6 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
having his case publicized by the 60 Minutes television program were these
How did Spadaro arrive at his decisions? Let us examine engineering ethics
tools that enable this decision-making process. After defining engineering
ethics, we discuss the classic engineering ethics tools of ethical theories and
ethics codes. I then highlight three professional responsibilities that are a
subset of the ethics codes.
WHAT IS ENGINEERING ETHICS?
As stated by Schinzinger and Martin, “Engineering ethics . . . is the study
of the moral values, issues, and decisions involved in engineering practice”
(Schinzinger and Martin, 2000). Morality encompasses the first-order beliefs
and practices about good and evil by which we guide our behavior. Ethics is
the second-order, reflective consideration of our moral beliefs and practices
In the course of practicing engineering, an engineer solves problems.
But because there is no perfect solution, any implemented solution
inevitably creates a new problem. The new problem may be small, such as
developing a software algorithm that fulfills customer expectations but
requires so much software program memory that only one more software
upgrade is possible using the current hardware. Or the new problem may
be large, such as saving program memory by omitting the first two digits of
the year during the 1900s, which caused the Y2K scare at the turn of this
As we practice engineering, our decisions are generally guided by
the project management variables of cost, schedule, and quality. If you
change one of these variables, the ones remaining will also be changed.
But our decisions are also guided by our moral values; that is, our con-
cern and respect for others. Further, local, state, and federal laws may
influence our behavior. In the course of this chapter, you will learn
about three professional responsibilities I believe every engineer should
always follow, which are but a subset of responsibilities advocated by
engineering societies. These three responsibilities—concern for public
safety, technical competence, and timely communication of positive and
negative results to management—are grounded in respecting others and
keeping them safe. As engineers, we are involved in so many projects
that touch people’s lives. It is important that we protect the consumers
of our technologies.
My industrial colleagues and I are grateful that the Accreditation Board
of Engineering Technology (ABET), which accredits U.S. undergraduate
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