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Teaching ethics in the engineering design process: a legal scholar's perspective

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1 Author(s)
Brannigan, V.M. ; Dept. of Fire Protection Eng., Maryland Univ., College Park, MD, USA

Engineering ethics are a critical "gap filler" in the regulation of technology. Engineers, as "professionals", are given professional autonomy in promoting risky activities, based on a promise that they will act in the public interest. Both regulation and liability put constraints on the design process, but often leave gaps that must be filled by ethical precepts. The conflict between the public's interest and the private interest of the engineer is often most acute in the acceptance or rejection of relatively rare risks with the greatest uncertainty of injury. Rare risk of catastrophic injury can fall "under the radar" of regulatory systems, or technological advances may make regulatory systems obsolete. A key ethical problem can be described as "design process" failures where engineers wrongfully assume that another party will cope with a risk. Engineers must be taught to recognize and deal with ethical problems in product design. In particular reliance on regulatory approval may be insufficient. Design processes that actually Hold paramount the public safety must be the benchmark for engineering ethics.

Published in:

Frontiers in Education, 2003. FIE 2003 33rd Annual  (Volume:3 )

Date of Conference:

5-8 Nov. 2003