engineering ethics real world case studies pdf

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New Ethics Case Studies Published

NSPE Today New Ethics Case Studies Published

NSPE’s Board of Ethical Review has published six new case studies that provide engineering ethics guidance using factbased scenarios. The cases cover the topics of plan stamping; gifts; the public health, safety, and welfare; conflicts of interest; responsible charge; and job qualifications. NSPE established the Board of Ethical Review in June 1954 due to many requests by engineers, state societies, and chapters for interpretations of the Code of Ethics in specific circumstances. Since the publishing of the first case in 1958, which involved questionable actions on a World Bank-financed hydroelectric project, the case catalog has grown to nearly 650.

Today, there are many real-world examples in which engineering ethics has a direct impact on the public, especially those related to technology advancement. For example, NSPE encourages policymakers to protect the public health, safety, and welfare when developing artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. In comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in August, NSPE called for the involvement of ethically accountable licensed professional engineers or duly certified individuals in the AI development process. The Society has also called on NIST to create AI technical standards that include an ethical framework that can be applied universally in the development of AI decision-making.

Each of the BER’s just-released cases dives into subjects that practicing professional engineers and engineer interns can face on the job. In Case 20-4 , a PE for a metropolitan water commission and a consulting engineer retained by the commission are faced with ethical dilemmas surrounding the commission’s consideration of a change in its water supply source—a change with public health, safety, and welfare implications. In another case ( 20-1 ), an engineer intern applies for a position at a consulting firm. The job requires the candidate to hold a PE license or to become licensed within 90 days. The firm offers the job to the engineer intern, but complications arise when the EI fails the PE exam and is found to have withheld information from the firm.

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engineering ethics real world case studies pdf

  • Engineering Ethics Cases
  • Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
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  • Engineering Ethics

The following series of engineering ethics cases were created by interviewing numerous engineers from Silicon Valley and beyond.

The cases have been written, anonymized, and honed to highlight the ethical content from each interview. While these cases are meant for engineering students and professionals for their professional development, nearly all of the cases occur in the context of business, and therefore are also relevant for those seeking business ethics cases.

These cases are suitable as homework and/or for classroom discussion. The goal of this project is to acquaint engineering students and professionals with the variety of ethical experiences of engineering as practiced “in the field.” By becoming familiar with problems faced by other engineers we hope to thereby prepare those reading these cases if they too encounter difficult ethical dilemmas in their work.

Cases range from the mundane to the deadly. While we do not reveal how each particular case turned out, in general they turned out well – the people involved made the right decisions. But this is not to say that all of these right decisions came without personal cost. A few of the engineers did face negative repercussions and a very few even needed to find new employment. However, overall the interviewees were satisfied with how events turned out, even if they faced negative repercussions for their good decisions. They understood that doing the right thing is good in itself, regardless of the personal consequences they may have faced.

The engineering ethics cases can be sorted into the following categories:

  • Academic Ethics
  • Bioengineering
  • Business Ethics
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer/Software Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • International
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Science/Research Ethics

A quality assurance engineer must decide whether or not to ship products that might be defective.

An intern at a power electronics startup faces unkind comments from a fellow engineer. She suspects that her colleague is prejudice toward female engineers.

A chemical engineering professor discovers that a colleague has taken credit for his research.

A bioengineering researcher discovers an error in protocol and feels pressured not to report it to her supervisor.

A graduate student suspects her research adviser has earned tenure under false pretenses.

A computer startup company risks violating copyright laws if it reuses a code that is the intellectual property of another company.

A recently promoted manager at an industrial engineering company discovers that factory workers are asked to work more than eight hours a day without getting paid overtime.

Full transparency might prevent a project leader from closing a deal with a valuable client. Should he still clarify the situation to his client?

A manager at a consumer electronics company struggles over whether or not he should disclose confidential information to a valued customer.

A medical researcher is asked to trim data before presenting it to the scientific advisory board.

A technical sales engineer feels pressure to falsify a sales report in order to prevent the delay of her company's IPO.

When a computer filled with personal data gets stolen, a data company must decide how to manage the breach in security.

Employees of a computer hardware company are angered by a manager that demonstrates favoritism.

A project engineer believes his company is providing the wrong form of technology to an in-need community in East Africa.

A computer engineer is asked to divulge private medical data for marketing purposes.

Environmental engineers face pressure to come up with data that favors their employers.

In this ethics case, a woman is displeased with her work role at a computer hardware company.

A systems engineering company employee quits after getting pressured to falsify product testing paperwork.

A manager at a nonprofit mechanical engineering firm questions how responsible her company should be for ongoing maintenance on past projects.

An engineer for an environmental consulting firm must decide whether or not he should encourage his client to go with a more environmentally sustainable construction plan.

A genetic engineer feels a responsibility to educate colleagues on the truth behind stem cell research.

An engineering manager gets pressured to bribe a foreign official in order to secure a business venture in East Africa.

An African-American electronics design lead wonders whether his colleague's contentious behavior is motivated by racism.

A medical company asks blood sample suppliers to sign an ethically questionable consent form.

A quality assurance tester gets pressured to falsify data about a new product from a major cell phone company.

Should a production engineer prioritize a customer's desires over safety?

A female intern at a construction company faces disrespectful treatment because of her gender.

A new hire at an electronics startup struggles to decide between telling the truth and maximizing the company's profit.

A fellow for a global services program faces an ethical dilemma when a colleague asks him to falsify receipts.

A researcher of regenerative medicine meets a man who is eager sign up for potentially dangerous human testing.

A bioengineer's research leads to the discovery that a patient might have prostate cancer.

Two support engineers at a South Bay audio visual electronics startup question the fairness of a supervisor's decision.

An employee overseeing data analysis on a clinical drug trial has concerns about the safety of a client's drug.

The engineering ethics cases in this series were written by Santa Clara University School of Engineering students Clare Bartlett, Nabilah Deen, and Jocelyn Tan, who worked as Hackworth Engineering Ethics Fellows at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year. In order to write these cases, the fellows interviewed numerous engineers and collected nearly 40 engineering ethics cases from Silicon Valley and beyond.  The Hackworth Fellowships are made possible by a generous gift from Joan and the late Michael Hackworth.

  • Engineering Business

Examples of real world engineering ethics problems

  • Published: September 2000
  • Volume 6 , pages 423–430, ( 2000 )

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  • Stephen H. Unger 1  

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Nine examples are presented illustrating the kinds of problems encountered in actual practice by conscientious engineers. These cases are drawn fom the records of the IEEE Ethics Committee, and from the experience of the ethics help-line initiated recently by the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. They range from situations in which companies try to cheat one another to those in which human health and safety are jeopardized. In one case, an engineer learned that even a quiet resignation can prove very costly in a personal sense. Some ways in which professional societies might make ethical practice of engineering somewhat easier are mentioned.

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Unger, S.H. (1999) What Happened to Ethics Support? Letter, IEEE Institute , December, p. 15.

Unger, S.H. (1999) The Assault on IEEE Ethics Support, IEEE Technology and Society magazine , V. 18, No. 1, Spring: 36–40. On www at http://www.onlineethics.org/text/helpline/unger.html

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Unger, S.H. (1998) Reality check: ethics and air bags, IEEE Institute , August, p. 2.

The URL of the Online Ethics Center is: http://www.onlineethics.org

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Stephen H. Unger ( Professor of Electrical Engineering )

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Professor Unger was Chairman of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Ethics Committee (1997–1998).

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Unger, S.H. Examples of real world engineering ethics problems. SCI ENG ETHICS 6 , 423–430 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-000-0042-y

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Received : 15 July 1999

Revised : 15 March 2000

Accepted : 15 April 2000

Issue Date : September 2000

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-000-0042-y

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ENGINEERING ETHICS – CASE STUDIES

Profile image of Raj .Guhan

The Robot arm struck Matthews, throwing him against a wall and crushing his skull. Matthews died almost instantly. According to the indictment, Samuels wrote the particular piece of computer program responsible for the robot malfunction. "There's a smoking gun!" McMurdock announced triumphantly at a press conference held in the hall of Justice." We have the hand written formula ,provided by the project physicist, which Samuels was supposed to program.

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