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Ethics Memo on Decisions

November 4, 1999

In their everyday work, professional engineers face many ethical dilemmas.  These dilemmas question their ability to be a professional engineer.  When faced with an important decision, an engineer has to reflect upon his code of ethics.  When making a decision, an engineer has to reflect his decision based on the duties and responsibilities he swore upon, when becoming an engineer.

The case of Robert, the engineer at True Steel, is an example of a wrong engineering decision.  Robert was an engineer in charge of designing trusses at True Steel.  The company he worked for was in a deep financial crisis, and the shipment of the next set of trusses would ensure the company’s survival.  Upon final inspection of the trusses, Robert noticed a fatal flaw and ordered the shipment to be postponed.  Despite Roberts’s disapproval, his manager who had no engineering background, overruled his decision, in-order to deliver the shipment without delay.  Robert was faced with a major ethical dilemma.  He had to decide whether he should go against his employer, and take the necessary actions to prevent the trusses from being used or whether to ignore his employers actions.  However, Robert makes the incorrect engineering decision by choosing to ignore his employers’ action.

Robert faced a major ethical dilemma.  He had to decide if his duty toward his employer and his colleagues was more important than his duty towards society, and the engineering profession.  If Robert took action against his employer, by notifying his client, contacting his engineering society, or going public, forcing the shipment to be postpone he faced many problems.  He would risk loosing his job, and would also face the responsibility for the downfall of True Steel with all its employees.  Whereas, if Robert, chose to take no action and allow the shipment to proceed he would be violating the code of ethics stated by the Professional Engineering act.  Firstly, he would be violating his duty toward society by approving the trusses, which he deemed unsafe.  Secondly he would be violating his duty towards his client, by not meeting the clients specifications.  Finally he would be violating his duty toward the engineering profession by behaving unethically.  This action could lead to the loss of his engineering licence.

 An engineer should never have to choose between unethical behaviour and disruption in employment.  Thus Robert should have taken the necessary action to prevent the trusses from being used.  The best way he could have chosen this course of action was to contact his engineering society for advise.   His engineering society would have guided him on the proper course of action that would lead to the least severe consequences.