Engineering is referred to as a profession because people who practice activities related to engineering have specialized knowledge and skills. However, engineers do not have the full responsibilities to control the engineering activities since they do not need to have a license to do this. As a result of this, the need for engineering activities to be regulated by certain ethical standards is a major issue of concern in modern days. However, only licensed engineers have a code of ethics that governs them, in this case, the codes of ethics are compulsory. There are other groups of engineers whose activities are controlled by their employees and whose autonomy in this case is limited, such engineers are those who work for large organizations (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins, p. 6).
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The engineering codes define the major goal of an engineer as being responsible for the safety, health, and general welfare of the public. As professionals, engineers have the moral obligation to do what is necessary to ensure that this profession takes into account the required standards of health and safety for the public. Engineers who fail to consider the health, safety, and welfare of the public in their work are answerable to their employers who give them the tasks to undertake such projects. This paper will focus on the ethical issues that engineers should focus on in the course of their duty. The paper will use three cases to illustrate the ethical considerations by engineers and for each example, the best decision or action will be mentioned.
Case 5: Cartex
This case is Ben who was assigned the task of improving an ultrasonic range finding device by his employer, Cartex. During the task, Ben realized that he could modify the equipment so as it could apply to military submarines. Ben further found out that if this idea would work, it would have big returns to his company in terms of the amount of money earned. However, Ben’s mind did not wish to make any contribution to a task that would develop military hardware. As a result of this position, Ben did not develop this idea on his own and neither told any of the employees of the company. According to the contract, Ben signed with his employer, any intervention that he produced while working was the product of the company. This contract was not well accepted by Ben due to some reasons; the idea he had was not developed and because his employer knew that he had anti-military sentiments. According to Ben, the ethical issue of concern was whether it was worth concealing his idea from his employers (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins, pp. 237-238).
Ben’s idea in this case was wise. This is because if he agreed to modify the ultrasonic device using the idea he had developed, it would have resulted in controversies since it would appear as military equipment. Such equipment is not supposed to be in the hands of an ordinary person for safety reasons and therefore Ben used engineering ethics so as not to implement the idea.
Case 14: Halting a dangerous project
The case is about a contract involving the production of weapons that were manufactured by companies that did business with Northern Atlantic Trade Organizations agencies of governments. These weaponry devices looked like advanced technology land mines which were controlled electronically, this ensured that they could be easily triggered using capacitor circuits so as they could go off during particular specified times instead of many years later when children would be playing in the open minefields. Alpha electronics was awarded this contract, and its leader was Sam. However, all the required specifications were provided by NATO and therefore Alpha electronics was in a position to undertake the contract without any problem. The project leader was interested in the issue that any new end-user of the devices would tamper with the trigger and result in likely danger which would result in the land mines becoming dangerous than any other device in the current market. The safety of a weaponry device is a major ethical consideration that should be taken into account to minimize the likely impacts which can lead to risks on human life (Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins, p. 248).
On completion of the NATO contract, the Alpha Electronics project leader realized that the company had another contract with a firm in Eastern Europe. The Eastern European firm was considered as having a reputation of using stolen patented weapon devices and also collaborating with terrorist organizations. As a result of these deals, the Alpha Electronics project leader decided to halt further production of these weaponry devices. This halting resulted from a consultation with the United States state departments of munitions control and other colleagues (Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins, p. 248).
Based on engineering ethics and local corporate citizenship, Alpha electronics were required to have a consideration of the expected impact on the local communities. No guarantee was provided by the Eastern European Company showing who the company would sell the devices to or what were the end uses of the devices (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins, p. 249).
The project leader of the Alpha electronics decided without fear of the reactions that would result from the directors and fellow workers. However, the project leader was not punished for the decision of halting the production of the weaponry device since he did the right action for the company and the public at large.
Case 25: Oil spill
This case is about Peter who was working with a local affiliate of the Bigness Oil Company. The company dealt with receiving petroleum products and later blending them for sale to private businesses. These petroleum chemicals were received via pipeline and oil tankers. The relationship between Peter and the local facility’s manager had grown strong over the years. Peter worked as a consulting engineer and according to him, the local oil facility adhered to all the environmental regulations set by the environmental governance agency. The positive recommendation made on the firm by Peter earned him respect from the manager and he could therefore be rewarded for being the best consulting engineer. During a discussion between the firm manager and Peter, the manager told Peter that there was one time in the 1950s that the firm lost close to ten thousand gallons of petroleum oil. According to Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins (p. 265) “a running pressure test indicated that one of the pipelines had corroded and therefore the chemical had been leaking to the ground”. After sampling wells, it was found out that the chemical was occupying a vertical plume and was gradually leaking into an adjacent aquifer. The firm manager found out that there wasn’t ground and surface water pollution of the firm’s location and as a result of this he decided not to react. The firm manager believed that the chemical still existed in the vertical plume under the firm’s site even though well samplings indicated that the concentration of the chemical at a height of 400 feet of the underground water was close to zero (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins, pp. 265-6).
This case resulted in Peter being faced with the task of reporting this case to the government. The law required Peter as a consulting engineer to report such cases related to oil spills leading to pollution. This was a difficult scenario for him because the current case occurred many years ago and did not have feasible effects as well as the case was not reported to the media. However, the professional codes of ethics governing Peter’s profession provided the need for him to take urgent measures to report this case despite the relationship he had with the manager. This is because the effects of the oil spills would persist and they would one-time result to further complicated impacts. In addition, the manager of the local oil firm made a serious mistake for ignoring to take action on what had occurred to the company.
This paper has illustrated what are engineering ethics and their relevance. The examples of cases used above clearly show how engineers should address some of the issues that encounter in the course of their work. As mentioned above, engineers have the responsibility of ensuring public health, safety, and the general public welfare and therefore this profession should always take such ethical considerations into account.