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MN 4900 Professional Ethics

Individual Assignment

Department of Chemical and Process Engineering

University of Moratuwa


Name Index No

W.B.S. Siriweera 120632H

How IESL code of ethics encourage/discourage the ethical practice and the professionalism

What is the purpose of code of ethics?

Engineers are considered to be innovators and creators of new technology. While using new technology they must be aware that there could be a chance of harming the community around him. There are some critical cases where engineers had to face complex situations between the ethics and their professional duties.

Code of ethics clearly points out and guides for the members of IESL about the standards which have to be kept to develop the honour of engineering profession. This purpose could be completed by standardized ethical conduct to serve employers, customers and the community with devotion. IESL members have to consider the safety, health and the welfare of the public as well as the appropriate utilization of funds while performing as engineers.

The main objective of code of ethics is for promoting the standard of professional conduct required for the engineers by applying the contextual knowledge for assessing the societal, health, safety, legal and cultural issues responsibilities which are connected with the role of engineering.

There have been too many incidents in the past which were occurred due to the serious lapses in ethics. Engineers are absolutely highly trained workers and their skills and abilities are not in the question. The question is whether or not something should be done. They must step back if their interests as an engineers are going to conflict with their duties to the public and the environment.

Explosion of space shuttle Challenger in 1986

There was an explosion of a space shuttle which killed 7 lives of astronauts, on January 27, 1986.Before the day of launching Robert Lund who was the Vice-President for engineering at Morton Thiokol (the company which is concerned with rocket and missile operational systems) had a problem about the proper functioning of the shuttle. Therefore, he recommended against the launch of the shuttle next day. He informed his decision to the space center through his boss, Mason. But, the space center had an approving safety record for the space shuttle.

Lund did not give his approve since the temperature at the launch site would be close to freezing point at lift-off. Although the contract for the space shuttle would bring $150 million profit to the Thiokol, if one of the o-rings failed, the shuttle could explode. According to the previous experimental data, rings had a tendency for erosion in flight, with the worst erosion occurring on the coldest preceding lift-off. So, if they had decided to launch the shuttle, the seven lives of astronauts would be at risk.

Although the Space Center needed to launch space shuttle, without the approval of Thiokol they would not be able to do it. Therefore, they urged Mason to reconsider their decision. So he examined the facts and decided the rings would be able to hold at coldest temperatures. But Lund was not ready to give the approval for the launch considering the lives of astronauts. Mason asked him to think as a manager rather than an engineer. Finally Lund accepted it and gave the approval. The next morning shuttle exploded during the launch killing 7 astronauts due to the failing of the o-rings.

It seems obvious that, Lund should not have changed his decision. But there are critical problems for engineers where they cannot decide what to do since they cannot foresee all the consequences of the actions. It is necessary to consider the fact whether Lund should have acted like an engineer or a manager. Managers are trained to focus on the people where engineers are given the training to handle things. Here Lund was asked to consider the best ways to handle his boss and the space center. He was asked to act like a person who never had the knowledge of engineering.

The meaning of ‘thinking as an engineer’ is not simply using one’s technical knowledge of engineering. They have to consider code of ethics which have been regulated by IESL.

Code of ethics is considered as a contract between professionals. What others will expect from us is a part of what we he have to consider in selecting what to do. Engineers should not depend on only the private conscience when taking decisions as a professional engineer.

Being ‘safety first’ is a main part of engineering. Engineers, must know whether they should merely take safety into consideration against the wishes of the employer.

 The code of ethics provides the guide to what engineers expect from other members of their profession to act like. According to code of ethics, Lund’s junior engineers have the right to expect the support from him. When Lund was asked to act like a manager rather than an engineer, as an engineer he should have told them to hire a manager instead of an engineer.

Engineers are persons with greater responsibilities beyond their professional roles. They cannot escape the blame that would be thrown upon them by telling they did what they had to do as engineers.

According to the fundamental principles in ABET code, engineers ‘uphold and advance the integrity, honour and dignity of engineering profession using their knowledge and the skills and being honest and serving with fidelity the employers, and clients as well as the public.’

According to the fundamental canons, engineers have to ‘hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.’ Each engineer stands to benefit from the requirements in code of ethics, both as an engineer and an ordinary person. Engineers are frequently asked to do things which are profitable, but could cause the risk to the lives of public. Without their professional code, they cannot show their objection to such projects.

If they object personally, they would have to face the risk of being replaced by another engineer who would be willing to accept the job. The engineers would have to be under pressure to keep their personal opinions while doing the job.

The only way to avoid such conflicting situations is to become an engineer who follows the code of ethics where the public safety, health and welfare comes first. In the case of space shuttle, Lund cannot justify his consideration of the welfare of Thiokol and his own self-interest as a reason for not following the code of ethics. Without the code of ethics, engineers would be let to do what they like which would harm the community around them.

Chernobyl accident

When using new technology, engineers must be aware of the fact that there is a potential of causing harm to the community. This issue is addressed in the code of ethics developed by IESL.

According to the code of ethics, if engineers know their experiments would become hazardous or danger causing, it is their responsibility to inform their higher positions of the fact. Then the required safety methods could be applied before the occurring of the accident. There is an example called Chernobyl incident where the engineers did not behave responsibly to alert their superiors about a hazardous incident. If they were informed previously, at least there would have been more time to prepare what to do after the explosion. According to the code of ethics, engineers should have the loyalty to the employer or the client with concern for the safety of the community in product design, plant operation and all other activities relevant to engineering.

An engineer who is specializing in nuclear physics simply cannot go on with the idea of successfully taking the advantage of nuclear energy. They must be aware not only of what they can do with their technical skills, but what they should do considering all the environmental and community aspects .Engineers have a duty to the public, and the community must feel safe knowing that the engineers are conducting nuclear experiments in their areas. For maintaining the trust between the community and the engineers, they must act with honour and respect according to the facts stated in the code of ethics. Their self-interests should not be given the priority over protecting the society.

In the Chernobyl incident in 1986, the engineers were interested in their research work rather than the safety of the people. Their research work was radically dangerous and caused the Ukrainian nuclear reactor to blow up. This was one of the most greater nuclear disasters reported in the history.

Since the engineers are trying to find energy sources by dangerous means such as nuclear fissions or fusions, they have to follow the code of ethics to ensure the safety of the public and the environment as professionals.

Bhopal incident

Before the Bhopal tragedy which took place in India on 23rd of December in 1984, Bhopal was called the greenest city in India. Due to the Bhopal tragedy, about 2259 people were died instantly and so many others died later. The reason for this tragedy was a leakage of poisonous Methyl-IsoCyanate gas in a chemical factory. The whole city was covered with the cloud of MIC leaving no chances for the people to rescue.

Before locating the plant, the process layout and the plant design was presented to the government and obtained the approval. But they had not considered the fact that the site location to setup the factory is only 4.8 km from the nearest crowded neighborhood. The engineers should have considered the idea of building a plant for manufacturing dangerous poisonous chemicals near the local residencies. But, they have only considered about the profit they could achieve through this project. This implies that no risk assessment objectives and methods have been taken into consideration by the engineers.

When building up a chemical plant for producing poisonous products, there are high safety procedures and ethical codes that have to be followed up. But they were not properly followed in this plant. The engineers who were in the plant did not take into account the safety of the workers and the public. Labourers were not given the knowledge about the safety in the factory premises to avoid unwanted circumstances to happen. It is clearly proven that the responsibility for safety, assessing of the risk and following ethical codes were not successfully taken by the plant engineers.

According to the codes of ethics declared by IESL, engineers should always be considering the public safety in the construction, product design, plant operation and all other sub activities of engineering. The Less experienced workers have to be guided towards the enthusiasm for the profession.

Responsibility for safety is the highest priority and engineers have to avoid hazardous failures that could result in the loss of lives, property, and cause environmental damage. There must be plans for emergency response to such kind of incident within the plants for ensuring the safety and health of the employees and the public.

In the Bhopal incident, the safety alarms were not properly functioning. The vent gas scrubber which had been designed to neutralize the gas was shut down. The flare tower was unable to handle the high amount of gas leaked in the disaster since it was being repaired at that time. For reducing the energy costs, the refrigeration system had been shut down for 5 months which caused the increase of the temperature in a higher value.This means that the main purpose of this factory was to gain profit and they have neglected the safety responsibilities professional and legal obligations. This total effect of temperature and pressure buildup have caused the high amount of gas release.

According to the code of ethics, the engineers should always try to work within a standardized environment where humanity is also considered rather than the profit itself. For obtaining the required standard of service from the labourers, they must be given a proper training and in this case they were all inexperienced and were not given any instruction or training in handling the equipment and the machineries. This caused the inability to keep a safe and accident free work space.

These facts show that the engineers of the plant have failed to follow the code of ethics in their working environment. Their negligence of the responsibilities have caused others to pay from the their lives. Although the risks were clearly printed within the premises, they were not taken into account since there was no engineering code of ethics.

It is obvious that engineering is a field that directly affects the lives of public. In a society where the rapid development of technology is used for engineering, they must follow the code of ethics for reducing the harm caused to community and the environment. These codes help for ensuring the self-discipline and proper conduct of engineers when taking decisions as professionals.



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