Codes of Ethics have been established by various professional engineering societies, such as the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Institution Of Engineers India (IEI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Institution Of Engineers Australia (IEA) etc.
These codes serve as a structure for ethical judgment for a professional engineer. The codes also express the rights, duties, and obligations of the members of the profession. The codes serve as starting points for making ethical decisions.
A code of ethics is not a legal document, so a professional cannot be arrested for violating its provisions.
Although violating the code of ethics may result in removal from a professional society (such as NSPE or ASME), Removal from a society generally will not result in an inability to practice engineering.
Codes of ethics for engineers were developed along with their respective professional societies, which began formal organization in the 19th century. Initially, codes of ethics involved standard business practices. The professional societies matured over the years, their codes of ethics were updated and modified. For example, clauses for public safety, public service, and environmental protection are more recent amendments to the various codes of ethics.
While each society’s code of ethics exhibit similar themes, But they have different formats. The NSPE Code of Ethics is very specific and detailed, while the IEEE Code of Ethics is general and fairly brief. Note that the ASME codes are also in very detailed and specific, and is similar to the NSPE code.
Codes of ethics can be used to support engineers who are being sanctioned by an employer for uncovering unethical behavior.
Many corporations have developed their own codes of ethics for their employees. In many cases, Codes of conduct can be found on the websites of various large corporations.
Generally, Companies provide periodic ethical training sessions for their employees in order to clearly express their accepted policies on business practices, relationships with vendors and government agencies, compliances with government regulations, equal employment opportunities, health and safety issues, environmental issues, sexual harassment, and diversity in the work place.
Often, Corporate codes are in very detailed and specific, and they hold much more weight than professional society codes. By comparison, the professional codes have decreased power since the majority of professional engineers are not members of professional societies.