Napkin Diagrams

Engineering, Technology, and DIY

The Engineering Code of Ethics

Ethics play a major role in every engineer’s life. Being an application driven discipline, one in which people will deal directly with the end products and processes, following such a code is essential for safety and success. While obtaining a professional engineering license is a symbol of commitment to these ethics, and indeed to the highest standard in all aspects of engineering, it does not mean that the unlicensed are free to do as they wish. In fact, each particular field has their own established code that all must follow, from the recent grad to the senior member.

While there may be slight differences among the branches of engineering, the general theme is consistent. Being a chemical engineer myself, I will elaborate a bit upon that code, provided by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE):

  • Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and protect the environment in performance of their professional duties.
  • Formally advise their employers or clients (and consider further disclosure, if warranted) if they perceive that a consequence of their duties will adversely affect the present or future health or safety of their colleagues or the public.
  • Accept responsibility for their actions, seek and heed critical review of their work and offer objective criticism of the work of others.
  • Issue statements or present information only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, avoiding conflicts of interest and never breaching confidentiality.
  • Treat fairly and respectfully all colleagues and co-workers, recognizing their unique contributions and capabilities.
  • Perform professional services only in areas of their competence.
  • Build their professional reputations on the merits of their services.
  • Continue their professional development throughout their careers, and provide opportunities for the professional development of those under their supervision.
  • Never tolerate harassment.
  • Conduct themselves in a fair, honorable and respectful manner.

These can be condensed to three main, easy to remember concepts: safety, responsibility, improvement. While each of these rules may seem easy to follow and common sense, in practice they can become extraordinarily difficult, especially those regarding safety and responsibility. Often times one may be working under an administration which only cares about the bottom line, an administration willing to cut corners to save on costs, an administration that would avoid recall until it makes sense economically. Standing up to one’s employer is very difficult in such cases where a product is unsafe or prone to failure, but profitable. While it would be a lie to say that doing so will never result in a lay-off, it is better to have no job than to have dirtied hands.

Engineering may be algorithmic and fairly straight-forward on it’s own, but can be overwhelmingly complex when considered in the greater scheme.

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2 responses to “The Engineering Code of Ethics

  1. Robin January 6, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Everybody should follow this code, not just engineers!

    • Brian Bickerton January 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm

      If only, if only. It appears from some of the more recent events that the business management and finance sectors could use a refresher course in ethics and good practices.

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