“The need for safety is proportional to the danger of having an accident. Nothing is fool-proof, yet we must try to minimize risks. If the public is willing to run or to take such risks, who are engineers to refuse? ” In my opinion, the above argument is very valid and it indeed reflects the position of engineering as a process. The reason why I support this argument is because first of all, the advancements the society has been able to make are due to the milestones that have been achieved by engineers. There will always be a demand for innovation so that life may become what the society wants it to be: smooth and efficient (Davis, 1998).
To design the systems which are able to bring about these comforts, we as engineers must base our practice on the mathematical and physical principles that have been established through empirical research (Baura, 2006). Any measures to safeguard the safety in the use of systems and devices designed by engineers are constant and depend on certain constants; and these constants are in turn dependent on external factors. When this chain of determinants fails to hold up, then risks will arise. Nevertheless, it is our professional responsibility as engineers to bring innovation to the society.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, engineering processes or the products of these processes may malfunction, causing danger to their users or other third parties. But through exhibiting an affinity for these processes and products, the society is virtually signing an agreement to face the associated risks as a matter of choice; and engineers cannot dissuade them (Davis, 1998). However, all engineers have a role of ensuring that the profession is approached with diligence so that the risks emanating from its processes are as low as can be possible (Davis, 1998).
This is our obligation to the society, our conscience and our employers and the profession. That is what makes a holistic engineering practice. Relationship between risk and safety To understand the relationship between risk and safety it is important to first understand the meaning and implication of the two terms. Risk in the engineering context can be defined as the probability of an accident arising from an engineering project or a product of an engineering project (Baura, 2006).
Safety on its part can be defined as the state of having a defined degree of certainty that adverse effects or accidents will not result from a process or the use of a specific device or system. With the above definitions in mind, it can be concluded that risk and safety are inversely proportional entities. Applied to engineering ethics, their implication is that we as engineers must strive, as a matter of being professionally competent, to minimize risks as much as can be possible so that safety can be increased (Baura, 2006).
Risks have many dimensions in that they can occur in any stage of engineering, raging from design, implementation of the design and in the application of the product of the design (Davis, 1998). The same is translated to safety since the two are mutually interdependent, related by the rule of inverse proportionality: the higher the risks associated with a system or a process, the lesser the safety of the people interacting with it. Determining whether an engineer is responsible for an accident
Under the unfortunate eventuality that an accident has occurred in an engineering project or in the use of a product or system designed through the engineering process, whether or not an engineer should be held responsible is a matter resolved by examining if he or she stuck by the pre-defined standards of professionalism and ethics (Baura, 2006). This is one of the main concerns of engineering ethics. It is a field in the study and practice of engineering that deals with the setting and unilateral enforcement of the standards that govern the practice of engineering as a profession.
According to these standards, an engineer is supposed to exhibit diligence, morality and high levels of engagement to the process (Rabins, Pritchard & Harris, 2008). When these attributes are not followed to the letter, safety may be compromised. In case an accident happens and the engineer in charge of the event or system that caused the accident is found to have diverged from recommended standards of competence, then he or she should be held responsible for the accident (Baura, 2006). As discussed above, all engineering processes always involve some risks no matter how minimal.
An accident may occur not because of negligence on the part of the engineer in charge but because of other factors outside his or her control (Davis, 1998). Determining if an engineer is responsible for an accident therefore is a matter of evaluating the circumstances that led to the accident. If there is sufficient proof of negligence, then the engineer should be blamed; but if all evidence shows that the engineer stuck to the recommended standards of professionalism and ethical responsibility, then he or she should not be blamed (Davis, 1998). It is just part of the risks involved in the job.
Standards of due diligence Moral, ethical and professional standards of diligence applying to the practice of engineering are defined for each specific discipline by societies comprised of experienced engineers. These societies define an elaborate set of standards which an engineer needs to be familiar with and show competence in before he or she is licensed to practice. Among these is the National Institute of Engineering Ethics (NIEE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (AMSE).
In different countries, national societies exist which liaise with the international societies for easier implementation of these standards of due diligence (Rabins, Pritchard & Harris, 2008). Regulating and enforcing Standards Professional engineers who have garnered sufficient experience in the profession have the moral and professional obligation of inducting graduating engineers to the practice. They, in collaboration with engineering societies and educational institutions should ensure that student engineers are taught engineering ethics as part of the regular curriculum.
Upon graduating, engineering students should be made to undertake competence courses and examinations so that the required standards of ethical and professional are ingrained into their conscience before they can be licensed to operate as engineers (Davis, 1998). There should be levels so that an engineer graduates from one level to another depending on experience garnered; experience which should be evaluated in terms of his or her level of competence. Practicing licenses should be suspended for engineers who show incompetence in their practice. Competence, Personality and Morality
Good (competent) engineers are those who apply the standards of diligence prescribed in the engineering code of ethics. A bad (incompetent) engineer is one who does not value the above standards (Rabins, Pritchard & Harris, 2008). The are parameters (or standards of due diligence) include being knowledgeable, having the skills or expertise necessary for a given task and having the ethical stand to be able to take responsibility for the process itself incase of any unforeseen eventuality (Baura, 2006). A good engineer wholeheartedly dedicates his service to his clients, employer and to the society.
When all or any of these virtues are missing, then we have a bad engineer. No matter how skilled an engineer may be, he or she can be branded incompetent if he does not inject ethics into his or her practice. There is a relationship between being a good engineer and being a good person since all ethics have a common foundation. Morally competent people are more likely to be professionally competent (Baura, 2006). A person of good character in personal life transfers the virtues that define good character into his or her profession.
Based on this analogy, good people are likely to make good engineers and vice versa. An individual’s moral competence can be established by evaluating his or her approach to issues requiring decisiveness and strength of character (Rabins, Pritchard & Harris, 2008). This is when morality and ethics come into play. Morally incompetent people tend to place the end before the means whereas morally competent people exhibit dexterity in balancing between their acts and the likely outcomes, putting into consideration the welfare of other people directly or indirectly affected by the issue at hand.
Evaluation of an individual’s morality is extremely hard since morality is essentially an intrinsic characteristic (Rabins, Pritchard & Harris, 2008). Every human being develops a unique moral outlook based on the environment and the experiences that he or she had while growing up. Since these are unique to each individual, no one has the moral right to impose his or her moral values on another (Baura, 2006). Morality can never be universal, just like knowledge.
However, moral evaluations are still very necessary since as human beings and as engineers, we must build a consensus tending to those competencies which can be agreed upon as binding so that we live and practice harmoniously, exhibiting collective social and professional responsibility. References Baura, G. (2006) Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective. Burlington, MA: Academic Press. Davis, M. (1998). Thinking like an Engineer: Studies in the Ethics of a Profession. Oxford: Oxford University Press Rabins, M, Pritchard, M. S. & Harris, C. (2008) Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases. Belmont: CengageBrain.