsibility, accountability, and logistics required.

  • Conflicts of personality, human psychology and ego problems.

  • Conflict over expenditure and its deviations.

Picking out on the personnel creating may keep others away from the problem and doesn’t affect everyone. Such personnel can be trained again or given precautions. The interest of the personnel doing a project should be focused on the ethical attitudes and morals but not on their positions. In addition, the conflicts between the personnel, can be solved by the manager who has more ways to solve it. The evaluation of the results should be based on certain specified objectives such as efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction.

Consulting Engineers

The consulting engineers differ from the salaried engineers of an organization. These consulting engineers work in private and are paid per advice they offer or for the service they provide in a field of specialized knowledge or training. Consultants are individuals who typically work for themselves but may also be associated with a consulting firm.

Consultants can play a multi-faceted role; for example, they function as advisors, fixers, bosses, generalists, stabilizers, listeners, advisors, specialists, catalysts, managers or quasi-employees. Bringing in an expert can save time, effort and money. It has been estimated that approximately 3/4 of all companies call upon consultants at one time or another. Many companies claim that they receive a higher return for their invested dollars by using consultants for specific tasks.

A Consulting Engineer should maintain the ethical values in the profession, such as giving proper information without any ambiguities for advertisements, the allowance of small individual companies to participate in bidding and also maintaining clarity in the contingency fee which is previously agreed. The greater amount of job freedom enjoyed by consulting engineers as opposed to salaried engineers leads to wider areas of responsible decision making concerning safety.

Engineers as Advisors

Engineers may accept an assignment requiring education and/or experience outside of their own fields of competence, but their services shall be restricted to other phases of the project in which they are qualified. All other phases of such project shall be performed by qualified associates, consultants, or employees.

For an engineer to be an advisor, should study the costs and benefits of all alternatives in objective manner, study economic viability, technical feasibility, operational feasibility and social acceptability, follow honesty, and technical complicity leading to moral complicity. Then after analyzing the factors that lead to such things and also the consequences that occur, engineers can work as an advisor.

There may be various roles or models played by engineers who work as advisors. Let us now see what the roles or models are −

Hired Guns

This model highlights the client’s wishes and acts accordingly. All the other factors are given less priority. Assumptions about uncertainties are inclined in a direction favorable to the client’s case.

Value-Neutral Analysts

This model expresses the idea of being neutral and the avoidance of any form of advocacy towards anyone. The cost-benefit analyses if made, are to be done according to the value criteria, explicitly.

Value-Guided Advocates

This model advocates the idea that it is the responsibility of engineers to keep the public good in mind and maintain honesty about both technical facts and the values that guide their studies.

Rosemary Tong defends this model noting, “Honesty is essential, both in negative sense of avoiding deception and in the positive sense of being candid in stating all relevant facts and in being truthful in how the facts are interpreted.”

Engineering Ethics - Moral Leadership

Engineers, within their communities and professions contribute to technological process, as managers, business entrepreneurs, corporate consultants, academics and government officials they provide many forms of leadership in developing and implementing technology. Leadership can be understood as success in moving a group collectively, towards goals.

Moral leaders, are the individuals who direct, motivate, organize, creatively manage, or in other ways move groups towards morally valuable goals. Leaders might be in position of authority within a corporation, or they might not be. Leadership can be shown by individuals participating at all levels of organizations.

Moral Leadership

Morally creative leaders

Moral leaders are morally creative. This does not mean that they discover or improvise new moral values from scratch. Moral values are the product of centuries and millennia of gradual development, not instantaneous invention. Moral creativity consists in identifying the most important values that apply in a particular situation, bringing them into focus through effective communication within groups and forming workable commitments to implement them.

Moral creativity is achieving success through new ways of thinking with standard moral values. This is achieved by identifying new possibilities for applying, extending and putting values into practice rather than inventing new values for temporary comforts. But, this requires fresh moral insights with deeper commitments grounded in integrity.

Participation in Professional Societies

Professional Societies do more than just promoting continuing education for their members. They also serve to unify a profession, and to speak and act on behalf of it. Professional societies provide a forum for communicating, organizing and mobilizing change within and by large groups, which has a moral dimension. After few incidents, many of the tensions existed in professional societies are because of the uncertainties about their involvement in moral issues.

Effective professional activity whether in Engineering or any other profession, requires a substantial degree of trust from clients and the public. Total absence of such trust would undermine the possibility of making contracts, engaging in cooperative work, exercising professional autonomy free of excessive regulation and working under humane conditions. Building and sustaining that trust is an important responsibility shared by all engineers. It is also an area where moral leadership within professional societies is really important.

Leadership in Communities

In communities and groups, the issues that bother and that are important should be informed to everyone. But the stronger obligations arise for those who by professional background are well grounded in specific issues as well as for those who have time to train themselves as Public advocates. It shows that there is certainly a need for moral leadership in identifying and expanding the areas of possible good that can be achieved.

Ideals of Voluntary service

The need for moral leadership in Engineering, emphasizes the need for involvement in professional societies and in community service. The leadership should have substantial involvement in professional societies which, in addition to furthering technical knowledge and representing engineers collectively, help establish high standards of moral integrity within the profession. The moral leadership should also have some involvement in community service. Moral leadership does not consist of moral elitism and dominance, but instead moral creativity in helping to guide, organize and stimulate groups toward morally desirable goals.

Sample Code of Conduct

The professional societies for engineers have formulated few codes of ethics which are expected to be followed by an engineer of the particular discipline. Following are a few societies that look into the discipline in Engineering −

  • NSPE − National Society of Professional Engineers

  • IEEE − The Institute of Electrical and Electronics engineering

  • AIChE − American Institute of Chemical Engineers

  • ASCE − American Society of Civil Engineers

  • ASME − American Society of Mechanical Engineers

  • ACM/IEEE/CS − Joint Task Force on Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices

All these societies have proposed different codes of ethics expecting adherence from the Engineers, to the highest standard of ethical conduct. This not only helps the societies but also the Engineers.

The NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) has formulated codes as engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all the people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.

The fundamental things to be kept in mind, while engineers fulfill their professional duties are the following −

  • Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.

  • Perform services only in area of their competence.

  • Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.

  • Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.

  • Avoid deceptive acts.

  • Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation and usefulness of the profession.

All the other societies have proposed the code of ethics to be followed in their respective disciplines, by the engineers. The professional ethics should be accompanied by moral concerns, in acting responsibly towards the profession while being in ethical limits.