How important is it for engineers to follow ethics?
Ethics is a discipline that distinguishes between the good and the bad and makes recommendations on our moral responsibilities and obligations. Almost everything that runs the world is designed and created by engineers; it is an industry that is meant to design society and take ownership of its responsibilities. Engineers too must assume the ethos of morality.
Engineers are equipped with knowledge and experience in technological advancements and their contribution to the world is for all to see. Engineers have the power to transform the world for better or for worse. Their work can positively or negatively affect the humankind. It is here that ethical values provide a framework which functions as a guideline for engineers while rendering responsibilities. With great power comes great responsibility. Engineers ought to harness and invest their ideas and efforts ethically.
Different engineering societies- ASME, IEEE, and ASCE have laid down a code of ethics and standards in order to guide engineers and ensure that they work within the socially and morally approved framework. Five basic values identified for engineers to work with are helpfulness, responsibility, honesty, diligence, and respectfulness. The commonest value upheld by all three engineering societies is honesty. The ASME and the ASCE both emphasize that being honest is a matter of principle. However, IEEE assigns greater importance to honesty. The IEEE's code of ethics states, “... to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data...to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work.” These aspects are of primary importance for the safety of society.
Honesty, for engineers, is to be able to claim fairness of data used for research. A data must be statistically supported and discarded if otherwise. To base design on faulty, incomplete and inconclusive data is always fraught with dangers. Honesty in criticism is also vital for engineers. Accepting and taking corrective measures on constructive, genuine and relevant criticism has a far-reaching social and economic, implications.
Responsibility is another significant value. The IEEE's code of ethics states, “to accept responsibility in making engineering decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment.” This statement is inseparable with the honesty component because they are the two sides of the same coin. Engineers’ responsibility begins with declining potentially harmful projects and take ownership of the ramifications of faulty designs and their implementation. Hence, it is advisable to strive towards curtailing any futuristic issues.
Apart from the two values discussed above, the other values also hold importance in the lives of engineers and should not be left unaddressed. Being helpful is an often unstated but a crucial quality for engineers. Working together for the betterment of society must, therefore, be their primary objective.
Hard working is also vital for this challenging profession. Projects, right from the inception stage to commissioning, are collective ventures. The sluggishness of any team member may negatively impact the performance of others, not to mention its financial implications.
Last but not least respectfulness, which is the mother of all values. Mutual respect, respect for society, the environment and the world at large must never be taken for granted. Respectfulness forms the pillar and the guiding principle and engineers must imbibe this quality and practice respectfulness; for in it lies the seed to all other values.
Engineers must take cognizance of the ethical principles, undertake upon themselves to develop a world, worth living in and institute an example for the future generation to follow.