Why Do Engineers Need Ethics?

When we became professional engineers and joined the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers, we made a commitment to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. In our careers, we will encounter moments that test our resolve and promise to the public and to ourselves. Sometimes, the easy decision might be the hard path to take, but we must ensure to always follow the NJSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.

Below are some notable real world examples of why engineers need ethics and when whistleblowing is the ethical thing to do:

Sometimes, when working for a company for a long time or developing friendships with managers or our co-workers, we may find it difficult to address a problem, even if it seems minor. For new engineers, the difficulty may be the worry about job security. No matter the scenario, it is gravely important engineers follow our code of ethics. Below are some more real world examples reported by Steven H. Unger of Columbia University, which all ended in wrongful termination suits (you can read more here):

When navigating these difficult scenarios, you should know by following the NJSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers, you will have the society and the law on your side.

How to Implement Engineering Ethics into Everything you Do

The field of engineering is constantly evolving to meet the demands of a changing society. This means that the old ethical rules may need to develop with the times. Staying up to date with engineering ethics is an essential part of furthering your career in this field.

What is Engineering Ethics?

Many fields have a set of ethical guidelines, and engineering is no exception. These guidelines give advice on how a professional should conduct themselves. Engineering ethics create a framework for decision-making and dealing with potential conflicts. If you’d like to refresh your knowledge, please view our code of ethics here.

What Are the Principles of Engineering Ethics?

The most fundamental principle is to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of the public. As professional engineers, it is our job to protect the public by only approving engineering documents that utilize the safest and most ethical practices available. Other important principles include:

  • only acting in areas where you are competent
  • remaining objective and truthful and avoiding deception
  • conducting yourself in a way that will shine the best light on the engineering profession

What if You Face an Ethical Dilemma?

It’s important to have a measured response when facing a difficult situation like this. According to the National Society of Professional Engineer’s ethics study guide, there are nine steps to ethical engineering decisions. You can read about them in detail here, but the overall principles are to:

  • have a clear goal
  • remain objective
  • understand the facts of the situation including legal concerns
  • consider a variety of options
  • seek trusted outside perspectives
  • decide on a clear course of action

Another important aspect of engineering ethics is how to handle an ethical dilemma with your employer. This can be a difficult balancing act, and your options are listed here.

Would You Like To Learn More?

The New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers (NJSPE) is one of the leading experts in this area. If you’d like to advance the discourse on how ethics can be applied to the field of engineering, consider attending our upcoming continuing education course on April 29. We will be offering ethics credits.

We welcome people of all backgrounds and stages of their career. Your unique perspective can help us further the field of engineering ethics. If you also become a member, you’ll have access to a wide range of benefits, from updates on the law to online seminars. Come by our website to learn more.

 

Why Are Ethics Important for Professional Engineers?

Ethics is an important topic for engineers of every level and field. When you become a professional engineer, however, you are held to a higher standard. That is why one of the requirements for maintaining your professional engineers’ license is to meet a certain number of professional development hours with at least two being in ethics.

As professional engineers, we are trusted with projects that impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The NJSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers is a document that was put together to help us keep that fact in mind and be a guiding factor in making hard decisions during our careers. The code of ethics can be summed up with two key points that we will explore in more depth: safety and honesty.

Safety is Key

The preamble to the NJSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers states that engineers “require honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.” When it comes to ethics as a professional engineer, it is about so much more than preventing illegal activity. It is about making sure the lives we touch with our work are protected from incompetence and are at the forefront of our minds as we work.

Even the parts of the Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers that deal with honesty and integrity go back to safety issues. The things we help design, build, and maintain could result in a loss of life if we put profits, personal advancement, or anything else in front of people.

 

Integrity and Honesty

Another important reason to have a code of ethics for professional engineers is it sets a standard for professional behavior. You know you can expect another PE to behave with honesty and integrity since they adhere to the same creed as you. The public can also be assured you are not pulling a fast one or working for your own gain. The standard of professional behavior provides the people who you work with and for a foundation of trust that you are going to operate in the project’s and public’s best interest.

While the code of ethics seems fairly straightforward and clear cut, having courses about it are important for navigating your day-to-day. The professional development classes help guide you through real life cases that have come before the Board of Ethical Review, so you can see the nuances of the code and how it can be used to make better decisions.

We hope this brief overview of why ethics are important for professional engineers has made you eager to learn more. You can read the full code of ethics by visiting the NJSPE’s ethics page or by attending one of NSPE’s ethics webinars. If you would like to see more content about the importance of ethics, please feel free to let us know in the comments below or by filling out our “Ask NJSPE” form.

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