Engineering Ethics

Engineering ethics is the field of applied ethics and system of moral principles that apply to the practice of engineering. The field examines and sets the obligations by engineers to society, to their clients, and to the profession.

Hammurabi Code is often considered the earliest code dealing with engineering ethics.

Many engineering professional societies have prepared codes of ethics. While these statements of general principles served as a guide, engineers still require sound judgment to interpret of how the code would apply to specific circumstances.

The general principals of the codes of ethics are largely similar across the various engineering societies and chartering authorities of the world.

The following is an example from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE):

    • Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.
    • Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.
    • Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
    • Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
    • Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
    • Engineers shall act in such a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession and shall act with zero-tolerance for bribery, fraud, and corruption.
    • Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers, and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.


A basic ethical dilemma is that an engineer has the duty to report to the appropriate authority a possible risk to others from a client or employer failing to follow the engineer’s directions.

According to first principles, this duty overrides the duty to a client and/or employer.

In many cases, this duty can be discharged by advising the client of the consequences in a forthright matter, and ensuring the client takes the engineer’s advice. However, the engineer must ensure that the remedial steps are taken and, if they are not, the situation must be reported to the appropriate authority.

In very rare cases, where even a governmental authority may not take appropriate action, the engineer can only discharge the duty by making the situation public. As a result, whistleblowing by professional engineers is not an unusual event, and courts have often sided with engineers in such cases, overruling duties to employers and confidentiality considerations that otherwise would have prevented the engineer from speaking out.

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster (2003) could (perhaps) have been avoided had the issue of NASA Management’s indifference to safety concerns raised by engineers been escalated to next level (Public /Media/ Govt).Read More >>

The ethical response of William LeMessurier (Structural engineer of Citigroup Center building, New York) to the design deficiencies of his own structure should inspire & motivate all the engineers.Read More >>


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