Ethics in Engineering and Public Safety Essay

Total Length: 1928 words ( 6 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 4

Page 1 of 6 and women behind everything from public infrastructure to consumer product design, engineers have a distinct ethical obligation to uphold standards of safety. However, there is more to engineering ethics than the assurance that safety standards are met or exceeded. Engineers also need to ascribe to a policy resonant with corporate social responsibility: working in accordance with global values like environmental conservation and sustainability. Another key component of engineering ethics is related to the globalized nature of the work that engineers do: engineers frequently find themselves working in countries and cultures that are different from their own. The occasional conflicts that arise between local and home values may present unique ethnical conundrums that engineers can overcome with critical thinking and cultural awareness.


Safety is the most apparent of all ethical obligations place upon engineers throughout their careers. The first provision of the American Society of Civil Engineers, as with other engineering professional organizations, reads: "Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties," (American Society of Civil Engineers," n.d.). In fact, engineers may frequently feature in public policy and regulations standards to improve the safety of design and infrastructure. As new technologies, materials, and methods emerge on the marketplace, engineering ethics will advance and become more relevant. Engineers are called upon to determine the safety of the products they design, or the product designs they oversee. A product can never be rushed to market prior to the oversight that engineers can provide. The determination of product safety requires tests and assessments, in a rigorous evidence-based practice (Mcbain & Balasonne, 2016). Government regulations often provide assessment standards, but individual organizations or industries might offer their own more stringent set of rules that engineers can follow. Generally, conflicts can arise when a for-profit firm's need to rush a product to market to achieve return on investment clash with the need for improving the product's safety. A product that has not cleared all the legal safety requirements is not yet ready to move to the marketplace, and engineers need to have the personal and professional integrity to withstand pressure from marketing departments.

The recent issue with the Samsung Galaxy battery reveals an interesting case study in engineering ethics. In this case, the engineers working for Samsung still do not understand the root cause of the battery problem (Akolawala, 2016). Although the recall and the stoppage in production have cost the company billions of dollars already, Samsung has been willing to choose safety over finances, even going so far as to shut down the specific machines that had been making the Galaxy Note in its Korean facilities (Akolawala, 2016).

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Engineers are held to a high standard when it comes to making the decisions that affect the consumer -- more important than the decisions that affect a company's bottom line. Having said that, engineers are ethically responsible to remain loyal to the companies that pay their salaries but one's professional comportment in any firm is unrelated to profession. The ethical dilemmas engineers face sometimes relate more to how to balance the need for public safety with honoring design hierarchy: the push toward innovative products, the use of new materials, or new design criteria ("Ethical Issues in Engineering Design," n.d.). The ethical standards might be ambiguous. The principle of "acceptable risk" is of particular interest to the engineer, who understands that a certain degree of risk may be embedded into the decision-making process (Habli, Kelly, Macnish, et al., 2015). In each situation, the engineer can assess the design's impact on public safety and is morally obliged to work with colleagues to improve the safety of their designs and products.

When a level of acceptable risk has been agreed upon in consensus with colleagues, especially teams of engineers also researching the same issue, then decisions to proceed or make changes can be made accordingly. Engineers sometimes need to come forward with information, sharing warnings or concerns with the public or informing their marketing team and technical writers about how to appropriately alert the consumer. Being pressured to remain quiet about possible safety hazards is not an excuse to keep silent; an engineer needs to be empowered to make ethical choices and will enjoy the support of his or her professional organizational affiliations when making difficult choices that could otherwise harm a career. Risk uncertainty, and the honesty and integrity to admit to uncertainty, are also ethical issues that an engineer can mitigate using teamwork and collaboration.

Environmental Ethics

The engineer can make decisions that promote environmental ethics, including issues related to immediate pollution and long-term sustainability. Using sustainable materials and methods, an engineer can promote the integrity of its firm's environmental ethics policies, and also raise the environmental standards of the industry as a whole. It is an engineer's moral responsibility to remain abreast of new materials and methods, incorporating those into his or her projects. Because of the sluggishness of public policy reform in the area of environmental sustainability, and because of the clashes between different countries, regions of operation, and different private sectors, engineers need to….....

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Akolawala, T. (2016). Samsung engineers unable to isolate the reason for Galaxy Note 7 explosions. Gadgets360. Retrieved online:

American Society of Civil Engineers (n.d.). The engineering code of ethics. Retrieved online:

"Ethical issues in engineering design: safety and sustainability." (n.d.). 4TU Centre for Ethics and Technology. Retrieved online:

Habli, I., Kelly, T., Macnish, K., et al. (2015). The ethics of acceptable safety. Retrieved online:

McBain, J. & Balasonne, J. (2016). Product safety case studies. SCU. Retrieved online:

Michelfelder, D. & Jones, S.A. (2013). Sustaining engineering codes of ethics for the 21st century. Science and Engineering Ethics. 19(1): 237-258.

National Society of Professional Engineers (2016). Code of ethics. Retrieved online: Engineers are encouraged to adhere to the principles of sustainable development1 in order to protect the environment for future generations.

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