Ethics and Professional Conduct for Professional Engineers

Ethics and Professional Conduct for Professional EngineersEthics and Professional Conduct for Professional Engineers

The field of engineering places a lot of emphasize on honesty and integrity because the profession has direct bearing on our quality of life. To this end, engineers are expected to act professionally at all times while observing the principles of ethical conduct. According to a leading human resource consulting firm Better Team, a well-articulated professional and ethical code of conduct a company or organization must clearly spell how workers should behave and approach everyday issues like conflict of interest, harassment and safety.

The code of conduct defines how employees and members of an association should act under a given situation. The code of ethics, on the other hand, gives employees or members of an organization the outline of what set of behaviors the entity they belong to accepts or encourages. A template for a business or company code of ethics and professional conduct will typically espouse discrete virtues like inclusion, respect, mindfulness, integrity, accountability and sensibility. These ideals can be broadly implemented under the following policy frameworks:

Professional Conduct in the Work Environment

Employees are required to act with utmost integrity and maintain high levels of professionalism in their work environment. The other important elements are complying with the written laws and regulations as well as internal policies like treating peers, customers and the public in an ethical manner. On the whole, the policy governing work environment will encompass the following components:

  • Safety
  • Equal opportunity
  • Violence
  • Discrimination and harassment
  • Misconduct

Conflict of Interest

Since individual actions and the integrity of the workers can define a company’s reputation, workers should desist from engaging in acts that injure or may injure their ability to make fair and objective rulings. The codes governing conduct are normally anchored on the following interests:

  • Employee political interest
  • Corporate asset contribution
  • Insider trading
  • Major financial interest in other firms, including competitors

Protecting Company Assets

Employees are legally bound to protect the company assets, whether digital, electronic or physical properties. The code of conduct governing the protection of company assets will incorporate the following components:

  • The security of the facility
  • Preparation, maintenance and disclosure of accurate records
  • Security of information
  • The use of company properties and the properties owned by others
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Protection of information technology, communication systems and external communications

Anti-Bribery and Corruption

A company needs to maintain high levels of integrity in order to enhance its reputation and maintain high levels of trust. Employees can support the push by working honestly and legally. The rules governing the company anti-bribery and corruption code of conduct defines:

  • The relationship between an employee and former employees
  • Doing business with government
  • Bribes, loans and kickbacks
  • Selecting and maintaining service providers
  • Obtaining gifts and entertainment
  • Interaction with competition
  • Relationship with customers, affiliates and international entities

A comprehensive policy on ethical and professional code of conduct should also clearly define aspects like attendance and punctuality, absence without notice, general harassment and sexual harassment, substance abuse, dress code and phone and internet use. When crafting these codes, it is incumbent for businesses and organizations to review their mission statements and pay close attention to their core values. The drafters also need to speak to stakeholders, review past ethical issues and learn from the mistakes of others. Once the draft is written, it should be discussed by the relevant committees before a final draft is made and shared.

Role of Engineering Associations in Maintaining Professional Standards

The two professional societies that most civil engineers and engineering students in the US ascribe to are the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Established in 1934, the NSPE represents the interest of licensed professional engineers working in the US. The Alexandria Virginia based society has presence in 53 states and oversee more than 500 local chapters. ASCE on its part, is a worldwide association of civil engineers. The Reston, Virginia based professional body is one of the oldest, having been established in 1852. The association represents some 150 members across 170 countries.

It is important to recognize that the registration or licensing of engineers in the US is the domain of individual states. However, a reciprocal program exists that allow engineers to obtain license and work in other states. The other influential professional organizations for engineers with US and global membership include: the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Society of Women Engineers. Each of these entities has set codes that govern the ethical behavior and professional conduct of members. These codes are specifically designed to promote upstanding behavior as well as foster integrity, fairness and trust in the engineering profession. Some of the ethical canons espoused by both ASCE and NSPE associations include:

  • While executing duties, engineers are mandated to ensure public welfare, health and safety, and comply with the principles of sustainable development.
  • Service provision should be restricted to one’s area of expertise
  • Public statements should only be offered in an objective and truthful manner
  • When assigned duties by an employer or client, engineers should make every effort at acting as faithful agents or trustees.
  • While working to build a reputation, the engineers are dissuaded from engaging in unfair competition. The same principle applies when it comes to conflict of interest.
  • Professionals should conduct themselves in a responsible, ethical, honorable and lawful manner as an affront to earning virtues like honor, reputation and usefulness. The policy encourages zero tolerance to corruption, fraud and bribery and deceptive acts.

The NAFTA Principles of Ethical Conduct for Engineering Professionals

Engineering professionals and students are required to apply their skills, and scientific knowledge responsibly in order to advance human welfare and improve people’s quality of life. For engineers looking to work in the North America Free Trade Area, which brings together USA, Mexico and Canada a set of ethical conducts do apply. The ethical code of conduct borrows heavily from the canons spelt by the NSPE and ASCE associations. According to the Murdough Center for Engineering at Texas Tech University the full set of the principles reads as follows:

  1. Practicing engineers shall commit to ensuring health, welfare and safety of the public.
  2. The engineer’s parameter of work or operations shall be restricted to the areas of competence. This shall be done with utmost care and diligence and in conformity with the standards and dictates of the laws, rules, regulations and codes applicable to the practice.
  3. Engineers will take cognizance of the social and environmental impact of their actions and the projects they oversee or are part of. In order to make informed decisions or recommendations, the scope of work will include prudent decision making and conservation of energy and the resources earmarked for the project.
  4. Public statements from engineers and other such proclamations shall only be objective and truthful. If any interest is represented, the same shall be revealed.
  5. Engineers shall take the responsibility of engineering works they have directly supervised or have prepared. As an act of responsibility, if an engineer chooses to sign work prepared by other(s), they shall only do so after studious review, verification and knowledge.
  6. Practicing engineers shall at all-times act as faithful agents in the interest of employers or clients. In the same breadth, the engineer’s shall maintain high levels of confidentiality; avoid conflicts of interest as permitted and ensure the disclosure of inexorable conflicts.
  7. Engineers shall let the client know of any underlying concerns regarding an action or project and the consequences of disregarded or overruled decisions. The initial concern shall be addressed to the employer or contracting authority.
  8. Any public works, practice or engineering decisions that could jeopardize the welfare, health or safety of the public shall be reported by the engineer to the relevant parties. If a significant risk affecting the public is not addressed or remains unresolved in accordance with the engineer’s judgment, the professional is at liberty to make the concerns public.
  9. Engineers shall dedicate their time and effort to pursuing life-long learning and work to balance and expand the body of engineering knowledge. The engineering professionals are also free to encourage other others in the profession to pursue the same.
  10. Engineers shall advance the principles of responsibility, ethical discourse and commitment through the practical phases of education and engineering. With this, the engineers shall be able to sensitize the public about their responsibilities and promote the principles of ethical conduct among them.

Solving Problems Using Engineering Ethics

Once in a while an engineer will find themselves in a conflicting situation. He can make the most of the situation by following the steps of problem solving in the engineering ethical discourse. According to the Electrical and computer Engineering Design Handbook for Tuft University, the problem solving takes the following course:

  1. Clearly state the problem – this entails defining the specific ethical issue.
  2. Get the facts at hand – the engineer needs to collate all the relevant information regarding the matter accompanied by various moral viewpoints.
  3. List and defend the various moral viewpoints – take time to analyze the pros and cons of each of the listed moral viewpoints and choose an action that best suits the situation.
  4. Choose a course of action – pick the best course and provide answers to all the unanswered queries.
  5. Qualify the course of action – back the course of action with supportive statistics and other facts.

In spite of the clearly stated framework of solving problems, engineers may find themselves venturing away from the spelled ethical codes. The two main reasons why this happens is because of the engineers are overly confident and excited. The problem of overconfidence can cause engineers to overlook or neglect the elements that might go wrong. The problem is exacerbated when one chooses to remain uncharacteristically stubborn and unyielding.

Excitement, on the other hand, can cause an engineer to make rash decisions and submit an incomplete work. Sometimes the fault may come from an authoritative figure like a manager. This can happen when strict deadlines are set, thereby making it difficult to allow room for iterations, which is critical in analyzing the design, testing and implementation of a project. The Iteration phase of any project promotes confidence and ensures the work environment stays safe.

As part of quality assurance, engineers should have their work checked by others before making the final submission. If the timelines are too tight, it is prudent to request the manager for an extension. Time management is also an important factor and so is being open to new ideas and admitting wrong. For engineering students, the ethical problem usually manifest through academic integrity. For instance, when a student knowingly plagiarizes or copies someone’s work.

Since professional ethical conduct can be learned, students can redeem their image by retracing the steps and adhering to the ethical codes. When an engineer comes up with a compelling product that can save lives, but jeopardize the environment, there is a process to be followed. The ethical codes will help the engineering professional see the bigger picture and realize what he wants to do should be in the best interest of people around him and the environment.

What Ethics and Professional Conduct Mean

The practice of engineering is interlinked to societal interest. This means the engineers conduct in relation to other engineers, clients, employers and the public is critical to their success. A good strategy of entrenching the rules of ethical and professional conduct is adopting best practice. A discussion of these elements by stakeholders will serve to underscore the importance of engineers in the society and enforce their role and that of clients in engineering design.

This means the engineer’s role in ensuring public safety, welfare and health will directly coalesce around the tenets of engineering design such as reliability, setting realistic requirements and maintainability, among other quality related guides. Because engineers are committed to serving society, it incumbent that they reject any acts that may harm the general interest of the public as well as threats and hazards that may negatively impact life and the environment.