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Enter the email address you signed up with and we’ll email you a reset link. Engineering ethics is the field of applied ethics and system of moral principles that apply to the practice of engineering. The first Tay Bridge collapsed in 1879. As engineering rose as a distinct profession during the 19th century, engineers saw themselves as either independent professional practitioners or technical employees of large enterprises. There was considerable tension between the two sides as large industrial employers fought to maintain control of their employees. Even so, at that time ethics was viewed as a personal rather than a broad professional concern.
The Boston molasses disaster provided a strong impetus for the establishment of professional licensing and codes of ethics in the United States. One response was the development of formal codes of ethics by three of the four founding engineering societies. ASCE and ASME did so in 1914. AIME did not adopt a code of ethics in its history. In 1950, the Association of German Engineers developed an oath for all its members titled ‘The Confession of the Engineers’, directly hinting at the role of engineers in the atrocities committed during World War II. Over the following decades most American states and Canadian provinces either required engineers to be licensed, or passed special legislation reserving title rights to organization of professional engineers. The US model has generally been only to require the practicing engineers offering engineering services that impact the public welfare, safety, safeguarding of life, health, or property to be licensed, while engineers working in private industry without a direct offering of engineering services to the public or other businesses, education, and government need not be licensed.
This has perpetuated the split between professional engineers and those in private industry. Efforts to promote ethical practice continue. In addition to the professional societies and chartering organizations efforts with their members, the Canadian Iron Ring and American Order of the Engineer trace their roots to the 1907 Quebec Bridge collapse. Both require members to swear an oath to uphold ethical practice and wear a symbolic ring as a reminder. In the United States, the National Society of Professional Engineers released in 1946 its Canons of Ethics for Engineers and Rules of Professional Conduct, which evolved to the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1964. These requests ultimately led to the creation of the Board of Ethical Review in 1954.
Currently, bribery and political corruption is being addressed very directly by several professional societies and business groups around the world. A practitioner shall, regard the practitioner’s duty to public welfare as paramount. Codes of engineering ethics identify a specific precedence with respect to the engineer’s consideration for the public, clients, employers, and the profession. Many engineering professional societies have prepared codes of ethics. Some date to the early decades of the twentieth century. These have been incorporated to a greater or lesser degree into the regulatory laws of several jurisdictions. While these statements of general principles served as a guide, engineers still require sound judgment to interpret how the code would apply to specific circumstances.