Much like many other professions the engineering profession id guided by various codes of ethic that seem to act as a solution to the conflicts that exist among the public interest, business interest, professional interest and personal interest. While this case the public interest is the most paramount and forms the core of the professional ethics in the engineering profession. The challenges that exist in the engineering profession are associated with the conflicts among the above mentioned interests. The interests portray the differing priorities held by the various stakeholders, namely the employers, the professional engineers, the public and the clients. Engineering, in the past was associated with progress and did not seem to be viewed through the ethical eye of the public. On the contrary, modern practice has been characterized by environmental concerns which raise ethical issues in the engineering profession. According to research in engineering ethics the environment is inevitably the most significant loser in the battle among the stake holders. It therefore follows that the public is greatly affected in terms of safety and welfare. This paper seeks to address the conflicting ethical dilemmas through a case study with special focus on the stake holders directly and indirectly affected by the actions and decisions taken in the case study. The second part of the paper will focus on the applicable ethical codes on how people behaved and the alternatives that they could have resorted to. The third part of the paper addresses several alternative outcomes and consequences relating to welfare of the stake holders. Ultimately, the last part of the paper will give the best outcome or action for the ethical dilemma based on the personal reflection on the benefits and risks involved.
Public interest vs. self interest
It is a matter of common knowledge that public interest is paramount and shall always prevail where there is a disagreement between the public interest and the public interest. According to general ethics the interest of the majority should always prevail over those of the minority since ethical standards are set in line with the expectations of the majority. In professional ethics, public interest refers to the welfare and safety of the public. In common circumstances public interest conflicts with self interest because of the imperialist nature of the contemporary world where interpersonal competition nullifies the assumption that the sum of self interest gives rise to the public interest. Engineering ethics require that the professional engineers should hold paramount the safety and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties. This means that all decisions made by an engineer should not be in line with their personal interest but rather with the safety, health and welfare of the public in mind. As opposed to the relationship between professional and business interest, the public and self interest are seldom aligned.
Business interest and professional interest
Business law dictates that an incorporated business entity shall be a legal person capable of entering and signing contracts with the obligation to perform according to the terms and conditions. It therefore follows that an incorporated business entity can sue and be sued just like a natural person. In light of this, a business has interest that is distinct from the individual interest of the owners. Traditionally, business interest was guided by the profit motive. In modern day practice, however, business interest is defined by both profit motive and corporate social responsibility refers to a business obligation to the public and the environment with regard to provision of services with whose return they do not expect profit. It is because of embracing corporate social responsibility that professional ethics or interest came into light. Professional interest refers to the endeavors of professional engineers to attain goal that are aligned with their profession. Unlike the relationship between public and personal interest professional and business interest are aligned.
Having successfully completed her PE exam Mary Johnson joins spire engineering as a structural engineer. Mary is not sufficiently experienced in construction works because she has not been in the field hence has not worked with contractors and superintendents so as to establish ways of handling their decision making norms. On her first job Mary successfully draws a design for a parking structure which receives the approval of an experienced spire PE. However, on her first contract she works with a superintendent who over looks her qualifications citing reasons that she is not adequately experience with construction work. Apparently Mary is not comfortable with the construction site especially considering that she is harassed by the construction workers who act in an unbecoming manner which make her uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, she reports to work on the second day and disagrees with the superintendent over an issue that arises when the plant supplying concrete breaks down causing a delay in the completion of a slab that had been laid down halfway. Mary warns of a potential cold joint which could threaten the welfare and the safety of the people who could use the parking in the future. However, the superintendent insists that they should proceed with laying down the slab arguing that they could enhance the area of the potential cold joint to strengthen the foundation. Mary consults with her experienced spire colleagues who concur with her views over the looming cold joint. Even so, the laying down of the slab continues and Mary approves of the work. Two years later, the parking collapses after an earthquake occurs causing massive loss of property and maiming three people permanently.
Stake Holders Directly and Indirectly Affected
Applicable Ethical Theories and Codes
The ASCE code of ethics provides that engineers shall hold paramount the health welfare and safety of the public in offering their professional services and performing their duties. From the case, it is evident that Mary Johnson subordinated public safety, health and welfare by allowing the superintendent decision to prevail facilitating the continuation of the slab that lead to the formation of the cold joint which was responsible for the collapse of the parking. This way Mary Johnson contravened the ASCE code of ethics.
The ASCE code of ethics also provides that the professionally qualified engineers shall only perform and offer services in one area of competence. From the case, it is clearly mentioned that Mary Johnson did not know the nuances of placing concrete. This raises suspicion over her competency in this area. It therefore can be concluded that Mary Johnson acted outside her competence thereby contravening the ASCE code of ethics. By such contravention Mary Johnson compromises her duty to uphold safety and welfare of the public.
According to the ASCE code of ethics engineers whose expert judgment is over looked under certain circumstances shall inform their clients over the potential consequences of the decisions made especially where safety and welfare of the public is vulnerable. From the case study it is clear that Mary Johnson allows the superintendent to overrule her professional decision. By so doing she leaves the safety and welfare of the public and other stake holders in jeopardy. Again she contravenes the ASCE code of ethics.
Alternative Causes of Action and Outcomes
Secondly in furtherance of the ASCE code of ethics Mary Johnson should not have allowed herself to be overruled as she was obliged to uphold the safety and welfare of the public. On the contrary she should have reported the matter to her client and her employer in writing. In the event that the superintendent continued with the laying down of the slab, Mary Johnson should have reported the matter in writing to government officials for appropriate action. Essentially Mary Johnson could have refused to back down from her recommendations because such recommendations were in the best interest of the public. Mary’s boss should have let her go with an experienced supervisor because rationally he did not expect her to make sound decisions in the transitory period.
Best Cause of Action
Judging from the facts of the case and the provisions of the ASCE code of ethics Mary Johnson should have been guided by the canons of the ASCE code of ethics. This way she could have made her decisions in a manner that prioritized the safety welfare and health of the public. Sticking to the ASCE code of ethics could have reduced possibility of loss and possibly exempted Mary Johnson of any liability arising from the loss. Similarly, Mary Johnson could have, in line with provisions of the ASCE code of ethics, consistently reported progress and challenges to her employer, spire engineering, her client and government officials for appropriate action.
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