Engineering Ethics

Bridges, sky scrapers and other tall structures have always been considered as works of art where engineers counter the odds and tackle the challenges in creating structures that depict exquisiteness while serving the purpose. These structures, however, have had a controversy attached with them. People have been using these structures as a means to suicide.

This paper will shed light over this issue and will discuss the possible precautions that engineers can take in designing these structures and identify its costs.

Preventing Suicides
How Engineers can help
Engineers face many hurdles in designing bridges and other huge structures. Every new structure is unique in terms of its architecture, technical specifications, as well as the challenges it faces. An engineer must make use of the limited resources available to build a structure that is aerodynamically stable, is a piece of art, and is secure to be used for the purpose that it is being built.

To prevent suicides from bridges is another crucial challenge for the engineers. They must incorporate appropriate design features into their structures to do the job. Depending whether the bridge is being constructed from scratch or additional construction has to be done on an already established bridge, and the available budget, there are a few available options.

If the bridge is being constructed from scratch, engineers can try and keep the height of the bridge to the minimum, such as in floating bridges, to prevent suicidal jumps off the bridge. However, if additional design features are to be added to an already established bridge, such as the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, then either suicide barriers or prevention nets under and along the bridge could be used. These measures however are very difficult to implement.

The idea of adding steel nets 20 feet below the bridge, and suicide barriers to the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent suicide attempts of the bridge has been discussed many times in the past but has not been implemented.  The engineers can, for instance, add high tension steel wires that start to become relaxed at the top. This would make climbing over it extremely difficult. The problem with these solutions is the additional cost and the sensitivity of the project itself.
Firstly, it has been a topic of debate among the authorities concerned if the additional costs are worth it or not. Secondly, bridges are already designed following an extremely low margin of error because of the risks involved. Adding nets or barriers to the bridge would raise serious concerns about the aerodynamic imbalance of the bridge and might affect the safety of it.

Moral Responsibility of Engineers
It is hard to say if it is the moral obligation of the engineers to prevent or discourage suicides. As a matter of fact, whether human beings have the right to commit suicide or not is still a topic debate. Nonetheless, majority of the people consider suicides as immoral and it must be the responsibility of the society as a whole to take actions to stop it.

It depends on the motive of the engineers themselves whether they consider it as a moral obligation or not. Designing structures is where engineers earn their bread and butter from. They have to cater to the needs of their customers. If their working as an engineer, solely, to maximize their gains, then they are likely to ignore the ethical responsibilities and just work to satisfy their customers. If, however, the engineer feels the ethical responsibility on his shoulders than he is likely to go to the extent of negotiating with the customer to incorporate the suicide prevention tools into his or her budget.

Therefore, it depends on the motive of the engineer itself. As a responsible citizen and human being, however, the engineer should feel the responsibility of adding suicide prevention tools and procedures into the structures and should allot adequate time to these issues as well when designing the structures.


Suicide prevention devices and procedures are very costly to implement. For instance, the research and study for a suicide prevention plan, alone, cost around 2 million. Initially, the cost for a suicide prevention barrier was approximated to be around 15 million to 25 million, where 1.7 mile long steel net was planned to be attached 20 feet below the bridge. This cost, however, escalated to reach up to 50 million.

Is it worth it
It is hard to say whether the high costs of implementing the suicide prevention plans are justified or not. There are strong arguments that support, as well as those that go against the idea.
For instance, the people who speak against the idea say that this huge incurrence of cost will only create a small hindrance for the people who are determined to commit suicide and that they will find other ways to do so. Moreover, critics blame these devices and barriers to ruin the beauty of the state of the art bridges and other structures.

On the other hand, studies and research in psychiatry prove that these barriers and hindrances in the way of those planning to commit suicide reduces suicides because suicide is an impulsive judgment and seeing difficulty in achieving it can change the mind of the person involved. As an example, bridges with barriers in Washington D.C. and Bristol, England have observed a decrease in suicide rates.

As human lives are priceless, it is hard to see why precautions, which have also produced results in the past, are not being taken place.

How to sell the idea
The best way to sell the idea is to convince the stake holders of the benefits that they will get out of it. For tax payers and voters, the government should show that they are incurring costs for their own safety. They should feel that they are being cared for.

The public officials need to see the gains in terms of reputation and social benefits. Implementing a strategy would prove to the people and media that the government cares about the citizens as well as the visitors. This would create good will about the country and will attract foreign tourists.

My views and professional conduct if precautions do not have any effect
Preventing suicides through incurring additional costs in the designs of the bridges and other structures has been a topic of great controversy. Many groups and foundations believe that adding safety precautions in the bridges would not help in preventing or reducing the suicidal rates in the country. They are of the view that if somebody has a strong will to commit suicide then he is going to find alternate ways to do so.

I am flexible in the views that I have regarding this subject. If the suicide rates are seen to grow, regardless of the precautionary tools and measures taken, then it must be a point of concern for the people who encourage this idea. However, even though the safety measures do not directly impact the suicide rates, it does not provide evidence that it has no effect on the suicide rates occurring from bridges and other similar structures.

If the suicide rates do not decrease, I am going to research deeper into the cause. It might be the case that there are loop holes in the prevention measures. If that is so, then those loop holes should be identified and cured. However, if there are no flaws in the implementation of the project, then the case could be that people are being diverted from using bridges to commit suicide to using other means.
It is human nature to find alternate ways when faced by an obstruction. This does not mean that the suicide prevention techniques used are not having an effect. It should be noted that the researchers should not be looking at the suicide rates in general, but should focus on the suicides that occur from bridges only. The only way it could be proved that the precautions have failed is when suicides from the bridge where a prevention project had been implemented do not see a fall in the rate of suicides.
It is near to impossible to observe no difference once the precautions have been taken. Even if the suicide rates grow on the bridge where precautionary steps have been taken, it would be likely because the people had found a way across them. That, however, should not be a factor of de-motivation for the engineers. They should look at it from an optimistic point of view and should work harder to improve them.

Therefore, I would be staunch with respect to my views and professional conduct regarding this subject because I believe that human lives are much more precious than the additional costs required to implement a suicide prevention plan.

As discussed earlier, the high costs involved in suicide prevention plans on bridges and other structures create issues when it comes to actually implementing them. However, it must be seen that positive results have been observed in cases where prevention barriers have been installed. Therefore, considering the importance of human lives, the government must install suicide prevention barriers, not only on bridges, but also at railroads and other structures to save as many human lives as possible.


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