Case Study on Transmission Towers
Issues regarding engineering ethics are principles that need to be applied in the practice of engineering (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Engineers have an obligation to the society, the engineering profession and the clients. The general principles of engineering ethics are therefore focused on the engineer’s consideration of the profession, the employers, the client, and the public (Institution of Civil Engineers, 2004).
These general principles apply across a wide range of engineering societies in the world. According to the American society of civil engineers, there are seven guiding principles that help to streamline the conducts of engineers during practice (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010).
Ethical issues in engineering
The first principle regards the health, welfare, and safety of members of the public (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). The engineer is expected to hold paramount, these three issues and strive to ensure sustainable development during their course of practice (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). The second principle regards engineer competency (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). The engineer is only expected to perform services that fall under his or her own area of competency (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Public statements issued by engineers need to be objective and truthful. This means that engineers are not expected to make inaccurate statements to the public with regards to an issue (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). In relation to the service to the client and employer, engineers are expected to act professionally and be faithful agents. In the midst of being professional, engineers are expected to avoid conflict of interest as much as possible (Institution of Civil Engineers, 2004).
The fifth principle deals with the creation of professional reputation (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). The engineers are not expected to compete amongst themselves in an unfair manner (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Professional reputation is best created through merit (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Dignity, integrity, and honor are fundamental aspects that the engineers have to uphold all the time in their course of duty (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Therefore engaging in acts such as bribery, fraud and corruption are not expected of any engineer. The last principle deals with professional development of the engineers (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). They are expected to continue with their careers and develop their particular fields further (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Therefore engineers, who assume a leadership of supervising role, are expected provide opportunities for the professional development of others under them (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007).
Ethical issues involved in the case
In the case of George Randall, there were several ethical issues involved. The principle of sustainable development was compromised (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). By installing the antennae on the existing tower without considering skewed wind angles is risky for the sustenance of the antennae. Even though the safety records of the tower have always been excellent, there kind of antennae to be installed is one that was introduced in the last five years and ever since, there has never been any significant strong wind to breach the safety records of the tower.
The other ethical issue involved in the case is the issue of performance of service in the areas where the individual engineer is competent (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Richard, who is the immediate boss of George, is an electrical engineer, and George himself is civil engineer. George has a ten year experience in his current responsibilities at the firm. In addition he also has the necessary knowledge and skills required for the job. Taking an advice from an electrical engineer may cause an ethical dilemma in this case. It assumed that Richard knows a lot less in the field of civil engineering compared to George. Because of this fact, if I were George, then I would find all possible means to address the issue and clear the conflict of interest. This is because, later, if anything goes wrong with the installation I would be held accountable since I am the one in charge of the project and approving all the plans.
The other ethical issue involved in the case is that George is supposed to act professionally at all time while being loyal and faithful his employers and bosses (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). This creates a dilemma since George is torn between doing what he is sure to be the right thing and being faithful to the employer. However he is only supposed to act professional while he is being faithful to his bosses. The final ethical issue involved in the case is the professional development of the George’s career. If indeed he goes through with the installation as he intends then it will be a perfect opportunity for him to grow in his career as a civil engineer. He used a software program that had never been used before to calculate the strength of the tower. However, Richard is clearly denying him this opportunity to further his professional practice.
Question 1; what to do first and further lines of inquiry
The first and most important thing for George to do is to ensure that he tries as much as possible to avoid conflict of interest (Petroski & Layton, 1999). It is through avoidance of conflict of interest that all parties can come to an agreement on the appropriate way of addressing the issue. There are two opinions involved in the case. The first one is that of the safety of tower to withstand a strong skewed wind while the second interest is that of understanding risks and rewards in business. Business principles may be honored but certain important factors have to be considered in order to maintain safety standards to both the clients and company property (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
Avoiding conflict in this case requires a recusal (Petroski & Layton, 1999). The legal services of a lawyer can be used or the introduction of a third party can be used to bring a different view on the issue (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Despite the fact that Stephen, the overall boss of the company is a business professional, seeking his opinion in this matter is important (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Therefore George has to involve him. Even with the business mindset in place, Stephen can be having a different perspective of the issue. For instance, he may reason in the line of durability. If the company decides to take the risk and in one year’s time the antennae becomes wrecked, then it would make even larger losses compared to playing safe. George can also use a similar mindset and present his argument before Richard so to convince him to buy the additional protection plates that will be used to increase the strength of the tower to withstand strong skewed wind.
Further lines of inquiry can be used to make a good decision in the case (Petroski & Layton, 1999). For instance, since this is a matter of safety and chances are still there that heavy skewed winds can occur, whistle blowing can be a good idea for George (Petroski & Layton, 1999). If George blows the whistle he probably might be able to get the support of legal institutions such as the court. George cannot be limited to the building regulations (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
It is a basic ethical dilemma for an engineer to report to authority any possibility of risk to both the client and the employer (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Here George is met with a possible risk for the safety of the tower in which he is installing an antenna. Depending on the location of the tower, the safety risk can either be to the public or primarily lie on the company. If, the tower, is located at a point where it is close to residential houses, safety for the public needs to be considered. However, the company also stands to make losses if the tower is wrecked as a result of negligence or ignorance by the George. In both cases, he is held responsible since he will be the one to approve all the stages of installation of the antennae.
Question 2: The decision and its justification
If the employer fails to follow the direction of George, then the most appropriate thing to do after analyzing the risks involved is to blow the whistle. Basically, the first principle of engineering ethics discussed earlier in the paper is safety (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). This principle generally comes above all the other principles (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). It overrides the duty that the engineer has to the client and as well to the employer (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Ignoring the duty of safety may lead to an engineer being disciplined or having their licenses cancelled (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Such disciplinary actions may be taken not only in cases where there is loss of life or injury but also if the risk did not lead to any death, injury or damage (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007).
George should advice his boss in a proper manner where he explains to him all the possible dangers involved with having the tower unprotected. He could also make proposals that would ensure he develops a different business mind with regards to the issue (Petroski & Layton, 1999). But the underlying idea is that George’s advice has to be taken seriously by his employers. Before blowing the whistle to the appropriate authority, George has to make sure that he can prove that having the tower unprotected is dangerous for the company (Petroski & Layton, 1999). He should be able to provide evidence for the possibility of occurrence of strong skewed angle wind. May be the area in which the tower is located does not experience strong winds to wreck the tower (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
There are government authorities that handle the regulations of building towers, and antennae (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Blowing the whistle can involve these agencies (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). This means that George can report the matter to the regulation body despite the fact that there is no single rule that asserts that building of the tower must be done with skewed winds in mind. The rules only suggest that in case of strong skewed wind conditions, the tower should be made much stronger. George can still use this provision in the regulations to support his argument as he reports the issue to the government authorities.
Depending on the gravity of the matter, if the government authority fails to take the appropriate actions that George can proceed to report the matter to the courts (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Whistle blowers in the field of engineering usually enjoy the support of court. In most cases the cases overrules the duties to employers and clients and sides with the argument of the engineers (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). The courts also overrule the issues of confidentialities with company information since this is the main hindrance for the engineer to speak out the issue in public (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007).
The other possible option in trying to convince his employers, both Richard and Stephen is to provide them with data on the cases where ignorance to safety has lead to major disasters. Providing case studies may help changes the perception of the employers and cause them to make the necessary consideration and buy the additional protective plates. It should also be clear that installation of the antenna poses a risk to the people who will be on the ground installing it and doing daily maintenance. The kind of antennae being installed is one that was introduced five years ago and used for the first time by the company. The company itself has not tested whether the antennae will be strong to withstand skewed angle wind except for the modeling software that George used to calculate performance of the antennae.
During the process of installation, the tower could wreck and pose danger to the people doing the installation and maintenance. Since it is assumed that the tower is located away from residential houses, the main people at high risk of any wreckage are the engineers working on it. From case study, George could support his side of the issue since there are cases where technicians have been killed on the course of duty as a result of a tower wrecking. This is actually the most convincing reason that allows George to blow the whistle on the safety of the tower if in case the employers act oblivious to his advices.
In this case, the responsibility of George as the one in charge of the project ends once the project is complete. He is the main adviser for all the necessary requirements for the project. He is expected to ensure that the standards are met and that there shall be no safety problem with the installation. This means that George could defend his position ethically by referring to the principle guidelines set out in the code of ethics. He could refer to the code of ethics of the company or the general code of ethics that governs the association of engineers in his country.
Based on the seven principles discussed earlier, Richard breaches several of the principles. The first principle that overrules the others is that of holding paramount the welfare, health and safety of the public (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). It is clear that failure to consider the skewed wind angle would pose a risk to the technicians. This is does not only mean disregard for the principle but also disregard for a safe working condition. If anything happens to the field technicians, then most likely the company would be liable. However, there is also possibility that the person in charge be liable for the damages caused.
Therefore, with regards to the first principle, George could defend his position by stating that safety comes first before profitability. In business, risk and reward is a common principle. If one fails to take the risk with optimism, then there shall not be any reward. However in engineering there is no taking of risks. All structures put together by engineers need to be perfect and free of any defects and flaws. This is because of the dangers the structures are likely to pose to the consumers.
While defending his position ethically, George could also argue on the basis of the second ethical principle. Richard is supposed to honor the fact that George is a civil engineer with a ten years experience (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). He is supposed to take his advices seriously. Even though the plates may be expensive, but still the company can afford to buy them. By ignoring the advices of George, he is simply meddling with civil engineering. Richard is a electric engineer and knows little about civil engineering. He is supposed to respect practice of engineering in areas outside his competency just in the same way, George is supposed to respect practices outside his competency. Such an argument can be made in the presence of a third party that has a neutral position on the issue (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
George is also expected to act professionally at all times and be faithful agent to his employers. There are two things involved in this principle: the idea of being loyal to the employer, and the idea of acting professionally. Since George pays a duty to the profession as well, he cannot do things that will spoil the reputation of civil engineering. He has to uphold integrity and adhere to the guidelines of professional ethics. This means that he has to stand for what he believes to be paramount for the reputation of the profession.
Question 3: If the company is fixed on making profits
If I were George, all the potential cause of action that I can take will be influenced by the fact that the company is affixing the new antennae only for commercial purposes. If there is entirely no reason to improve quality of services but to make more money, then clearly the company lacks the will to avoid any possible risks involved with the move. As earlier mentioned, risks cannot be taken in engineering unlike in investments. It is possible to take risks when making an investment move. However, the investor has to conduct a comprehensive market analysis that weighs the implications of all the issues involved. Depending on the industry where the investment is done such issues of safety have to come into play and be taken seriously. Basic standards have to be met at all time since it is one of external factors that affect the business environment.
My stand on the issues would even be more strong is knew that the company had will to emphasize on safety. It would be clear to me that this company only intends to maximize their profits at the risk of other people. If indeed the company is making a lot of profit, then there should be no reason not to purchase the additional protective plates. Companies today also compete on the basis of total quality management. It would therefore be a pointless if the company disregards quality and later on a serious mistake happens that costs the company its reputation. It is possible for the company to make high profits once it ensures that quality is maintained all round its functions. It is better to compete on the basis of total quality management than to compete on the basis of risk and reward. I would therefore be very much convinced to ensure that the company takes into consideration my proposal to have the additional protective plates installed in order to make the tower strong to withstand the skewed angle winds.
Question 4: Erecting some antennae near residential houses
If some of the antennae were to be erected near residential houses, this would be a strong reason to influence each my decisions (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Having the towers unsafe near residential houses is a breach of safety and a total disregard of ethical principles (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Based on the knowledge that company intends to install some of the antennae near residential houses, I would definitely involve the court if both Richard and Stephen fail to consider my proposal (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
Three issues expected paramount to an engineer include: health, welfare, and safety of the public (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). Taking a risk with these issues is not recommended at all (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). The business could make profits but in the end safety of the people leaving around the towers is not assured (Petroski & Layton, 1999). This would strongly support my decision and make me pursue it further.
The best option in this case is blowing the whistle by involving the public (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Whistle blowers in the field of engineering usually enjoy the support of court (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010). In most cases the cases overrules the duties to employers and clients and sides with the argument of the engineers (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007). The courts also overrule the issues of confidentialities with company information since this is the main hindrance for the engineer to speak out the issue in public (National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007).
Question 5: Responsibility for failure of the towers
I would be held accountable in case the tower fails since I am the main adviser for all the necessary requirements for the project. I am expected to ensure that the standards are met and that there shall be no safety problem with the installation. My immediate boss may be held accountable if any failure occurs while still in office. However, he is leaving office in the next two years. Since I still have a long way to go in development of the profession, I am bound to stay with the company for long. Therefore if the failure occurs after the Richard leaves office, responsibility for the mistakes will be based on me. However based on the laws of agencies, the entire company can be liable for mistakes done by one of its agents during the course of duty.
According to the laws of employment, agents who commit tort in the course of duty either intentionally or unintentionally would cause the company to be liable (Petroski & Layton, 1999). It is only in the extreme cases that the individual agent in charge will be held accountable (Petroski & Layton, 1999). Therefore, unless the matter is very severe, the responsibility of for the failure will be spread across the company (Petroski & Layton, 1999).
The relationship between an employee and an employer needs to be based on respect and obedience (Petroski & Layton, 1999). However, the employee only obeys according to the law. If in case the employee feels the employer is forcing them to do something unlawful then there are appropriate means in which the issue can be addressed (Petroski & Layton, 1999). There are agencies which the employee can use to report the matter apart from the court (Petroski & Layton, 1999). The workers’ union is one such platform that takes care of conflicts between employers and employees. If I were George, I would also seek for advice in the workers union of the company. In fact this would have been the first places to consult before engaging the courts.
American Society of Civil Engineers, 2010. Code of Ethics. 4th ed. Reston, Viginia: ASCE Press.
Institution of Civil Engineers, 2004. Royal Charter, By-laws, Regulations and Rules, Reston: ASCE Press.
National Society of Professional Engineers, 2007. Code of Ethics, Alexandria, Virginia: NSPE.
Petroski, H. & Layton, E., 1999. To Engineer is Human: the Role of Failure in Successful Design, Baltimore: St Martins Press.