14 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
In some cases, these codes may serve as the formal basis for investigat-
ing unethical behavior. In 2001 the IEEE Society on Social Implications of
Technology (SSIT) investigated Salvador Castro’s ethics case and awarded
him the Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest.
While working as a medical electronics engineer at Air-Shields Inc., Castro
discovered a serious design flaw in one of the company’s infant incubators.
The flaw could be easily and inexpensively fixed, preventing the possibility
of infant death. However, Air-Shields chose not to correct the problem.
When Castro threatened to tell the Food and Drug Administration, he was
fired. IEEE SSIT investigated this case and promised to file an amicus
curiae brief on Castro’s behalf as Castro’s wrongful termination case went
to trial (Kumagai, 2004). The preparation and filing of an amicus curiae
brief in support of an IEEE member who has upheld the IEEE Code of
Ethics is an optional IEEE procedure. This activity exemplifies the support
of professional societies for their members’ ethics cases, as well as their
powerlessness to enforce ethical behavior by their members’ employers.
With this framework of ethical theories and professional ethics codes
as our backdrop, let us discuss the essential requirements for professional
Engineering projects may directly impact public safety. Whether engi-
neers build bridges or implantable medical devices, the final users of these
technologies accept the risks associated with these technologies. Engineers
are obliged to inform their supervisors of project risks so that these risks
can be communicated to the public if not mitigated in the design.
Designing absolutely safe technologies is impossible, as entirely risk-free
activities and products do not exist and no degree of safety satisfies all
individuals or groups under all conditions (Schinzinger, 2000). However, it
is possible to attain safety through design. Safety through design is defined
as “the integration of hazard analysis and risk assessment methods early in
the design and engineering stages and the taking of the actions necessary so
that the risks of injury or damage are at an acceptable level. This concept
encompasses facilities, hardware, equipment, products, tooling, materials,
energy controls, layout, and configuration.
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A Personal Engineering Ethics Threshold 15
A safe design begins with investigation of hazard avoidance, elimina-
tion, or control. As design commences, quality standards such as ISO 9000
are adopted. Engineers should consider safety in their design decisions for
planned and unplanned maintenance that could affect maintainability and
serviceability. They should minimize the probability of failures of equip-
ment and ergonomic risks factors (Christensen, 1999).
Because engineers are required to accomplish tasks demanding specific
ability and knowledge, they must be technically competent and conduct
themselves competently. When a manager assigns a project task to an engi-
neer, the manager assumes that this task can be completed with high qual-
ity in a timely manner. If this task is completed shoddily, or even worse, if
the task is incomplete, the entire project is put at risk. In its extreme, this
incompetence may endanger public safety, as exemplified by the Kansas
City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse (see Chapter 4). A project engineer
at the structural engineering firm working with architects to build this
hotel approved a change to the walkway suspension that would cut costs.
However, this engineer and his superiors never verified that the modified
design was adequate to support reasonable loads nor that it conformed to
the Kansas City building code. One hundred fourteen people died when
two walkways collapsed shortly after the hotel opened (Stuart, 1981). As
Stephen Unger noted in Controlling Technology, “The results of incompe-
tence and of malice are often indistinguishable” (Unger, 1994).
When a new engineer has little practical experience, a task may be
assigned for which the engineer is not qualified. Rather than hiding this
from the engineering manager, who will probably notice soon enough, it is
recommended that the engineer admit this up front to the manager. Such
responsible behavior will be recognized, and the engineer may receive a
mentor for this task or be instructed to take a class. Even if the task is reas-
signed to another engineer, the new engineer will have acted responsibly
and preserved public safety.
During the course of a project, an engineer continuously tests his
or her hypotheses and initial designs. An engineer may also test that
requirement specifications have been met. These analyses act to move a
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