Like all professionals, engineers may encounter situations in which they must make judgment calls on ethical dilemmas. Most often, ethical dilemmas involve a conflict in fundamental principles of right or wrong. Codes of ethics and studying classical issues in engineering ethics help engineers make sound moral decisions.
General Expectations of Engineers
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) expects engineers to behave honestly and with integrity. A crucial part engineering integrity lies in the protection of public health, safety and welfare. Thus, engineers must balance their responsibilities to their employers with their responsibilities to the public which their products may impact.
Common ethical dilemmas include maintaining a balance between product design and 1) maintaining rising production costs, 2) maintaining consumer or public safety, 3) maintaining or increasing profit. Other ethical dilemmas involve engineers' responsibilities to when they are aware of unsafe products being marketed.
Classic Engineering Cases
The Ford Pinto controversy highlights product safety versus public deception and maximizing profit. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger highlights safety challenges between engineers and administrators, and what happens to whistleblowers. Jeffrey Wigand's experience as a whistleblower against the tobacco industry also highlights professional responsibility versus employee loyalty and maximizing profit.
- National Society of Professional Engineers: NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers
- "Mother Jones"; Pinto Madness; Mark Dowie; Sept./Oct. 1977
- "Journal of Business Ethics"; Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster: The Ethical Dimensions; Russel P. Boisjoly, Ellen Foster Curtis, and Eugene Mellican; April 1989
- Jeffrey Wigand: The Man Who Knew Too Much
- engineer image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com