Engineering Ethics Essay
“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 and to say no? ” (a) In my opinion, the above is a very good argument. The relationship between measures to ensure safety in engineering processes or products of such processes may be linear in the short-term, but at the end, it is found that safety goes down to a participant (or worker) or the user of a product designed and implemented by engineers.
The theories relating accidents to bad or unethical engineering practices are largely based on fallacious arguments. Even though it is the ethical and moral responsibility for us engineers to ensure safety during design and construction of projects, there can never be a guarantee no matter how perfect we want things to be (Davis, 1998). The society needs innovation, and it is our professional responsibility as engineers to design innovative products to meet this demand. One thing is important though.
All design procedures are based on both theoretical and empirical methodologies where some factors have to be held constant (Davis, 1998). In real life, these factors sometimes may not hold constant due to some unforeseen eventualities. This is one cause of accidents, and it is unavoidable. The society, through its demand for engineering innovation, mutually chooses to engage these risks. b) By definition, a risk is a source of danger or the possibility of incurring a misfortune. Safety, on the other hand, safety is a state of having some degree of certainty that danger or misfortune will not occur (Davis, 1998).
In the engineering process, risk and safety are inversely proportional. The lesser the risks associated with a process, the more the safety of the process; and by extension the product. Engineers have, in the process of delivering their services be it in the design or implementation of technical projects, to make sure that the process or project is characterized by as few risks as can be possible (Davis, 1998). As argued in part (a) above, it is virtually impossible to have zero risk. There therefore has to be some degree of safety compromised no matter how insignificant it may be.
(c) Engineering ethics is a field of applied ethics which is primarily concerned with setting and examining standards that should ideally govern engineers’ practice, their obligations to the society, their employers and to the profession itself (Davis, 1998). A competent engineer should practice with diligence, professionalism, and morality. When an engineer overlooks any element of this set of standards, the consequences may be minimal or disastrous. If divergence from the engineering code of ethics and professional competence and conduct by an engineer causes an accident, then the engineer is responsible for the accident.
Unanticipated mishaps may not be due to lack of diligence on the part of an engineer or engineers in charge of a process or the product of such a process (Davis, 1998). However, where there is sufficient proof that the engineer did not follow standard precautions and the required standards of professionalism, the engineer should be held accountable for any accidents or mishaps resulting from such. The engineer may admit to being negligent due to his or her personal moral principles; but until there is proof of negligence, he or she should not be held responsible.
The standards of due diligence applying here are clearly defined in engineers’ code of ethics, of which there are several defined for the various engineering disciplines (Davis, 1998). The National Institute for Engineering Ethics (NIEE), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and a host of other local and international engineering societies each have a well defined set of ethical standards that each of their members is expected to adhere to.
Professional engineers should enforce the standards of due diligence outlined in the applicable code of ethics by first of all liaising with educational institutions that train engineers so that the standards can be taught as part of engineering courses. After graduation, young engineers should further be examined on their levels of competence before being admitted to engineering societies. These examinations should be repeated on a regular basis to ensure that engineers remain competent.
In cases where registered engineers fail to comply with due standards of diligence and standards of ethics, their operational licenses should be suspended for some time depending on the seriousness of their negligence and the gravity of its consequences (Davis, 1998). 2. Competence, Personality and Morality (a) Competence in an engineer can be measured by his or her level of knowledge, expertise and cast-of-mind as exhibited in his or her delivery of service (Davis, 1998).
A good (or competent) engineer will therefore have the knowledge and expertise required to deliver in his or her engineering discipline as well as the right attitude towards the profession. These qualities must go hand in hand: skills alone cannot qualify an engineer as competent since he or she must have the moral and ethical obligation to take responsibility for all professional activities undertaken. A bad (or incompetent) engineer on the other hand lacks at least one of the above attributes.
He or she might have the skills and expertise but lack the moral edge, compromising the safety and satisfaction of clients and employers and therefore bringing the profession into disrepute (Davis, 1998). (b) There is a relation between being a good engineer and being a good person in that the principles upheld in one’s personal life are likely to be transferred into professional practice (Davis, 1998). A good person conducts him or herself with honesty and claims responsibility for his or her actions.
Engineering ethics are about exhibiting sufficiently high standards of obligation to the public, clients, employers and the profession. A person who cannot be held responsible in the society or in his or her personal life will most likely be irresponsible in professional practice and vice versa; so good people are most likely to make good engineers (c) Someone’s moral competence can be established by recording their approach to situations or by establishing what values are placed on the means and ends of a problem (Davis, 1998).
Morally competent people tend to weigh situations carefully so that a balance is created between the values placed on the means and those placed on the end. In the engineering context, a morally competent engineer will seek to practice in a manner that meets engineering ethics so that his or her practice ensures safety and comfort for others. (d) Moral competence evaluations are difficult because morality itself is a very complex issue. Morality is determined by an individual’s world view, and world views vary from one person to another (Davis, 1998).
There cannot be a mechanism to justify some moral values as more righteous than others since everyone is entitled to his or her point of view which has been formed by his or her experiences and environment. However, evaluations of moral competence are still necessary since as engineers, we have to build a consensus on the standards which can be termed as mutually satisfactory and recommendable for the practice of engineering. ? References Davis, M. (1998). Thinking like an Engineer: Studies in the Ethics of a Profession. Oxford: Oxford University Press.