witnessing wrongdoing and the obligation to prevent harm (ww)

The first canon of engineering codes of ethics is what is referred to as the “public paramountcy” clause: engineers’ responsibility to “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” Yet engineers and scientists are rarely taught how to make informed judgments about what constitutes “health,” “safety,” and “welfare” in different contexts and for different publics, and how to best restore these ideals when they are compromised or violated. Moreover, they often assume that doing the “right thing” to prevent or address wrongdoing necessitates severe forms of whistleblowing that inevitably result in personal and/or professional harm and that should, therefore, be avoided.

This module looks at wrongdoing in engineering/science from the perspective of the witness. It demonstrates that bystander inaction can facilitate, prolong, and/or exacerbate harm not only to the public but also to the engineering/scientific community itself. It considers forces that might prevent moral action and explores a range of responses that engineers/scientists can utilize prior to, or instead of, whistleblowing. Finally, it examines obstacles, risks, and sacrifices associated with attempts to stop wrongdoing as well as rewards that can accompany moral leadership and moral courage.

Key learning objectives of this module are to:

  • Recognize the role of bystanders in facilitating, prolonging, and/or exacerbating harm from workplace wrongdoing.
  • Identify forces in the engineering/scientific community that tend to discourage moral action for preventing or addressing workplace wrongdoing, as well as gain appreciation for one’s own vulnerability to these forces.
  • Identify a broad range of interventions, in addition to whistleblowing, that can be taken to prevent or address workplace wrongdoing.
  • Develop personal principles and habits that can bolster one’s capacity to take action when witnessing workplace wrongdoing.

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