With great power comes great responsibility. That widely-used quote with its mysterious origins applies to 1700s French politicians, American web-slinging superheroes, and engineers in nearly every field.
When a person has the power to make life better, by default they can also make life much worse. That’s why engineering ethics are an important component of continuing education.
Far-Reaching Engineering Ethical Dilemmas
Some ethical dilemmas aren’t as obvious as others, but can still affect health and safety for generations. Eric Butterman, an independent contributor for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), says Texas Tech University professor, William Marcy, advises his students to look beyond what’s known to find the broader engineering ethical obligations.
One of Marcy’s examples discusses the lifecycle of a part, such as a fastener that’s not up to code. Who’s responsible for it? Would it be the original installer? Or does the fact that it was up to code when it was installed shift responsibility to new engineers on the job?
Another example is the battery in a new Tesla electric vehicle. Safety of the vehicle operator is a clear ethical dilemma. However, the battery in the car might one day go to a landfill, says Marcy.
Initial and continuing ethics education teaches engineers to look years into the future and examine the lifecycle of their work. The Tesla vehicle might be great for the environment now, but terrible for the environment in a landfill later.
Engineering Ethics in Continuing Education
Ethics education begins at the college level and continues throughout the engineer’s professional career. The American Society for Engineering Education asserts that the growing role of engineers and the fast pace of engineering advancements make ethics an “essential element” in engineering education.
Ethics education has a threefold job:
- Inform students about which ethical dilemmas exist and how to spot them
- Improve student understanding of good and bad effects that their projects can have on society
- Task them with the responsibility of creating solutions for ethical dilemmas
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) says, “Engineering has a direct and vital impact in the quality of life for all people.” Because it touches so many lives in so many different ways, engineers are tasked with being honest and equitable while protecting human health and welfare.
The NSPE engineering ethics code requires all members of the professional community to uphold these canons.
- Protect public safety, welfare and health
- Only take on work in areas of competence
- Be honest and objective in public statements
- Perform as a “faithful agent” for employers and clients
- “Avoid deceptive acts”
- Comport themselves legally and with honor, responsibility and ethics to uphold the reputation of the profession
The NSPE canons require all members to maintain engineering continuing education throughout their professional careers. Engineers must keep professional development “current in their specialty fields” by reading tech literature, participating in meetings and seminars, with professional practice and through continuing education.
Ethics training helps protect the engineer as well as their clients and the public. That’s why training begins in college and continues throughout every engineer’s career. It’s also why PDH Academy offers three continuing education courses in ethics for engineers. One of them is state-specific.
- Ethics in the World of Engineering
AIAPDH222 addresses ethics broadly.
- Ethical Decisions and Moral Overload
AIAPDH209 expands on the topic in areas such as ethical decision-making and the role of technology in ethics.
- Florida Ethics
PDH220 meets the state’s ethics in continuing education requirements.
PDH Academy makes continuing education accessible and hassle-free for engineering professionals. Check out our PE approved courses when your next credits are due.