Industrial Engineering Ethics

Industrial Engineering is an incredibly diverse field, including everything from cognitive ergonomics, which incorporates a large amount of psychology and computer science, to manufacturing processes to supply chain optimization. It would be difficult to create a specific code of ethics that could cover all these different areas, so instead the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) chose to endorse a more general code of ethics from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which is reproduced below.

First and foremost among the Fundamental Canons is “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.” In some areas of industrial engineering, the potential to affect the safety of the public is obvious. If a manufacturing engineer cuts corners on materials for tires, they could blow out and roll the car (as Firestone tires did in the 1990s). If a human factors engineer makes the heads-up display in a car too large or busy, distracted drivers could get in accidents. In optimization, my field, the connection to the wellbeing of the public is often less obvious, but it’s still there. In my previous job in workforce development, I used simulation models to help plan the hiring, training, and “reductions in force” for half of the 20,000 employees of a very large shipyard. If I manipulated my data, maybe at the request of a manager with a particular point to prove, it could cause the shipyard to hire more people than they actually needed, which could lead to lost profits for the shipyard and layoffs for the employees. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an engineering job that doesn’t have the potential to negatively affect the lives of others.

Any profession that requires specialized training, like engineering, comes with the responsibility to use that training to protect the safety and welfare of the public. Note that this is not the same thing as “to benefit the public.” From an ethical standpoint, there is nothing wrong with using your training purely for selfish reasons, as long as, in doing so, you don’t hurt anyone (it may be morally wrong, but not ethically).


Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Canon of Ethics:

The Fundamental Principles
Engineers uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by:

  1. Using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare;
  2. Being honest and impartial, and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients;
  3. Striving to increase the competence and prestige of the engineering profession; and
  4. Supporting the professional and technical societies of their disciplines.

The Fundamental Canons

  1. Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties
  2. Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.
  3. Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  4. Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
  5. Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
  6. Engineers shall associate only with reputable persons or organizations.
  7. Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.

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