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Ethical Choices in the Engineering Field Not Always So Clear


In 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia deteriorated, it was determined that the cause was a piece of foam. This piece of foam collided into a wing, causing a hole. Atmospheric gases leaked into the hole, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Professional engineers are always creating new products and road improvements. While the main goal of these ventures is to make money, many professional engineers forget about their top priority: the health, safety and welfare of the public. This can be difficult, as some products involve privacy, politics and safety.

Some professional engineers create toys for babies and young children. A faulty part can be a life or death situation. Because human lives are on the line, the rule is clear: people over profits.

However, determining whether or not something is ethical is not always so clear. This is why, in 2000, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) required engineering students to take ethics classes as part of their education. Before then, ethics classes were not required, with proponents stating that ethics, like morality, were learned as a child.

An ethical issue in the engineering field can lead to many penalties, including fines, license suspension and revocation. Therefore, as technology advances, professional engineers must be mindful of the effects of the products they create and how they can impact society, for better and for worse.

Ethics in the Space Shuttle Columbia Case

Before using a new product, professional engineers should analyze all the risks involved. This was not done before Columbia’s orbit into space. Apparently, foam had fallen from the shuttle before the fatal accident, prompting professional engineers to call for a thorough risk analysis.

This risk was not analyzed. After all, astronauts who voluntarily go into space are aware of the deadly risks involved. NASA culture is one of taking risks, and in this case, loss of foam was considered an acceptable risk.

This is why ethics is now taught in engineering classes. Classes often teach conflict of interest, making good decisions and what happens when a product is defective. Some situations are not so clear. For example, what happens there is a budget, but multiple roadways require safety upgrades? Which roadway gets the funds? Sometimes an engineer must weight some lives against others, which can be a hard decision to make. While there are not a ton of classes available, students are guaranteed to be exposed to ethics in some way before graduation.

Keep Your License With Help From a Tampa Professional Engineers Licensing Lawyer 

There are gray areas when it comes to ethics in the engineering field. Requiring ethics classes for engineers can help students make good decisions as they progress in a career in the industry.

Sometimes it is hard to make the right decisions. You may now be facing administrative issues. Get help from Tampa professional engineers licensing lawyer David P. Rankin. He has represented more than 100 professional engineers before the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Schedule a consultation today. Call (813) 968-6633 or fill out the online form.