Ethics in Engineering

It is a truism that, as technology advances, risks are unavoidable. Thus, the issues of risk and decision making should be a concern confronting all engineering professionals. Recognizing there will always be some measure of risk associated with engineering design engineers should be able to know when those risks outweigh the potential benefits gained from their work.

Needless to state, engineering profession, more than anything, involves social experimentation. More often than not, one engineers decision risks the safety of numerous lives. The corollary of this is that, it is paramount that, engineers constantly remember that their core obligation is to ensure the publics safety. This is a difficult endeavor, considering that, engineers are not strictly speaking, autonomous professionals. Most of them work for salaries within an ambience that involve a pre-structured environment in which budgets, schedules and multiple projects are significant factors in the decision-making process.

Complication in the decision-making process is brought by the fact that, most engineers have multifarious responsibilities attached to their job descriptions. These are people responsible for the actual engineering practice- that include research, development and design- for making proposals and writing reports, for managing projects and personnel, and often for sales and client liaison. What this means is that, engineers, by the very nature of their professional stature both outside and inside the corporate structure, cannot work in a vacuum.

What should engineers do
The first step is to assess and analyze the risks emanating from the bridges and skyway. The engineers should ask themselves this pertinent question, How Safe Is Safe Enough They must recognize that there is no single, simple answer. As (Peteroski, 2006) clearly states, as human beings we are often involved in a dilemma- that of choosing between unpleasant alternatives. As noted in the introduction, there will always be levels of risk associated with engineering and innovation therefore, the engineers should analyze the risk and in so doing follow the steps below

1. Define all the possible alternatives.
2. Specify the objectives and measure the effects.
3. Identify the consequences of the actions taken.
4. Quantify the alternatives based on the best available information.
5. Analyze the alternatives to arrive at the best choice for costrisk.

Once the engineers and the managers have established, to the best of their abilities, the costs versus benefits of the risks involved, they must manage that risk.

Moral responsibility
It is a fundamental canon that, engineers should hold as paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.

Taking cognizance of this and in recognition of the importance of technologies in affecting the quality of life throughout the world, and also in accepting a personal obligation to the engineering profession and the communities it serves, all engineers should commit themselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct.

 It is a moral obligation for them to accept responsibility in making engineering decisions that are consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and should disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment. They are also morally bound to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data.

In true one of the engineering codes clearly states that the first responsibility of engineers is the public good. The codes go on to clearly give a very exhaustive list of duties and responsibilities in an attempt to help define the good that the engineers are meant to pursue. Emphasis on the public nature excludes both the engineer as an artist and the engineer as the hired gun willing to work on any project. They must be placed in a situation where they must be considered the good as their basic and important part of their professional activity.

One of the most fatal and of course unforeseen drawbacks to any risk assessment is the omission of totally random and exogenous inputs. Random and exogenous inputs are all unpredictable, and yet, when doing the final analysis of a disasters emanating from engineering work, they are often the key items in the sequence of events that lead to the catastrophe.

For instance, most plane crash investigations have pointed to one or two exogenous causal factors, the absence of which would have prevented the disaster. The same causal factors, nevertheless, could not have been forecasted, and therefore the probability of their occurring could not have been predicted. A perfect illustration of this is a case involving a pilot who inadvertently spills his coffee over the control console, thereby unwittingly setting off an engine on fire alarm, which in turn will lead to a catastrophe.

Taking the foregoing in mind, the suicide prevention measures may prove to be exorbitant since investigating random and exogenous inputs of calamities will entail a high profile task force obviously leading to huge expenses. Further, omission or even glossing over random and exogenous inputs of calamities may increase the cost due to the expenses of going back to the drawing board and redoing the job.

As for the justification of the cost, engineers cannot sit on their laurels and expect calamities to take their toll just because of the expenses involved and the improbability of the calamity management success. In fact, it would be unethical for professional engineers to abdicate their sacrosanct duty of preventing or even attempting (where difficult) to prevent disasters. Indeed, engineers will face the full force public backlash if found guilty of inaction.

Selling the idea to taxpayers, voters and public officials might prove to be a tedious endeavor. Despite this, a good rapport must be created between an engineering firm and the public. This is so because in order to award tenders, public officials more often than not will look over their shoulders and hear what the public has to say. This means that, engineers should have a public relations office to counter bad propaganda articulate to the public their intended mission. In this case for instance they should give good reason as to how they will effectively prevent suicide deaths.

Engineering as noted earlier is a form of social experimentation. As is the case with every experiment, there are risks of negative consequences as well as positive ones. Bearing this in mind, engineers should be ready for wide panoply of outcomes which are negative and which of course should never discourage them. Even when the suicide rate increases despite elaborate measures, the change of logic, views and professional conduct should be strictly guided by reason. This means, the decision should be an outcome of weighing seen and unforeseen factors against the situation at hand.

The predicaments engineering professionals face mainly involve how to define, assess and manage risk in the light of obligations to the public at large, the employer, and most important, the engineering profession as a whole. As engineers test designs for ever-increasing speeds, loads, capacities and the like, they are obliged to always remember their larger societal obligation i.e. protecting the public welfare. In any case, the public has provided engineers, by way of paying tax, with an educational opportunity, and, through legislation, with the means for licensing and regulating themselves. As a pay back, engineers have a responsibility for protecting the well-being of the public in all of their design efforts. This is part of the implicit social contract all engineers agree to when they accept admission to an engineering institution.

The issue of willingness to take risks is also a crucial aspect that all engineers should consider.  However there are some external factors that determine this willingness to take risks. For instance, the economic stability of an engineer is to take these risks and the pressures faced by individuals when taking these risks are concrete determiners of the level and the magnitude of risks to be taken. Another outstanding issues that may lead to the determination of which risks to take involves asking several questions. The question of coercion versus autonomy is basically the basic concern that arises especially between the developed and the less developed engineering companies.


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