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MA0101/MP4007/AE4007/CV4000/CV0002/MT3502 Engineering Ethics

Professor Lim Mong King

Engineer as a Profession What is a Profession?

Profession versus trade? A profession is a vocation founded upon specialised educational training, the purpose of which is to supply counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation.
A status symbol Professions enjoy a high social status, regard and esteem conferred upon them by society

A profession is a group that o claims special knowledge or expertise o warrants special privileges and trust from the public

Technical and Ethical Responsibilities of Engineers?

Most of an engineers education focuses on technical matters, that is how to do things right, and most of engineers professional practice is devoted to applying this technical knowledge in service to the need of society. However, another important element of both education and practice involves ethics, or how to do the right thing.
E.g. Engineers are often placed into conflict situations they need to be able to resolve conflicts in ethical manner.

Engineering Ethics

Engineering is a profession serving society. As such, society imposes special obligations on engineers.
These responsibilities are expressed in a code of ethics which all engineers (as other professionals) are expected to follow. Ethical responsibilities are placed on engineers because they provide services or make judgments that are not easily understood by the general public (because of their high technical nature).

Furthermore, the results of their work impact society as a whole. Clients must trust an engineers professional judgment.

Ethics and Practicing Engineering

Engineering Firm Engineer Manager Colleagues

Global Environment


Industry & Other Firms

Engineering Profession

Clients or Consumers

Law, Government & Public

Social Contract
As engineers, the decisions we make will have a direct effect on many parts of society Service o Promoting well being of general public o Ensuring competence of professionals Self-regulation
o Create and enforce high standards o Autonomy
E.g. we may provide a form of transportation for the general public, appliances for everyday use, or medical equipment. The services we provide promote the well-being of the general public and the confidence in the profession.

Interaction Rules of Behavior


Laws Morals Ethics

Rules of acceptable personal behavior and courtesy when interacting with others in a social setting.

Table manner, dress codes, seating arrangements, party manner Violation doesnt cause jail term, but can hurt professionalism


A system of rules and punishments clearly defined and established by a society to maintain a safe and orderly social environment.
Established by authority, society, or custom

Violations carry penalties Could be arbitrary, such as drinking age, driving age Legal rights are just claims given to to all human within a government jurisdiction, and/or by constitution

Personal rules of right and wrong behavior derived from a persons upbringing, religious beliefs, and societal influences.
Cultural or religious; gambling, alcohol, meat, coffee, cigarette, etc immoral? Controversy about moral issue; e.g. health care right to all people.

A code or system of rules defining moral behavior for a particular society. Ethics is the study of the morality of human actions. Professional ethics guide the conduct of a professional. Most professional societies have written codes of ethics.

One requires strength of character to behave in an ethical manner.

Ethics vs. Law

Many things are legal but not ethical. . .

E.g. Designing a process that releases a known, but unregulated, toxin into the atmosphere is:

Legal Probably unethical

Ethics vs. Law part 2

If something is illegal, it does not mean it is unethical (What is ethical may not be legal)

E.g. There might be substances that were once thought to be harmful, but are now safe, that you want to incorporate into your product; however, the law has not caught up with science

Recognizing & Resolving Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical Problems are . . .

Ethical problems are open-ended and there is no formula for an answer

These problems rarely have a correct answer that will be arrived to by EVERYONE

However, these problems are similar to engineering Design

Professional Ethics
Who decides o Standards adopted by professional community and established companies o USA NSPE, Singapore Professional Engineers Board, etc. Case studies used to set examples, standards

USA National Society of Professional Engineers NSPE Code of Ethics Preamble Engineering is an important and learned profession. As members of this profession, engineers are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct.

USA National Society of Professional Engineers NSPE Code of Ethics

Fundamental canons / principles

1. Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of public 2. Perform services in area of competency 3. Issue public statement in an objective and truthful manner 4. Act for employer or client as a faithful agent and trustees 5. Avoid deceptive acts 6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly and lawfully so as to enhance honor, reputation and usefulness of the profession
Based upon these fundamental canons, various engineering societies develop their own (usually more specific) codes of ethics

Singapore Professional Engineers Board


A PE is governed mainly by the PE Act, the PE Rules as well as the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics. When you become a PEB Board member, the PE Board Rules also apply to you.


An Act to establish the Professional Engineers Board, to provide for the registration of professional engineers, to regulate the qualifications and conduct of professional engineers and to regulate corporations, partnerships limited liability which supply professional engineering services Engage in PE work. If you want to engage in PE work you must be a registered PE Supply PE services

If you want to supply or offer to supply PE services as an individual, you must be a registered PE on your own or as partner in a partnership ( licensed partnership, LLP or partnership of all PEs) Other than that, only licensed corporation or limited liability partnership can supply or offer to supply PE services

Professional Engineers Act Key Areas

Establishment of the Professional Engineers Board

Registration of professional engineers

Licensing of corporations, partnerships, LLPs

Regulating conduct of professional engineers

Registering to be a Professional Engineer

How to be a Professional Engineer?
Register with PEB 1. Qualification

Hold an approved degree or qualification 2. Experience 4 Years of relevant practical experience 3. Examinations a. Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (FEE) b. Professional Practice Examinations (PPE) 4. Interview


Fundamentals of Engineering Examination FEE

which tests the applicants knowledge of fundamental engineering subjects in civil, electrical or mechanical engineering; and

Professional Practice Examination PPE

which tests the applicants in 2 areas. Firstly, his ability to apply his knowledge and experience in professional engineering practice, and secondly his knowledge of the rules and regulations regulating the practice of professional engineering in civil, electrical or mechanical engineering.

PPE Examination Common Paper

This is a common paper which has 6 questions comprising:
1 on the Professional Engineers Act and 5 on Professional Conduct and Ethics

Candidates are required to answer 4 questions during the 2-hour examination period. The candidates must answer the only question on the Professional Engineers Act which is compulsory and can choose to answer 3 out of the 5 questions on Professional Conduct and Ethics

Code of Practice 1
1. Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.

If engineers' judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate. Engineers shall approve only those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards.



Engineers shall not reveal facts, data or information without the prior consent of the client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code.
Engineers shall not permit the use of their name or associate in business ventures with any person or firm that they believe are engaged in fraudulent or dishonest enterprise. Engineers having knowledge of any alleged violation of this Code shall report thereon to appropriate professional bodies and, when relevant, also to public authorities, and cooperate with the proper authorities in furnishing such information or assistance as may be required.



Public Interests

This means that an engineer must hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public. This principle overrides all other considerations. Much of the work in the construction industry, especially heavy construction work, carry risks to public safety, health and welfare.

Laws and regulations are put in place to minimize these risks.

Responsible Engineering
What we do matters a great deal o Public health at stake o Environmental impact o Accidents are costly
Public health
Ethics justice

Minimal legal standards o Acknowledgement of fault (when accidents occur) o Above and beyond call of duty to ensure safety

responsible care

E.g. The degree of safety of a design and the effect of a byproduct on the environment are major considerations in all designs decided by the engineer. Accidents from inadequate or poor design can have considerable consequences personally, professionally, financially, and socially.

Code of Practice 2
2. Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.

Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.


Engineers shall not affix their signatures to any plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direction and control. Engineers may accept assignments and assume responsibility for coordination of an entire project and sign and seal the engineering documents for the entire project, provided that each technical segment is signed and sealed only by the qualified engineers who prepared the segment.


Area of Competence
An engineer should offer services, advice or undertake professional assignments only in their areas of competence.
This includes exercising care and communicating clearly when accepting or interpreting assignments and when setting expected outcomes.

It also includes the responsibility to call for and to obtain the services of a specialist or an expert if required. If a certain technique, tool or software to be used is questionable, the experimental nature of the activity should be disclosed fully to all parties concerned.
This requirement is not just about maintaining a proper standard of care, it actually involves honesty with ones client or employer and oneself.

Signing Plans
Professional Engineer (PE) should therefore not sign documents such as specifications, reports etc unless he has actually prepared them or they are prepared under his direct supervision.

A professional engineer shall not sign any plans or calculations that neither he nor any member of his staff under his supervision verified, checked or prepared. This is clearly stated in the Professional Engineers ( Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics) Rules.

A Qualified Person

This means that Singapores building control regime makes the basic assumption that a professional engineer acting as a Qualified Person, can be relied upon for his professional integrity and for his commitment to protect public interest and safety

Code of Practice 3
3. Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.

Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimony. They shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports, statements, or testimony, which should bear the date indicating when it was current. Engineers may express publicly technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter.



Engineers shall issue no statements, criticisms, or arguments on technical matters that are inspired or paid for by interested parties, unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking, and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters.

Code of Practice 4
4. Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.

Engineers shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services. Engineers shall not accept compensation, financial or otherwise, from more than one party for services on the same project, or for services pertaining to the same project, unless the circumstances are fully disclosed and agreed to by all interested parties.
Engineers shall not solicit or accept financial or other valuable consideration, directly or indirectly, from outside agents in connection with the work for which they are responsible. Engineers in public service as members, advisors, or employees of a governmental or quasi-governmental body or department shall not participate in decisions with respect to services solicited or provided by them or their organizations in private or public engineering practice.





Engineers shall not solicit or accept a contract from a governmental body on which a principal or officer of their organization serves as a member.

Code of Practice 5
5. Engineers shall avoid deceptive acts.

Engineers shall not falsify their qualifications or permit misrepresentation of their or their associates' qualifications. They shall not misrepresent or exaggerate their responsibility in or for the subject matter of prior assignments. Brochures or other presentations incident to the solicitation of employment shall not misrepresent pertinent facts concerning employers, employees, associates, joint ventures, or past accomplishments.


Engineers shall not offer, give, solicit or receive, either directly or indirectly, any contribution to influence the award of a contract by public authority, or which may be reasonably construed by the public as having the effect of intent to influencing the awarding of a contract. They shall not offer any gift or other valuable consideration in order to secure work. They shall not pay a commission, percentage, or brokerage fee in order to secure work, except to a bona fide employee or bona fide established commercial or marketing agencies retained by them.


This trust bestows an honour and privileges on the professional engineer but at the same time, it also imposes legal and professional responsibilities on
the professional engineer

E.g. An ethical and professional engineer must be familiar with the scientific and engineering principles underlying any opinions or conclusions that he/she provides to the customer. An ethical engineer should never attempt to deliberately deceive the customer/client

Conflict of Interest

A situation in which an engineers loyalties and obligations may be compromised because of selfinterest or other loyalties and obligations
Avoid the appearance of impropriety

E.g. you are purchasing agent and your wifes firm is applying for a contract, you better avoid the situation or declare

Whistle-blowing - the act of a man or woman who, believing that the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he[sic] serves, publicly blows the whistle if the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent, or harmful activity. Always the LAST RESORT, it indicates serious corporate culture problems Can be internal as well as external

Whistle Blowing
Can be internal as well as external External: Inform the proper authorities of harmful, dangerous, or illegal activities Conflict between obligation to society vs obligation to fellow worker and employer Could be alienated and ostracized, demoted or be fired; protection required Select employer carefully

Examples of Problems that Might Warrant Whistle-Blowing

Incompetence Criminal Behavior Unethical Policies
Threat to Public Safety

Injustices to Workers

Moral Guidelines to Whistle-Blowing

It is morally permissible for engineers to engage in external whistle-blowing concerning safety:

1. If the harm that will be done by the product to the public

is serious and considerable

2. If they make their concerns known to their superiors

3. If getting no satisfaction from their immediate superiors,

they exhaust the channels available within the corporation, including going to the board of directors.


4. He [or she] must have documented evidence that would convince a reasonable, impartial observer that his [or her] view of the situation is correct and the company policy wrong.
5. There must be strong evidence that making the information public will in fact prevent the threatened serious harm.

Moral Thinking Reflect expectation of public and professionals

Experience education, work, relationships Personal and Common Morality religion, family

Ethical standards are not laws, and are therefore written on the basis of moral decision making. These generally reflect the expectations of the public and professionals in the engineering field. The basis for an individuals moral standards is created and shaped from a variety of sources. Most of what we have come to expect with regards to moral standards is due to our experience in education and in the work environment. These ideas, combined with the belief systems of our families and religions, have created a standard within each of us of what is morally right and wrong.

Moral Problem Solving

Prudence - Is it justified because it is in our own best interest? Cost / Benefit o Is the most economic decision the most moral? Rights o Just because it is legal, is it right?

o Freedom, well-being, moral, legal, laws Golden Rule o do unto others as you would have done to you
E.g. Handling ethical dilemmas and making ethical decisions are very important elements of being a professional. In order to deal with dilemmas in an organized manner we need to begin thinking about the definitions of terms such as good, bad, right, and wrong. These may force difficult moral choices. Good Right Legal Illegal Wrong Bad

Big Picture
Codes of ethics are not a law Ethical behavior is not always protected by law Frequently ethical behavior may be perceived as disloyalty Many companies realize that ethical behavior is essential for their long term prosperity Ethically aware companies o Provide help to employees facing ethical conflicts o Allow employees to rise ethical concerns anonymously o Explicitly prevent any forms of retaliation for reporting unethical behavior

Example : TI Ethics Quick Test

Is the action legal? Does it comply with our values? If you do it, will you feel bad? How will it look in the newspaper?
If you know it's wrong, don't do it! If you're not sure, ask. Keep asking until you get an answer.
This information is provided to TI employees on a business-card size mini-pamphlet to carry with them. For copies of the card or further information, contact the TI Ethics Office at 1-800-33-ETHIC.


Was it ethical for Engineer A to fail to give credit to Engineer B for her part in the design?

If the Ethics Rope Breaks