Ethics Survey of Engineering Professionals 2022
by Jacqueline Ward on Thursday, 19th May 2022 at 10:34pm
As a Professional Engineering Institute, SaRS works with the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) National Engineering Policy Center (NEPC).
The Royal Academy of Engineering has commissioned an ethics survey to hear the views of UK-based engineers and technicians on behaviours and motivations in the workplace. Your responses will be treated in confidence and you may remain anonymous. SaRS Members are invited to contribute here:
David Bogle and Raffaella Ocone, members of the Engineering Ethics Reference Group, produced the following to accompany the survey:
We like to think of engineering as an ethical profession. The decisions we make in our professional lives scale from everyday technical selections through to larger decisions affecting infrastructure, communities, and ultimately climate change and the planet. In making our decisions we face inevitable tensions between profitability, sustainability and safety, which we seek to balance. But where do we draw the line? And are we preparing and supporting colleagues and training new professionals in navigating these tensions?
Mistakes have been made
Professional engineers and technicians set out to get things right. However, there have been some notable failings in recent years, and social media has amplified public scrutiny. Technical concerns about the Boeing 737 Max – where failures caused two fatal crashes that killed more than 300 people – were raised and yet they were not acted on. Volkswagen falsified the environmental tests of its diesel engines. Its engineers knew but did not feel able to raise their concerns. In her report on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt outlined several factors that “have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice.” All these raise ethical questions for the engineers involved and for the companies that employ them and their leadership. The way we consider ethics in engineering must shift from the conventional approach of reflecting on historical mistakes to systematically looking ahead to anticipate the consequences of our work
We are trusted – but we need to work harder
Given that engineers make up a significant portion of the people employed by the companies caught up in these high-profile issues, how are we viewed by the public and what guidelines do we have in place to help guide our actions? According to the 2018 Ipsos MORI veracity index, engineering is seen as “trustworthy” by a significant 87% of the population, making it the fourth-most trusted profession in the UK, closely following nurses, doctors and teachers. The profession employs one in five people in the UK. The survey has tracked trust in the key professions since the 1980s but 2018 saw the first explicit inclusion of engineering. We are trusted but will greater scrutiny see this maintained? It is up to us to ensure that this is so.
Ethics has been a keen point of focus with a series of recent meetings by senior engineers in the community working together to help enhance ethical behaviour. In 2003 the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Council issued their Statement of Ethical Principles (https://www.engc.org.uk/professional-ethics) There are four basic principles: honesty and integrity; respect for life, law, the environment and public good; accuracy and rigour; and leadership and communication.
More recently the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Council established the Engineering Ethics Reference Group to have “a strategic-level remit with a leadership and advisory role, to shape the profession’s ethics-related activity and steer an enhanced culture of ethical behaviour amongst those working in engineering”. In February the group delivered its report (https://www.raeng.org.uk/ethics ) along with a series of actions.
Ethics before action
The report puts forward a series of actions under four headings: Leadership; Professionalism; Education and Training; and Engagement. Leadership is essential for sustaining a culture which encourages ethical behaviours within all aspects of engineering practice. Leadership can be practised across all levels of the engineering profession not merely by senior members. At all levels – from the most junior to the most senior – we all have a role in questioning practice where we think there may be challenging ethical issues. It requires all to reinforce this culture. Professionalism refers to embedding ethical practice in engineers’ work and in reflecting on our own practices. Education and training refers to the formal elements of preparation and continual development of ethical practice. Engagement actions aim to enhance communications with wider society.
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