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The code of ethics for professional engineers provides that engineers should treat with utmost care the safety, health, and welfare of the public when carrying out their professional duties. The engineer is also morally responsible for providing a safe environment that will make the possibility of having future generations. Fire engineering involves social experimentation which is a risky activity and has the propensity of posing serious dangers to the lives of people. The power to prevent or minimize such risks however, lies within the morality of the engineers and how well they can adhere to the engineering code of ethics. Fire engineering is considered having the highest degree of social experimentation where this experimentation is expected to be more severe considering the introduction of performance based regulations in Scotland. This is an assumption that there shall be an increased rate of social experimentation by fire engineering professionals with the introduction of the performance based regulation in Scotland. This is expected because the regulation puts much effort on the performance of a facility and completion time rather than the safety of humans and the public as a whole (Brannigan, and Smidts 412). This essay breaks down and analyzes the moral practices of fire engineers and how they will cope with the performance based regulation in Scotland. The main purpose of this essay therefore, is to investigate whether the introduction of performance based regulation will lead to an increase in the numbers and level of social experimentation by fire engineering professionals in Scotland.
In fire engineering just like in many other engineering professions, there exists much social experimentation by the concerned professionals. The decisions that a particular engineer makes can either put the life of the public in a safe situation or pose a serious danger to the lives of millions of people. Fire engineers should therefore ensure that every decision they make, considers safety of the public as their first moral obligation. This obligation may be very difficult considering that engineers usually have loads of work and major decisions awaiting them in the field of work and in design works. The major decisions of these fire engineers are influenced by their work load considering that they have a lot of functions to attend to some of which include; critical design work in many projects, handling new ideas, and bidding for extra income.
Since this is a very risky activity which is based on assumptions and uncertainties with outcomes that are not known, fire engineering works should be treated with the highest level of concern in terms of ensuring public safety. In such cases the concerned professionals should learn from mistakes that have once been made in the past and monitor the safety of facilities over long periods of time. When there are potential fire safety risks and the public is vulnerable, they should be made aware and safety exits should be provided as well. With the introduction of performance based regulation in Scotland, there are thoughts that this will increase the social experimentations among fire engineers due to more flexibility of governing rules and requirements. The performance based regulation approach addresses more diverse project objectives which may include factors like functionality, ease in construction, and aesthetics of a structure while ensuring safety standards as provided in the regulations are met (Brannigan, and Smidts 412). Performance based regulations allow for additional or alternative solutions to the standard recommendations within the codes of practice and guidance. The fast rates of technology advancement require that all engineers develop moral decisions as this will help to reduce the risks that the public is exposed to. Social ethics should help such professionals to work for the good and safety of the people rather than working just for the sake of providing structures that can serve for the stipulated time. To develop these morals, engineers should have an understanding of ethics which in this case are; utilitarianism, deontology, rights based ethics and duty based ethics. This ethics and how they relate to fire engineering is analyzed below:
Utilitarianism is a teleological view where an act by an individual is judged solely on its consequences (Introduction to Utilitarianism). A morally right act is therefore one that bears good consequences while an act with bad consequences is considered morally wrong and unacceptable. In this approach of ethics therefore, the ends always justify the means regardless of what means was adopted in such a case (Spinello 5). Utilitarianism uses the teleological principle of consequentialism and the principle of utility to maximize human pleasure and happiness. In fire engineering, there are many reasons that can make this approach beneficial in coming up with decisions. With this approach for example, there are better opportunities of maximizing positive results. The focus being on achieving good results, there is an allowance for a greater degree of flexibility in coming up with guiding policies. The criterion of this theory applies to general rules and principles but not to specific acts thereby making it a positive rule. This is because the theory emphasizes on the specific principles or duties of people. Due to the fact that it contains conventional moral rules that emphasize the maximization of utility, the theory becomes even more useful in the fire engineering field. Utilitarianism however, has received many criticisms due to the fact that it is impossible to predict the results of every outcome. The uncertainty of attaining good results or the maximization of utility for the greatest number of people is the major reason for these criticisms. Another criticism for this theory is that it does not put the rights of the individual and justice issues into consideration instead, subjugates these to the greater good in an unjust or immoral way. Utilitarianism is also considered to lead to moral relativism where people have no means to judge other’s morals because different societies have different moral beliefs. Therefore, this theory is not universal because there is no criterion for assessing moral beliefs. This makes deontology a better theory since some of its ethical theories have been universalized and can therefore represent well the populations in related societies.
This theory is also known as deontology and unlike the utilitarian approach it holds that means are never justified by the ends (Ethics guide: Duty-based ethics). This theory explains that in every act there should be specific features or qualities in it that should be followed because it is not based simply on people’s duties. The two main types of deontology are the rule-deontology and the act-deontology. The act-deontology observes an act as a special ethical occasion. Here, people identify what is moral by making choices that do not have guiding rules or by consulting their conscience. However, this theory has received criticisms in the sense that it is hard to argue over someone’s intuition and it would therefore be inconsistent to propose different moral actions for situations that appear to resemble. The rule-based deontological theory by Kant is an important and key rule under this category. Kant confirms that for people to determine what is right or wrong, they use a set of rules or principles. In his search for perfect truth on morality he agrees to the principle of universalizability which the rule-deontology is based on (Ethics guide: Duty-based ethics). The introduction of the categorical imperative was a brilliant way of justifying the idea of universality. The categorical imperative holds that when one in or intends to take a particular action, they should ensure that these acts do not defy the principles of universality. This therefore prohibits individuals from doing acts that are against the universal morality of the society making it have a more meaning. Deontology therefore, rejects the stand of utilitarianism because of the belief that happiness should be provided to all persons in proportion to their moral worth. This approach has some criticisms for example; it assumes that humans will follow rules in all circumstances and that they have an ability to pick on universal moral rules. Since it does not allow the adaptation of principles into particular conditions, it can not be relied on solely in fire engineering.
The claims against social entities or individuals to be treated in particular ways are known as rights (Spinello 5). These claims usually produce correlative responsibilities and duties on the part of others. This approach of ethics focuses on individual rights which ought to be respected by other persons. The two basic divisions of rights ethics are: the negative and positive rights; and the natural and conventional rights. Natural rights are those that are available to all persons by virtue of humanity and are commonly called moral rights. Conventional rights on the other hand, are those rights that have been made by human beings which are usually introduced in political and social organizations. Negative rights are those which impose duties of noninterference on others for example the freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the right to liberty. Positive rights on the other hand, are rights which impose duties of assistance on others for example, the right to health care, education and welfare. Natural rights are usually universal rights therefore their application holds the same for all human beings.
Virtue ethics observes the moral character of the individual doing an action and therefore it is person-based rather than action-based (Spinello 3). Therefore, an action is considered a right one if it is done by a virtuous person in similar circumstances. Despite dealing with the wrongness or rightness of individual actions, this theory also provides the guidance on what a good person will seek to achieve as a behavior or characteristics (Ethics guide: Virtue ethics). Virtue ethics therefore, considers the life of a person as a way of coming up with a decision that makes a particular act moral, or otherwise. The basis for establishing a good person is dependent on some specific traits in the person thus, one who lives virtuously or an individual who possesses and lives the virtues is the right and qualifying candidate (Ethics guide: Virtue ethics). This becomes a very valid theory keeping in mind that human beings will prefer assessing an individual’s character rather than the badness or goodness of their particular actions. Using this theory, it is worth it when a society trains its members to become a virtuous people than applying the use of strong punishments and laws as a way of reducing negative actions. So that an individual can be considered virtuous he or she should posses a fundamental set of similar virtues which put such a person in the most appropriate position to live and act morally well. According to most of the virtue theorists, there are virtues which are natural and must be attained at the maturity stage of human beings no matter how hard it may be to achieve the virtues (Ethics guide: Virtue ethics). However, there are other traits that are specific and can only be attained by a specific type of people and not just anyone. The significant changes in history of virtues and history of people, makes it somehow a problem in defining the common traits available to all persons. Examples of virtues that could be acquired by the modern human being are; justice, fidelity, self-care, and prudence. A prudent person in this particular situation must consider self-care, justice, and fidelity and always try to acquire them in whatever ways possible. The main advantage and strong point with virtue ethics is that it centre’s ethics on an individual and on the meaning of being human in the whole life of the person. On the bad side however, the ethics does not provide clear solutions in cases of moral dilemmas and the fact that there are no generalized agreements on what the virtues are.
From the views in the analysis above, we find that the introduction of performance based regulations may not adversely affect the degree of social experimentation among fire engineering professionals. What is critical is the situation of morality in the fire engineering professionals themselves. Therefore, the introduction of a performance based approach in fire engineering and its effect to social experimentation depends on the morality of such professionals. Though the approach considers the overall functionality of a structure rather than the safety of people, there are traits that can help to resolve this problem. Taking the utilitarian approach and adherence to standard provisions for fire safety, the safety of the public can be boosted to safe levels as the utility of the structure is maximized. Moreover, prudence among the professionals will assist a great deal in fostering more ethical decision making processes as they can be able to understand well the need for practicing morality in their profession. Therefore, where there is adoption of a universal way of looking at morality and the adoption of global dialogue around the idea of morality as universal, it shall be a lot easier to reach a common goal. By accepting and showing the relevance of ethical imperative in decision making, the overall safety of the people can be guaranteed despite the type of regulation that is put into operation. Therefore it is not justified to conclude that the introduction of performance based regulation will exacerbate social experimentation in fire engineering. This effect can effectively be counteracted by employing moral ways of looking at situations.
Brannigan, Vincent, and Carol Smidts. Performance based fire safety regulation under intentional uncertainty. University of Maryland: USA, 1998. Print.
Ethics guide: Duty-based ethics. BBC.co.uk. BBC, n.d. Web. 2010.
Ethics guide: Virtue ethics. BBC.co.UK. BBC, n.d. Web. 2010.
Introduction to Utilitarianism. 1999. Utilitarian.org. 2000. Web.
Spinello, Richard. “Framework for Ethical and Policy Analysis.” Moral Frameworks, Chapter 1 ed. 2: 1-14. PDF file.