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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
Engineering ethics executive summary
The following report concentrates on the ethical standards of engineering. It shows five separate cases of ethical wrong doing and describes how the situations were handled, what was done wrong and how they could have been handled better, all with an ethical mind set. It also shows how engineers have to be “on the toes” and ready for wrong doings around them to ensure that they can make sure that the problems do not escalate as seen the cases below. The report also depicts the framework of which the engineering ethics “code” based around.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary i
The following report concentrates on the ethical standards of engineering. It shows five separate cases of ethical wrong doing and describes how the situations were handled, what was done wrong and how they could have been handled better, all with an ethical mind set. It also shows how engineers have to be “on the toes” and ready for wrong doings around them to ensure that they can make sure that the problems do not escalate as seen the cases below. The report also depicts the framework of which the engineering ethics “code” based around. ii
Table of Contents iii
1.0 Introduction 1
2.0 5 Ethical Case Studies 2
2.1 Case Study 1: The Thesis 2
2.2 Case Study 2: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Disaster 3
2.3 Case Study 3: An Unethical Unlicensed Engineer 5
2.4 Case Study 4: The Air Force Brake Scandal 6
2.5 Case Study 5: The Hyatt Regency Hotel 7
3.0 Conclusion 9
Ethics plays a role in the decision making of all engineers. It must always be in “the back of their minds” to ensure that all things are done “by the book”. The previous cases are all of “major” ethical wrong doings but ethics are not just about whether or not it is right to steal someone’s research report or whether it is wrong to put money before safety. If the previous cases have shown anything, it is that to ensure something is done right we must think of others first. The framework around which engineering ethics stands is to put others before yourself. In all cases someone else is harmed or could be harmed from the lack of ethical standards put in place by the culprits. To ensure something is done right ethically is to ensure that no one will or could be hurt in the process or in the future and to do so in fairness, honesty and good taste. 9
4.0 References 9
Codes of ethics are today used in modern professions in order to resolve a problem. These guidelines as to what is allowed and what is in fact “illegal” within a profession serve to aid in making decisions on how to handle oneself, and resolve numerous conflicts. These codes define the rights, duties and responsibilities of the members in the profession, but from where did these ethics come from. The code of ethics is not a set of instructions for exact ethical behaviour, but rather, acts as a guideline (or framework) in order to help engineers make good ethical choices.
In this report, we have shown 5 case studies where the different areas of ethical issues come into question, and from these questions a basic understanding of the background of the engineering ethics codes comes to the fore. Case one, is a fictional case of plagiarism and conflict. The case introduces us to Professor Nice, whose research project was used by his former laboratory’s assistant Jason Smart, as his Master’s thesis.
Case two, explains the case of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, in Ukraine, which was the result of a flawed reactor design in which inexperienced trained personnel were operating on, without proper regard for safety.
Charles Landers, former Anchorage assemblyman and unlicensed engineer for Constructing Engineers, was found guilty of forging partner Henry Wilson’s signature.
The fourth of the cases explains the B.F Goodrich brake scandal in1968, where Goodrich created a second rate brake for a new air force aircraft making it smaller and lighter than the aircraft had seen before but in doing so made it too small to function properly. With many knowing about this it was only time before the complete and utter disregard of safety by B.F Goodrich became public.
During the year 1981 Kansas City Missouri one of Americas grand hotels faced a catastrophic event labelled ‘the U.S most devastating structural failure’, a function went underway within the regency hotel guests enjoyed themselves as they pranced around on the suspended walkways of the Hyatt Hotel Regency little did they know that for some, July 17th would be the last day they were able to enjoy themselves.
2.0 5 Ethical Case Studies
2.1 Case Study 1: The Thesis
A professor on the engineering faculty at State University, Professor Nelson Nice, headed a research project at the University three years ago. The team conducting the research involved an undergraduate student, Jason Smart, who evidently felt highly regarded to be hand-picked as the professor’s assistant and was excited to begin. As the research went on, the lab work and write ups Jason had to do wore out on him, as he felt tired and bored of it. Due to this, most of the work was left to the professor himself, and before the research was over, Jason had quit.
A year later, Jason Smart had written to Professor Nice asking him to send the final copy of the research project to him. Jason, who was a graduate student at another University expressed how immature he was and how much he had changed, and that since he was now working in a related area that it would help him tremendously to see the final product of the research project, as he wanted to improve and do more serious work.
Nelson Nice, who was still disappointed with Jason’s performance, was impressed with Jason’s maturity and motivation to do more serious work; he hesitantly sent him the final copy of the project. Professor Nice had also written back to Jason, stating that despite the research being completed, the end results were disappointing and he had given up on it towards the end as it did not turn out as he hoped. He also went on to say that he hoped it would help Jason come up with new ideas and wished him luck for the future.
Jason Smart ended up using the research report as his Master’s Thesis. He changed it only slightly by adding a few introductory and concluding paragraphs, and updated the bibliography. Nelson Nice found out about this several years later and also found that no reference to him was stated anywhere in the thesis.
In this particular case study, there are many ethical issues that we face. Ethical issues that we face include property right, conflict between colleagues, plagiarism, whistle-blowing etc. The research report should by right belong to State University, and Professor Nice must have received clearance from the university first before sending a copy of the report to Jason. Jason must also have had to have specified to Professor Nice on exactly what he intended to do with the report.
The Engineering Code of Ethics also states that “Members shall exercise due restraint in explaining their own work, shall give proper credit to those to whom proper credit is due and shall acknowledge the contributions of subordinates and others”. Jason Smart used the research project as his Master’s thesis, not giving any credit whatsoever to Nelson Nice. This goes against the code of ethics, and is a form of plagiarism.
This then leads to the issue of whistle-blowing (reporting or ‘dobbing’) to someone of a higher or external or internal power. This action that could be taken by Professor Nice could lead to the cancellation of Jason’s master’s degree.
Finally, the Tenets of the Code of Ethics states that “members should act with fairness, honesty and good faith towards all in the community, including clients, employers and colleagues”. This code was not displayed at all in this case, and if anything, it showed how not to act with fairness, honesty and good faith.
2.2 Case Study 2: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Disaster
On 26 April 1986 at 01:23:40 am, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant located in the Soviet Union in Ukraine exploded. The Chernobyl disaster was the result of a flawed reactor design coupled with severe mistakes made by the inadequate trained operators and without proper regard for safety. This incident is the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and the only of the level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, resulting in a severe nuclear meltdown. During a trial of the Chernobyl plant in 1987, it was found that there had been several accidents and emergency shutdowns before the explosion. There were countless unscheduled (emergency) shutdowns because of errors made by employees. The causes were not always correctly investigated and in some cases they were covered up. Out of 71 technical breakdowns in 1980 to 1986, no investigation was carried out in search of the causes at all in 27 cases. Many cases of equipment malfunction had not been recorded in the operation logs.
The step-by-step events that took place at the Chernobyl Power Plant were as follows. The reactor was scheduled for maintenance and thus had to be shut down. The operators wanted to execute an examination to see how long the turbines could run the emergency cooling system if the power is interrupted by an accident. Power in Reactor No. 4 dropped down to about 1600 mega watts and while the operators made a simple but lethal error by setting the regulator improperly, the power crashed down to only 30 mega watts. At this stage, the reactor had become hard to manage and only 6 of the minimum required 30 control rods were down at this point.
As the control rods were raised to increase power rising to 200 mega watts, the shift supervisor, thirty-six seconds after the test had commenced, attempted to drop all control rods back into the reactor realizing the power was intensifying beyond its limits. In less than five seconds, the power level contained by the reactor heaved 120 times the reactor’s capacity and with this, the initial explosion broke the pressure tubes, releasing steam which blew the containment lid off the reactor. The following explosion which resulted from the break-out of the initial explosion was the reactor fuel and graphite within the core exploding, distributing chunks of graphite and other radioactive elements soaring, obliterating the building, and causing more than 30 roof fires.
In this disastrous case there is a breach of many ethical codes but also in relation to the leading up of the Chernobyl disaster, there is a concealment of events which should have been ethically take into consideration and whistle-blowing should have taken place to unravel the cover-up of the many unresolved and unscrutinised dilemmas. Tenets Code of Ethics no. 6 which asserts that “Members shall, where relevant, take reasonable steps to inform themselves, their clients and employers, of the social, environmental, economic and other possible consequences which may arise from their actions” has been breached in this catastrophe. Violation of Tenets Code of Ethics no. 5 which states that “Members shall apply their skill and knowledge in the interest of their employer or client for whom they shall act with integrity without compromising any other obligation to these Tenets” automatically leads to infringement of Ethical Code no. 3 which declares that “Members shall act only in areas of their competence and in a careful and diligent manner”.
The operators of Chernobyl no. 4 reactor were surrounded by influence that did not tend to promote them to carry out a cautious test and in doing so, they considered that the set up of the plant as a model of the RBMK type plant, was to be worthy of copying and did so. As a result, its operators felt that they are an elite crew and became overconfident and acted in a hazardous unethical manner. The evaluation was realized as an electrical test only and so, the test was under the supervision of the turbine manufacturer and not the regular operators and the effects on the reactor were not thought up carefully enough which to begin with is a breach of Code no. 3 and is also displayed as an unethical act which contributed to the disaster. I believe that the modern recipe for disaster is highly intelligent engineers using advanced technologies but making an unethical decision which in this case was undertaken by the operators of the Chernobyl no.4 reactor that resulted in the Chernobyl catastrophe.
2.3 Case Study 3: An Unethical Unlicensed Engineer
This specific case shows example of an employee acting unethically towards his business partner. Charles Landers acted in an unethical and illegal manor by forging Henry Wilson’s signature to put a professional seal of approval on over 40 documents totally breeching the code of ethics.
Lander’s was an unlicensed Engineer and a former employee of ‘Constructing Engineers’. The documents were forged when Wilson was absent from the office and without knowing or giving permission to Landers.
Constructing Engineers design, build and maintain septic tanks. The forged documents were for a project where he had to test local septic systems and give them a tick of approval if they met city wastewater disposal laws and legislations.
The Code of Ethics that Lander’s should have been abiding to states that ‘Engineers should uphold and advance the integrity, honour and dignity of the engineering profession by, being honest and impartial, and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients.’
Against this code Landers did not act honest to his business partner and did not act honest in the interest of the public. He was sentenced to 40 days in prison, fined $4000, ordered to complete 160 hours of community service and banned from practicing as an engineer for 12 months.
The judge in Lander’s court case commented that his actions were a ‘serious breach of public trust, the public relies on the word of professionals that are trusted with special responsibilities’. The systems in placed would completely break down if we could not rely on the individuals involved. The code of ethics put in place guidelines to prevent this and protect the public’s safety in all manners possible to ensure I.O.E.A standards are met.
2.4 Case Study 4: The Air Force Brake Scandal
On June 28, 1967, LTV, an aircraft manufacturer, was contracted to purchase over 200 sets of brakes from B.F Goodrich for the A7D, an aircraft that LTV was building for the US air force. Kermit Vandivier, a former Goodrich employee who had worked on the project, explained that B.F Goodrich put in a ridiculously low offer (around $70,000) to ensure they got the contract, even if they ended up losing money. This wasn’t a problem for Goodrich because they expected the air force afterwards to buy all the brakes for the aircraft from them.
B.F Goodrich also had another striking feature to the contract; a small, light-weight brake containing only four brake rotors. This was the design of a Mr. John Warren, a senior project engineer at Goodrich. Below Warren was a young engineer graduate, Searle Lawson, who was asked to construct a prototype for testing. The prototype had to pass stringent guidelines before it was able to be tested by pilots in the aircraft out in the field. Mr.Vandivier was in charge of writing up the laboratory results after initial testing and then presents them to the air force and LTV.
In initial tests Lawson found that the brakes stored a great amount of heat and because of this, disintegrated the brake linings before the required fifty one consecutive stops. Lawson decided to investigate and found that the brakes were too small. There was simply not enough surface area on the brake to bring the aircraft to a halt without causing extensive amounts of heat and in turn disintegrating the linings. Lawson’s findings were shown to Warren. Warren rejected the claims that the brake was too small. Lawson tried to “go over Warren’s head” to Warren’s supervisor, however, he took the word of the senior engineer. Dejected, Lawson went back to testing, trying to get the brakes to pass the required fifty one consecutive stops twelve separate times.
By April 1968, Lawson was engaged in a thirteenth attempt to qualify the brakes and was told that no matter the outcome of the thirteenth test, the project director at Goodrich would qualify the brakes for the second stage of testing. This qualification required a laboratory report of the success of the brakes, which they did not have. The only option was to create a false report. Vandivier had to decide whether or not to participate in the write up of the report. After being told by the director of his department to “do what you’re told” Vandivier took part in the write up of the false report. Flight testing took place and with it came another testing failure. This was the last straw for Vandivier. He decided to report the findings to Senator William Proximire, who in turn requested a government inquiry.
In this case there are a number of ethical issues such as doctoring findings to produce a positive outcome for the company in question. However the main ethical issue is whistle blowing. Many people had the opportunity to expose the problems with the brakes. People may say that those involved in this case are in the wrong due to the fact that they had a major role in the qualification of the brakes. Most of the executives or senior workers of Goodrich, that new about the problems or were informed, chose to do nothing about them. They were all looking at the monetary side of things. This is a classical case of money before safety and because of this; it has become a landmark case for engineering ethics.
You could purvey this as a “David versus Goliath” story but I tend to disagree, I see Vandivier’s actions as cowardly, he only decided to reveille his knowledge of the problem once the failures became public. Of cause he shall always be touted as the hero of this story because he was the one that showed the inner workings of the Goodrich scandal, but I see know one as the hero. The only person that tried to get something done about the problem was Lawson. He attempted to get Warren to change his design and when that didn’t eventuate try to go higher still with the same effects. The one mistake he made was not taking the third and final step. If steps where taken as soon as the problem arose there wouldn’t have been as big of a problem as it ended up being.
2.5 Case Study 5: The Hyatt Regency Hotel
During the year 1981 Kansas City Missouri one of Americas grand hotels faced a catastrophic event labelled ‘the U.S most devastating structural failure’, a function went underway within the regency hotel, guests enjoyed themselves as they pranced around on the suspended walkways of the Hyatt Hotel Regency little did they know that for some, July 17th would be the last day they were able to enjoy themselves.
As the second and fourth floor walkways collapsed the people below on the atrium ground level faced an inevitable outcome, luckily the third floor suspension walkway was off set and was not subject to this domino effect. Not only did this ‘accident’ leave over one hundred dead it injured many more and effected thousands, not to mention millions of dollars lost in the construction of the hotel only a few years prior. Who was to blame? Why did this happen?
Well we can first confirm that this rare structural failure should have been prevented as it had some of the state’s top structural engineers working on the design and construction of its architecture to begin with. Two years prior due to financial disputes between the fabrication company for the steel rods and the designers some very regretful last minute alterations were made to the rod connections. The designer ultimately decided upon a more simple design forcing a double load on a single point of the connection compared with the previous design.
After failure which was possibly due to this change, a number of legal cases were obviously persuade where in one case the fabrication company ‘in sworn testimony’ stated that a confirmation call was sent to the designers before these changes were put in place the engineering company denied this statement, according to the I.O.E.A (Institution Of Engineers Australia) ‘clients and employers section d.’ “should keep their employers or clients fully informed on all matters, including financial interests, which are likely to lead to a conflict of interest;” this engineering ethic was either followed by the fabrication company or not carried out at all. Although there is obvious conflict of interest in the matters of finance due to the new design at this moment in time it is still not possible to give blame to either company for this outcome as there is no genuine evidence.
The construction company had also been involved in this outcome as the walkways within the Hotel already did not meet the requirements of the ‘Kansas City building ordinates’ so it is possible that this change was forced in place to allow construction to continue under a set budget by the hotel company this pressure had caused another breach of I.O.E.A ethics ‘should not involve themselves with any practice
Which they know to be of a fraudulent, dishonest or criminal nature’ by agreeing with possible hotel demands the construction company has now also put the immediate community in danger.
We have already found that all parties involved with the hotel are to blame for this horrific event even the hotel company itself, but prior to this during construction roofing failures occurred and designers, engineers and constructors all called for site inspections to be carried out, the hotel company did not comply and allowed for no extra funding during construction and so these mistakes in the genesis of this whole case were simply ‘brushed under the carpet’. This proves for a great conflict of interest caused by the hotel company itself which is surprising as they appeared to be least to blame, although through their unethical financial debut they caused a chain reaction ironical to that of the walkways falling on-top of one another as guests now victims lay helplessly.
An unjust portrayal of actions was witnessed by all companies involved in the tragedy of the Hyatt incident, and no-one was solely to blame although a lack of following within each other’s interests, miscommunication and constant breeches of the code of ethics lead to not only a failure within a designed structure, loss of finances and death but it also left a ‘bloody’ trail for all family and friends involved giving all companies bad names in the social eye and causing infinite regret. If only these specific parties were to rightfully adhere to the engineer’s code of ethics then this failure of engineering representation and woeful experience could have been totally avoided.
Ethics plays a role in the decision making of all engineers. It must always be in “the back of their minds” to ensure that all things are done “by the book”. The previous cases are all of “major” ethical wrong doings but ethics are not just about whether or not it is right to steal someone’s research report or whether it is wrong to put money before safety. If the previous cases have shown anything, it is that to ensure something is done right we must think of others first. The framework around which engineering ethics stands is to put others before yourself. In all cases someone else is harmed or could be harmed from the lack of ethical standards put in place by the culprits. To ensure something is done right ethically is to ensure that no one will or could be hurt in the process or in the future and to do so in fairness, honesty and good taste.
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