Ethics can be defined as a branch within the wider field of philosophy whose main concern is addressing the issue of morality. Morality as a concept seeks to justify actions as good or bad, right or wrong and whether such actions are justified and virtuous. Ethics in itself is divided into many categories which normally vary to suit the issue at hand. From a general perspective, ethics can be widely grouped into theoretical and practical ethics. The theoretical aspect is concerned with theoretical meanings of moral propositions and the manner in which their truth values can be ascertained.
The practical aspect of ethics seeks to address the possibility of achieving moral outcomes in a given situation (Luegenbiehl, 2003). Engineering ethics in this context is part of applied ethics that is skewed towards the examination and the setting of standards concerning the duty of an engineer to the general public, how they should attend to their clients, their duty to their employer, and their obligation towards enhancing and maintaining the moral integrity of the engineering profession. Engineering as a profession is very diverse in terms of the possible branches one can venture into.
This diversity make some of the engineering fields share only very limited principles. While most of these disciplines tend to complement each other, these engineers are bound to work in different environments. As such there cannot be a unifying code of ethics for the whole engineering fraternity. Ethical codes in this profession are largely dependent on the exact field of specialization and the jurisdiction of practice. Another factor that comes into play is whether an engineer is providing consultancy service to his clients or the engineer is an employee of a given manufacturing enterprise (Colby & Sullivan, 2008).
In most countries, the engineers who attend to their clients are normally referred to as professional engineers and are usually licensed. They abide by codes that ensure professional ethics and to a larger extent governed by a number of statutes. Their counterparts who practice in the manufacturing industry have to abide by certain laws, key among them being whistle blowing and also the law of product liability. Their practice leans more towards business ethics as compared to engineering ethics.
Professional engineers are usually in private practice and are always responsible for drafting some of the codes of ethics that govern their profession. Engineers who practice in the industrial sector do not enjoy accreditation by the relevant government agencies. It is an arguable fact that despite the field and sector of practice, these engineers face similar ethical issues. Similar in the sense that they share the same root causes but only change slightly in form depending on the discipline and the sector of practice (Luegenbiehl, 2003).
Engineering societies have for a long time drafted their own codes of ethics. These codes of ethics have undergone a series of refinement over time in a bid to make them more viable to overcoming ethical issues. Such codes of ethics usually act as general guidelines since ethical issues are very diverse and as such some of these codes have to be adjusted to suit the situation at hand. In the United Kingdom, a notable example is the ‘Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)’, which chose to incorporate its ethical codes into the standards of conduct.
The code of ethics in engineering basically seeks to ensure the wellbeing of the public, the clients in the case of a professional engineer, the employer for the engineers who practice in the industry, and for the enhancement of the moral integrity of the engineering profession (Colby & Sullivan, 2008). Any engineering profession is susceptible to a number of risks some of which may be detrimental to a wider section of the population. With this risk in mind, the first aim of an engineer is to ensure the safety and health, not only of the general public but also for themselves and their workmates.
Engineers are required to subscribe to principles that ensure sustainable development in the course of their undertakings. Since the engineering profession is very diverse, an engineer who may be very competent in his field of specialization may not be able to achieve much in another line of engineering. For most of the engineering societies around the world, there are basic ethical codes that they seem to share in common. A code of ethics in the field of engineering always restricts engineers to stick to their areas of specialization. This is to avoid exposing himself and the general public to the imminent danger.
An engineer is required to speak the truth on the technical aspects of a job and maintain a professional relationship with the employer or his client. Conflict of interest is a sure way to compromise and as such should always be avoided by an engineer. An engineer is supposed to safeguard the integrity and the interest of the engineering profession. In as much as an engineer is supposed to advance career wise, they have an obligation of ensuring professional growth for their juniors. According to the law of whistle blowing, an engineer is more obliged to safety than he is to the client or to his employer.
This law requires the engineer to report cases where their employers or clients fail to follow their directions and in the process are exposing the public to potential danger. In some instances, some the relevant authorities fail to take action and this may end up in the engineer going public (Luegenbiehl, 2003). The most notable cases of disaster in the field of engineering have been caused by both technical and ethical issues. While some of these accidents have been due to technical aspects and design inadequacies, others have been due to inefficient management culture.
Some of the cases that have been established to have an ethical dimension on their occurrence include the Chernobyl disaster, Bhopal disaster, Boston molasses accident, Johnstown Flood, just to mention but a few (Pfatteicher, 2001). Chernobyl disaster was an incident that took place in Ukraine, and it involved the meltdown in a nuclear reactor plant. This accident was to a larger extent blamed on human error. The personnel were blamed for using a limited ‘operational reactivity margin. ’ The disaster caused to the people living within the neighbourhood was immense in gravity and most of the effects were of a long term nature.
The mental health of the people was extremely affected; cases of cancer were later reported to be rampant in the area. All these effects came about due to the irradiation of the area by radioactive material. The workers were also affected with more than thirty losing their lives within a span of three months from the time of occurrence of the disaster. An advisory group that was later formed to look into the cause of this disaster blamed the people who were responsible for the design of the power plant.
They failed to consider certain pertinent aspects of the design which could have prevented such an occurrence or which could have ensured that the accident did not proceed to reach the level it did. It was realized that in the course of preparation and subsequent testing of turbine generators, it was done without the incorporation of systems that were responsible for technical protection. This was viewed to have been a breach of the safety provisions that were required for the actual technical exercise (Pfatteicher, 2001).
Some of the most outstanding organizations that are concerned with engineering ethics include the ‘Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE)’ in the United Kingdom, the ‘Canadian Society for Professional Engineers,’ and the ‘National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)’ which have been seen to be championing for the upholding of ethical practices within the engineering field. The reasons for their establishments are to ensure that engineers in private practice, the government and in the manufacturing sector are able to subscribe to a common code of ethics within a given jurisdiction.
Such bodies have certain punitive measures to their members in cases where ethics appear to have been sidelined in making decisions. To ensure that engineers adhere to such codes set by these organizations, it is mandatory to be registered with certain bodies within given jurisdictions to practice as an engineer (Haws, 2001). There has been a general drift towards formulating an all encompassing code of ethics for all engineers throughout the world. This has been noted by the fact that the codes formulated by most societies throughout the world appear to be having certain similarities.
While this appears to be a very noble idea, some room and allowances will have to be allowed to accommodate the different cultures in the world. It is deemed that developing a set of common ethical codes and supplementing it with additional entries that regard the cultural setting and the exact field of specialization within engineering. The codes should be set out in such a manner that no confusion can be reported within a given jurisdiction (Luegenbiehl, 2003). References: Colby, A. , & Sullivan, W. M. 2008, “Ethics Teaching in Undergraduate Engineering Education.
” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 97. Haws, D. R. 2001, “Ethics Instruction in Engineering Education: a (Mini) Meta-analysis. ” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 90. Luegenbiehl, H. C. 2003, Themes for an International Code of Engineering Ethics. Retrieved on 9th February 2010, from: <http://www. asee. org/conferences/international/papers/upload/Themes-for-Int-l-Code-of-Eng-Ethics. pdf >. Pfatteicher, S. K. , 2001, “Teaching Vs. Preaching: Ec2000 and the Engineering Ethics Dilemma. ” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 90.