Ethics relate to the moral correctness of a person’s behavior given the groups moral principles.
Society, in general, has a set of standard expectations to guide our behavior. This includes fundamentals such as not harming others or behaving in a deceitful manner.
Religious, professional and informal ‘codes’ document the set or principles which guide our behavior in line with moral correctness.
The ASQ Code of Ethics is an example of a set of principles. It outlines ethical behavior guidelines for members of the ASQ professional society.
It is very similar in concept and principle to other professional engineering codes. You can find a copy on the ASQ website, at http://asq.org/about-asq/who-we-are/ethics.html
A common principle is being truthful.
Let’s say in a conversation with a customer, they say they would like the product your firm creates to last 10 years with little chance of failure. Yet you have evidence the product is likely to fail sooner and more often than a customer expects.
Be honest and let the customer know the product is not likely to meet their expectation. This may lead to the loss of the sale, yet it is the morally correct thing to do.
Dissembling, hiding, or misrepresenting information is dishonest.
As an example, when reporting test results, be clear about the assumptions and analysis leading to the conclusions. You may experience pressure to report the findings in as positive when the data does not suggest a positive result. Being honest here means being clear and letting the data speak clearly.
Would an impartial peer come to the same conclusion? If so, you are good.
Do no harm
Article 1 of the ASQ Code of Ethics starts with the phrase “Hold paramount the safety, … “. This concept is common across professional society codes for engineering endeavors.
Our work certainly can impact the safety, health, and welfare of others. It is our obligation to work to make our products and systems safe.
It sounds cliche, yet safety must remain our top priority. Of course, some products may cause harm, yet the product should not cause unexpected nor unwanted harm. For example, an electronic circuit has the ability to inflict electrical shock or ignite, given the electrical power present. We should provide sufficient protection and design elements, such as enclosures, insulation, and fuzes to avoid the unsafe conditions.
Some industries have regulations and guidelines for safe design, yet it always is your duty to keep the safety of the public in mind. It is not possible for the documented rules and regulations to know about nor guide every possible situation.
It is your ability to spot and avert undesirable unsafe conditions that meet this ethical principle.
Conflicts of Interest
The ASQ Code of Ethics, like others, states you should avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of such.
A conflict of interest is a situation where you may have an interest (personal, financial, etc.) that may corrupt your motivation and potentially influence your decision, recommendation or behavior.
The classic example is the politician that changes a governing policy that allows his firm to build condos to great financial benefit to himself. The appearance of a conflict even without anything actually occurring to confirm the conflict elevates this principle beyond just malicious intent.
The idea is to hold your client, customer or beneficiary of your behavior is the primary interest and to avoid undue influence by a secondary interest.
You are involved as a professional and providing the benefit of your education, training, and experience to assist solve a problem or create a solution. It is your obligation to provide judgments that avoid secondary motivations, such of personal financial gain, to sway your work.
Another example is while working as a reliability engineer for an auto parts manufacturer, you are approached to assist with the reliability engineering work for a competitor. You have the skill and capacity to help another organization improve their product’s reliability performance. There is a conflict of interest here. Even if you provide high quality and professionally developed and delivered reliability engineering work, the appearance of a conflict of interest is sufficient that you should avoid the situation.
You have information or could gain information that should not be shared between competitors. Even if not trade secret or propriety information moves between the two organization, you are in a position that the breach would possible, and may even occur unintentionally.
You have an obligation to your employer (or first client) to protect their information from their competitors.
Read and understand the ASQ Code of Ethics. Not all breaches of the code of ethics are obvious as they occur, so it takes practice and diligence to uphold your duty.
In general being ethical is common sense and if you keep a focus on providing the highest standard of professional work you should be fine.