In their day-to-day operations, engineers are required to adhere to the codes of ethics that guide their profession. There has been controversy on whether the current forms of engineering codes are still beneficial to practitioners and the industry at large. For instance, although there are extant written codes of ethics for engineers, studies have noted that these codes of conduct are undervalued.
History and Development of Codes of Ethics for Engineers
The Boston Society of Civil Engineers, which is among the first national engineering firms in the USA, was founded in 1840. Four years later, another agency, the American Society of Civil Engineers, came into being despite the fact that the early leaders of these entities consistently referred to the “high integrity and character”, which engineers so much required in serving the interests adjudicated to them by others (Martin and Schinzinger 99). This is when the actual history of ethical codes in engineers began, which is around 1906. During this time, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers voted to exemplify the ideas of codes that were presented by their then president Schuyler. After this, the board of directors for the AIEE opted to adopt a code in 1912. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) went on to adopt the same code in 1914.
In the meantime, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICHE) and the ASCE opted to come up with their codes. At the end of 1915, most of the major engineering firms in the USA had established their own codes of ethics that governed their operations. The first of these codes were intensely criticized just after being adopted. Much of the criticism was expressed in relation to the duties bestowed on engineers to fellow professionals and employers (Martin and Schinzinger 115).
To the public, the duty of an engineer was merely educational one. For instance, the AIEE code required an engineer to contemplate protection of the interests of the employers and clients as their first obligation professionally. An engineer was mandated to avoid all acts and behavior that contradicted their profession. To the public, an engineer was expected to help members of the public gain correct knowledge regarding engineering aspects with an aim of extending an understanding of matters engineering in general. Engineers were also meant to disparage the appearance of untrue, unfair, or exaggerated statements on various engineering subjects as well as to be very cautious on what they said to the public. Since that time, various firms have continued to introduce their own codes. Further, various codes have gone through a number of revisions for many years. Until today, there has not been a uniform code of ethics for engineers since every organization has established codes of its own. Most endeavors in establishing a uniform code for engineers have been faced with challenges (Luegenbiehl 42).
Current Codes of Ethics for Engineers and Concerns to the Profession
Many professionals amend their professional codes on a regular basis. Most codes have taken radical revisions more than one time. Nonetheless, engineering seems more unique in the number of contending codes adopted or proposed over the years. Many people have questioned on why the history of engineering codes of ethics has been so different, unlike other professions. Then, one should ponder on whether engineering or the codes of ethics are unique. Among the explanations that have been expanded is that it is not possible for a single code of ethics to be applicable in all aspects of engineering due to its diversity. Some of the engineers could either be considered as employees in large engineering firms, while others act as independent practitioners. There are also others who are managers, while some are supervisors. What is more, there are those who prefer to work as independent entrepreneurs in their own engineering firms. Essentially, it is perceived that engineers do so many different things that a uniform standard may not be applicable to all of them (Luegenbiehl 45).
Entirely, engineering is not just a separate profession, but also a big family of historically related professions. As much as the explanation in relation the ethical codes may hold true, some of the assumptions may ring false as well. If the diversity inherence in engineering were this way, for instance, in medicine and dentistry, then what would be the necessity for engineers in inaugurating ‘umbrella firms’ and taking a lot of time in trying to achieve a single code for all engineers? Dentists and doctors have not tried making such efforts to establish one code of ethics in these two professions. The three-quarters of the century that engineers have taken trying to create a code for all engineers make enough evidence that all engineers belong to the same profession no matter how diverse and divided its membership is. Indeed, it might be thought that the efforts for writing a single code serve as a determination to preserve the unity of this profession. In this regard, the number of adopted and proposed codes is an instance of the Not Invented Here (NIH) phenomenon, where the number of sovereign professional organizations, not the existence of numerous engineering professions, clarifies the number of conflicting codes (Ladd 4).
The NIH phenomenon happens to be the strongest when every side has better reasons for its view. Therefore, it can be posted conspicuously to remind the engineers of their obligations. A short code can also be easy to get approval since its required generality inevitably obscures disagreement over misconduct details. However, the other side might point out that much more information is provided on a long code. It may consider special circumstances, make exceptions explicit, and otherwise provide more guidance, at least only for those who may be willing to take their time and read it thoroughly. It can make it less likely that engineers who tend to think they agree on standards will suddenly discover that they do not agree at the moment when the discovery is more costly (Ladd 5-7).
According to Ladd, even though different codes tend to differ in much more than length, the other differences also appear to be instituted on more than smugness of authorship (4-9). The NIH phenomenon consequently only explains partly why engineers have never been able to agree on a single code. Regardless of the explanation of the number of codes, it is evident that their variety could make it quite difficult for an engineer to know what they are supposed to do. An engineer who belongs to more than two organizations may perhaps be subjected to several codes. He or she should take into consideration, which code to consult, and if the code differs in some instances, he or she must consider binding. Finally, he or she should figure out what other engineers would think if he or she chooses to bind one code, even though the other codes speak against it. What can they do? These difficulties are not as serious as postulated by Ladd. Generally, these various codes are not enforced by the various organizations adopting them. Even though the language mostly resembles that of the statute, ethical codes are in fact more like guides to public judgment or conscience, this is to say, moral rules.
Potential Benefits of Engineering Codes of Conduct
Luegenbiehl explains that similar to other professions, an adequate code of ethics in the engineering profession is necessary and it cannot be overlooked (133). The current codes of ethics for engineering should be improved since the current ones have been found to create moral conflicts for practitioners in the field. Although there are extant problems inherent in the field, the problem cannot provide justification against ruling out the necessity of providing training to professional engineers on the code of ethics. This is essential in enabling future engineers to work autonomously and operate in a mature way. Further, a replacement of the current code of ethics for engineers with a set of guides to the ethical engineering decision-making is necessary, considering the fact that the current one has been found to be ineffective (Luegenbiehl 139).
The necessity of the code of ethics for engineers derives from the fact that it sensitizes the professionals on the moral aspects related to their operations and work. It is common knowledge that the engineering profession has an impact on public safety and thus, there is a potential to make dangerous mistakes that may not be reversed. This implies that learning and understanding ethical requirements is critical in preventing potential mistakes. It also assists the practitioners in avoiding issues that could emerge and identify that there are growing areas, governing their behavior and conduct in the profession (NSPE Executive Committee 1).
Conclusively, the current code of ethics for engineers should be restructured in order to make them sensible for the professionals. As currently instituted, the code of ethics for engineers has no moral authority to guide the professional partly because the codes are vague and they have been subject to consistent revisions over time. Moreover, the great controversy over its usefulness demands that the codes have to be restructured in order to create a new face that is accepted across the board. It is not possible that the code of ethics for engineers be done away with without any replacement as proposed by some people because each profession is guided by a set of regulations.