There are two main types of codes of ethics. The short code of ethics such as the IEEE Code of Ethics and the longer code of ethics such as the NSPE Code of Ethics.
The shorter codes are meant to be a general framework that guides the professional of the society towards certain ethical goals and responsibilities. These code have strength in the fact that they are consice and therefore more likely to be read by the members of the society. They are also more open to personal interpretation and application which may allow the flexibility to apply the ethics in a large assortment of situations. The downfall of the shorter codes are that they do not provide a specific coarse of action. A member must decide the appropriate coarse by interpreting the codes themselves. Luckily most of these codes are very simple and easy to read.
The longer codes of ethics are more specific. An advantage of these codes are that they can give specific solutions to some ethical delimas that may be encountered by thier members. A disadvantage of the longer codes is that many of the members will not have the patience and motivation to read through all of the details of the codes, and are more likely to not use them because of the intimidation of the length and complexity.
Many codes of ethics discuss the responsibility of the engineer to the safety of the public. The IEEE Code of Ethics states begins with "1. to accept responsibility in making engineering decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;". This clearly shows that the safety of the public and environment is very important to IEEE. The SAGE Code of Ethics also has a similar statement. "I will do my best to make decisions consistent with the safety, privacy, and
well-being of my community and the public, and to disclose promptly factors that
might pose unexamined risks or dangers. " Even the longer and more detailed codes such as the NSPE Code of Ethics places safety as the number one concern as they state "1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.".
Not all codes contain the same information. In fact IEEE does not mention a responsibility to an engineers employer, but the NSPE Code of Ethics does. It states that "4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.".
There are also some interesting websites that discuss the validity and value of codes of ethics. One such website asks Does IEEE's Code of Ethics Meet Today's Needs? Another article, Engineering Disasters and Learning from Failure, brings up the question of codes of ethics as related to engineering disasters and lists many good links to codes and related articles.