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Review of ethical culture and practices in UK engineering launched

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The results of an independent national audit of ethical behaviour in UK engineering have been launched by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), including the publication of a profession-wide response to the review.

The audit was one of the actions proposed in the 2022 report ‘Engineering Ethics: maintaining society’s trust in the engineering profession’, which the Engineering Council and RAEng agreed to take forward with the support of the professional engineering institutions.

The independent findings in the ‘Ethics in the Engineering Profession’ audit found that the UK engineering profession has a good foundation of ethical practice, that ethical behaviour compares favourably with the wider workforce, and that engineers and technicians take ethics very seriously. However, there is also variation in the support for ethical practice across the industry that must be addressed in a coordinated fashion.

The audit was carried out by GoodCorporation and involved asking more than 2,000 individuals, companies and professional institutions about their experience of ethical practice. It also compared the experience of engineers and technicians with over 3,000 responses from those in other careers and sectors.

The key findings were:

  • Eighty per cent of engineers and technicians surveyed said their organisations have a strong ethical culture and that operating responsibly is a priority, compared with 66 per cent of the general UK workforce who believe this about their own organisation.
  • Some 94 per cent of engineers agreed that serious adverse impacts on safety should be reported, regardless of any possible effect on their career, while 84 per cent of engineers and technicians were mindful of how their work affects the environment, compared with 65 per cent of the UK working population questioned.
  • Some company cultures can make engineers and technicians feel dissuaded from actively raising bad news or concerns in the workplace. For example: One-third of engineers and technicians reported that the work they undertake makes them feel ethically compromised; 44 per cent said profitability is sometimes prioritised over fitness-for-purpose; 35 per cent said they are asked to take shortcuts they feel are unacceptable.
  • Engineers and technicians in larger companies have more support when it comes to ethics than those working in smaller firms.
  • Engineering businesses rank the safety, health and wellbeing of workers, business integrity and cyber security as the most relevant ethical risks for their organisations, and report being well prepared to address risks in these areas. Many companies also recognise the increasing relevance of such risks in their supply chains and are working to mitigate them. The engineering profession and the individual institutions that make up the professional landscape are actively working on ethics but there is scope for a more unified and comprehensive approach.

After consulting widely with the professional engineering institutions about the audit’s findings, a collective response was published from the engineering profession that accepts the key findings and welcomes the valuable insights it offers.

This collective response commits the profession to working with its constituent bodies and other partners in engineering to undertake the following:

  • Build within the profession a greater awareness of, and alignment with, the Engineering Council and Royal Academy of Engineering’s Statement of Ethical Principles.
  • Map the roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders in UK engineering regarding ethics.
  • Explore how smaller engineering companies can be better supported to develop and embed the resources necessary for ethical practice.
  • Improve ethics resources developed for professional engineers and technicians to use as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
  • Examine mandating minimum requirements for ethics-related CPD among professionally registered engineers and technicians.
  • Assess the availability of channels for UK engineers and technicians to call out bad practice and consider the need for a prescribed body to support this.
  • Create better links between professional engineering institutions and employers/companies across UK engineering.

The results of the national audit were launched during a webinar event, hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Panellists on the webinar included Professor Chris Atkin, the Engineering Council’s chair, who highlighted the importance of professional registration.

Atkin said: “Registration starts with a self-audit and an audit by your peers of your capabilities, your competences and your commitment and that includes, obviously, your commitment to ethical conduct. It includes a commitment to Continuing Professional Development, likewise as professionals we are on a journey to improve ethical standards and we don’t want to take a minority of practitioners with us, we want to take a community with us.”

Paul Bailey, CEO of the Engineering Council, said: “We welcome this insight into ethical conduct across the profession and will continue to work with the professional engineering community to encourage adherence to ethical practice by companies and individuals.”

Details about the audit and the response – 'Culture of continuous improvement essential to maintain ethical engineering practice' – can be read in full online.

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