Philosophy – Ethics, Technology, and Engineering
Professional ethics has been a major concern in many countries as technical skills and competence are required to ensure quality production. Lots of lives have been lost due to noncompliance to the engineering code of ethics. All engineers owe a duty of care in their lines of duty. The society depends on their competence as technological advancements and emerging trends in the economy change over time. Civil engineering is a professional discipline that deals with the physical construction and maintenance of buildings dams and roads among others. These constructions are used daily by millions of people and influence the economic development of any country. Civil engineering enhances the growth and development of an economy. Therefore, it is vital for the civil engineers to exhibit technical skills not only to boost the economy but also to ensure the security of the inhabitants and users of their constructions. The strength and durability of any construction depends on the civil engineer. He has the responsibility of ensuring that before the construction is used, it is in the right condition and can protect the users against unforeseen contingencies such as floods and earthquakes. This is the reason why the civil engineers are guided by the code of ethics. These are put to guide them in their duties and ensure they are performed for the benefit of the society and not the engineer. The relationship between the engineer and the owner of the building is that of an agent-principal where the agent is supposed to act without the influence of the principal. In case the principal insists on an issue that is against the agent’s ethics, he should reject the contract.
This research is based on the code of ethics in the engineering profession and the challenges they face in their line of duties. It also focuses on the solutions to the challenges and the reasons why it is difficult to be morally responsible at all times.
The moral issues encountered in civil engineering include bribery, political corruption, misappropriation of funds and maintaining secrecy in case of incompetence. In most cases engineers are bribed to take up jobs that are inconsistent with the societal norms, (Baura, 22). For instance in the construction of weapons and avenues that promote social injustices such as theft. Civil engineers have the skills of breaking into a building such as banks or even out of prisons. When bribed with some money, they could opt to give information on how to break through buildings. Misappropriation of funds is also rampant among most engineers as they tend to reduce their costs by purchasing poor quality material for construction to earn more income. The result of this is a weal construction that may cause massive loss of life. Some engineers fear criticism and will not reveal any mistake in their works. In case they omitted a vital procedure during their duty, they are supposed to notify the owner for correction rather than remaining silent. Political influence and tyranny affects the competence of many engineers as their lives and jobs are threatened by some leaders to act unethically.
These moral issues have been reduced through the establishment of the Institution of civil engineers which has the ability to retain the engineers’ licenses if they act contrary to their code of ethics. They can also suspend and fil a case in court against them. This ensures that civil engineers do not override their responsibility to the society. These solutions are morally acceptable as they are for the benefit of the society and not the engineers alone.
Unique ethical issues in civil engineering include, conflict of interest and working in projects outside their lines of duty. Most civil engineers compete for jobs for personal gains rather than for the benefit of the society. Some civil engineers will also go beyond their construction duty and engage in electrical fixing which they are not competent in. When working in an international setting, the ethical issues do not differ, (Scott, 99). Depending on the country’s social, economic and political factors, engineers have to study the political structure of the foreign country to know who to report to and whom to take orders from. For instance, the Islamic countries have social and cultural differences from the Christian dominated countries. Some countries import products and labor while others produce them internally. Engineers should learn how to interact with the people but ensure that their professional standards are not compromised. Despite all these, the ethical issues do not change as engineers have the sole duty of serving the society and ensuring competence.
Cultural differences affect the ethical issues because some cultures give preferences to a group of people whose words are final. For instance, some leader’s words are not questionable and once they have given instructions, failure to comply with them may lead to dire consequences. These leaders may allocate fewer funds to a given project or give less time for a project to be completed; the engineer will be forced to work with these limits hence compromising his competence, (Nix, 56). Cultural factors should not be considered when evaluating the solutions since rules cannot be bent to suit an individual but are there to protect the entire society.
The typical corporate culture and expectations on engineers state that they should perform duties in their line of competence, they should put the interests of the public first, and they should only issue true public statements, they are expected to improve their profession throughout their carriers, and they should not compete unfavorably. It is not possible to be morally responsible at all times as one may be caught up in a situation that threatens his own life and that of his family. For instance, political influence in some countries is so strong that death threats may be issued to engineers to compromise their competence. In this case, the engineer will act to save his life but is later expected to reveal the truth as soon as he is safe. Apart from political influence, the economic influence may also affect the ethics of an engineer in which he may be forced to take bribes in order to survive. In some instances, it is a matter of life and death where he does not have any other source of income and needs to eat and dress. These affect the ethics of most engineers.
A case study is parking structure foundation designed by Mary Johnson, a new engineer in the profession, which was built on weak soil and later collapsed. The soil samples should have been properly tested to confirm the suitability of constructing the parking. The Weston Wastewater treatmeent case presents an example of the engineers’ incompetence as they inaccurately measured the oxygen biometrical demand of the effluent. This later led to complications in the plant. Another example is the space shuttle Columbia disaster that occurred in 2003. This was caused by the foam insulation that broke out of the space shuttle external tank. This was a preliminary mistake that could be corrected during its launch should the engineers have been more careful.
To be morally responsible, the engineer should be courageous to discern temptations of bribery and corruption. He should have perseverance in order to cope with the hard economic times that may influence him to take bribes. He should be well educated and aware of his rights, duties and responsibilities which will guide him through his duties. Corporate culture plays a major role in supporting engineers’ morality as it gives the guidelines on their actions and stipulates the consequences of going against these ethics. The culture also helps unite the engineers to prevent conflict of interests and unfair competition among them, (McCarthy, 99). By providing for the advancement in their skills and profession, the culture helps engineers to gain more experience in their duties, which enables them to produce quality work that is for the benefit of the public.
Engineers can help in establishing an ethical corporate culture by educating aspiring students on the importance and developments in the engineering culture. By strictly following these cultures and ethical standards, other people will learn from observation and uphold them. By doing this, the culture will be established and incorporated among the new entrants in the field. We can also form a body that sets the rules and ethical standards and ensures that noncompliant is adequately punished. This body should be wide spread internationally to enhance easy monitoring.
Civil engineers have the moral responsibility of issuing public statements to correct their mistakes. For instance, after constructing, the engineer feels that the building is not fir for inhabitance; he should notify the public and embark on correcting the mistakes, (Gordon, 56). By doing this, he would have saved lots of life which would have been lost in case the building collapsed. They have the obligation of considering the safety of the public and not their own selfish gains. Therefore, they should exhibit technical competence and skills in their lines of duty. They should also provide viable advice to those who would like to construct buildings by telling them the best materials to use and using skilled hands on people.
In conclusion, ethics should be upheld in every profession to avoid conflict of interest and ensure that the public’s interests and safety are considered. Engineering is a profession that deals with the safety of the public and should be practiced under rules and regulations. In case one does not comply with these rules, then his license should be taken, and he should be sued in case his ignorance caused damage to other people. People should strive to further their knowledge in their duties to provide quality and safe products. Although it is not possible to uphold ethics at all standards, rational judgment should be made to determine situations that give the engineer a chance to break the ethics.
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