Resources for ethical dilemmas

April 2006 » Editor's Comment
Ethical dilemmas abound in the practice of engineering, which is why ethics education is required to earn engineering degrees, and in some states is mandated to meet continuing education requirements.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

If you read Alfred Pagan’s February column, you probably pondered how he reacted to an ethical dilemma he described involving a report for a client. About 50 people actually took pen to paper—well, in reality, fingers to keyboard—and shared their opinions and experiences.

Ethical dilemmas abound in the practice of engineering, which is why ethics education is required to earn engineering degrees, and in some states is mandated to meet continuing education competency requirements. To support the profession, organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) have official codes of ethics for their members.

Interestingly, these are evolving doctrines. For example, the NSPE revised its code in January with the addition of a new "Professional Obligation." Under the second obligation, "Engineers shall at all times strive to serve the public interest," a new section was added (Code Section III.2.d): "Engineers shall strive to adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations." Additionally, a footnote was added that defines sustainable development in this context.

I find it most refreshing to see such a commitment to the practice of sustainable development! While the organizations’ codes are thorough, there are situations for which they wouldn’t be enough to help make a tough decision. Fortunately, engineers faced with dilemmas have a couple of options. For example, they can review published case studies, such as those produced by the NSPE Board of Ethical Review, and draw conclusions based on the decisions presented for similar scenarios.

However, if more personal and immediate assistance is required, the ASCE offers members an Ethics Advisory Hotline (1-703-295-6061). Callers can discuss their situations with Tom Smith, Esq., general counsel for the organization. Smith said, "One of the best things you can do when faced with an ethical issue is to discuss it with professional colleagues, friends, and family—people you trust. We offer another place to go with the hotline. Mona Savino, ASCE’s assistant general counsel, and I help people talk through and evaluate ethical issues and implications, and we provide guidance from the ASCE Code of Ethics, our volunteer professional conduct committees, and our own education and experience." Most everyone will encounter a difficult situation during their career, one in which the best course of action isn’t clear. For these times, it’s great to know that there are highquality resources to assist you.


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