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Risk assessment - Transmission Towers

Risk assessment

Question 1: “Transmission Towers”

What do you do first? What further lines of inquiry would you pursue to help you with your decision?

In this case the law does not make it mandatory to design and build towers taking into consideration oblique wind angles. Obeying Elizabeth’s recommendations would not break the law.

Risk assessment is necessary to work out whether safety measures are justified in this case. Establishing how likely an event is to occur is one aspect of assessing the risk that that event poses; a very unlikely event is less of a risk than a likely one. In this case, the wind speed and direction that will cause the tower to fail tends to occur every 50 years or so. However, predicting the weather is very difficult, especially given the weather patterns that we have been seeing recently as a possible result of global warming; just because these winds have occurred quite rarely in the past does not mean that they might not become more common place in the future.

Establishing the likely consequences of an event is the second aspect of assessing the risk that it poses. In this case, the likely consequences of tower failure could include: loss of power to some customer, loss of TV or mobile phone reception. Although the majority of towers are located in rural areas, some towers are located close to roads and so could cause death or injury to drivers, damage to the roads and disruption to traffic. All of these consequences will have economic repercussions; the cost of repairing towers, compensation for electricity customers, cost of repairing roads, possible lawsuits resulting from deaths or injuries to motorists, as well as general effects on the local economy if businesses lose power or if road networks are disrupted. Also to be factored in might be the cost of the extra funds Titanic power would have to spend to recover from the public opinion debacle if a disaster was linked to Gordon’s decision.

What decision do you make? Give three reasons why you think that this is the best course of action. Could you defend this decision ethically?

There are two courses of action Gordon could take with different variants of these and reasons for them given below:

Follow as Elizabeth say: This is the easiest option and may be ethically valid but the scenario indicates that Gordon has some reservations about taking this course of action. Whilst Elizabeth is the boss and will be in charge of deciding what to do, Gordon should probably not just do as Elizabeth says without question. He should first satisfy himself that Elizabeth really understands the implications of the tower failing. As she is an electrical engineer, there is the possibility that she has not understood all of the details so George could perhaps write a report outlining his concerns. This way, Elizabeth can factor these into her management decision of risk versus reward. Gordon might also wish to question Elizabeth about how these management decisions are made; quite often, some possible negative consequences are not factored in to such decisions, making them biased.

Higher authority: This would be whistle blowing; the deliberate exposure of wrongdoing. Whistle blowing is only justified under certain circumstances: if it is motivated by a desire to alleviate harm and if the risk of this harms occurring is significant and genuine. Whistle blowing should always be undertaken in a professional manner and should always be weighed against other concerns such a loyalty to one’s company and colleagues. If Gordon is very concerned about the safety of the towers and Elizabeth refuses to listen to his concerns then Gordon may be justified in taking his concerns elsewhere. However, in this case he should go back to Elizabeth first and reiterate that he is very worried about the integrity of the towers. If Elizabeth remains adamant then Gordon can take his concerns further provided that he thinks the risk is sufficient enough to warrant this. He should then take his concerns higher up within the company. ‘External’ whistle blowing, that is, involving people outside of the business should only be a last resort. Professionalism and loyalty to ones company should only be forfeited if it is to prevent a great harm to the public.

This scenario poses a dilemma between keeping quiet and obeying the boss or speaking out and causing a fuss. And the above answers show the implications of taking either course of action. However, students may offer innovative solutions which might dissolve the dilemma, and prove a better solution to Gordon problem. Gordon problem is that he believes that installing the antennae poses a significant risk to safety, His boss, however, believes that the safety measures required to alleviate this risk are too costly.

Solutions to Gordon problem could therefore take two forms:

  1. Illustrate that the risk is larger than Elizabeth thinks
  2. Explain that there are inexpensive ways to the risk. In this case, the former looks unlikely but there may be an engineering solution to the problem - perhaps an inexpensive way of guying the towers, or a way of fixing the antennae to lower the risk of failure etc.
Does it make a difference to your decision that TitanicPower are affixing the new antennae purely for commercial benefits?

The thought here is that Titanic Power are profiting from the installation of the new antennae and so they have a stronger obligation to make things safe than they would do if this were just routine maintenance. In particular, spending money to guy the towers will only reduce the profit that Titanic power makes rather than taking money away from more essential services. But, the fact that TitanicPower are making a profit in this instance does not mean that they are required to spend inordinate amounts of money on safety measures. The risk has to be such that the cost of the safety measures is worth it, and Titanic power duty only stretches to reducing risks where this is practically and financially feasible.

Would it make a difference to your decision if you knew that some of the Antennae will be erected near residential areas?

This factor should influence students’ decisions because it increases the risk posed by the towers because the probability that tower failure will cause significant harm is now increased (there are more people around the tower who could be injured if it collapsed). Because installing the antennae is now riskier, perhaps the cost of guying the towers is now worth paying to reduce this risk. Also, by doing nothing Titanic power would be imposing a risk on any local residents, to which these residents had not consented. Where risks are imposed involuntarily there is a greater responsibility to reduce these risks.

Who would be responsible if any of the towers failed?

Assigning responsibility for events that occur as a result of the decisions and actions of a number of different people is difficult. It is useful to review the responsibilities of the main players in this case:

Gordon would probably feel responsible if he simply accepts Elizabeth orders without question. If, however, he has done all he can to persuade Elizabeth that the towers should be guyed and they carried on regardless then Gordon is absolved of some responsibility. However, if Gordon genuinely believed that the towers were dangerous and did not act to prevent the antennae being installed then it could be argued that he acted wrongly.

Elizabeth is in the position of having to make the decision about whether or not to guy the towers and if she makes a fully informed, measured and thoughtful decision then she can be seen to be acting responsibly. She should make sure that her decision is based on all the evidence available so she should listen to and examine Gordon concerns thoroughly. If Elizabeth does this and the tower does fail then she has discharged her responsibility: sometimes unlikely events do occur and Elizabeth cannot be blamed for not preparing for these unlikely events. However, Elizabeth will still be open to criticism, particularly given that the probability of towers failing is not extremely unlikely (once every 50 years) but just that she decided that the costs were not worth paying to reduce the risks in question.

David may or may not have been involved in the decision and so has similar responsibilities as Elizabeth. However, if Gordon approaches David to whistle blow about Elizabeth behaviour then David, as a senior member of staff, is obliged to take Gordon concerns seriously.

Titanic power: Elizabeth and David decisions may be constrained by the policies of Titanic power concerning safety measures. Often companies have procedures in place to deal with calculations of risk. If these policies deemed the guying to be too expensive then Titanic power shoulder the blame for any consequences of these policies. However, it is again difficult to decide where the risk/cost balance is to be found and Titanic power cannot be blamed if they did not implement safety measures whose costs were prohibitive.

Question 2: "Piracy" or "Privacy" What should Gwen do? Question 3: “Customer Satisfaction versus Profit”

MGM and Canal+ are the only two companies in competition for Paramount’s business. What options do Paramount have in terms of who they give the business to? How good is each of these options in terms of providing value for money and a good technical solution? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options?

Paramount business options:

Will must decide whether to bid for all of the business or whether to come up with a joint bid in which MGM and CANAL+ develop the back- and front-end application respectively. What should Will do? Give reasons why this is the best course of action.

Tender for all of the business: This option will bring in the most money for MGM. It also provides the customer will a good workable product, even if it is less than perfect. By not taking this option, Will would have to explain to the sales director why he effectively turned down such a large deal; it is surely part of Will’s job to pursue the deals that are best for MGM. However, an individual bid may not be successful due to Wills’ and MGM’s lack of experience with the insurance industry; this may therefore be a higher risk option than the joint tender with Canal+.

Joint tender with Canal+: This provides the customer with the best product. It is also the tender that Paramount may be most likely to accept given that the price will be lower than the one that MGM can offer. It may also be the most financially beneficial solution for MGM in the long-term; by being upfront and honest with Paramount in this job MGM may gain a reputation for trustworthiness and putting customers first. This may lead to repeat business in the future from Paramount and Paramount may also recommend MGM’s services to other companies. However, given that Will already has a good existing reputation as a company, it may be thought unlikely that Paramount will ever discover that a joint solution was a possibility, and so there is no reason to think that offering MGM’s services only will definitely have negative consequences for Wills or the reputation of MGM.

One other reason for pursuing the joint tender may be because it is regarded as the honest thing to do; in Wills’ expert opinion, the joint tender will result in the better product for Paramount and, as a professional engineer, perhaps he has a duty to offer his clients thorough and honest advice.

Suppose that Wills decides to go for the joint bid, would he have failed in regard to any duty or obligation? What reasons are there for thinking that Wills ought to promote the financial success of MGM?

There are two main reasons to think that Will ought to promote the financial success of his company:

Making money for the company benefits Wills personally; if the company goes bust then Will loses his income. This gives Will a good reason to go for the individual contract with paramount, as this will make the most money for MGM and in turn, benefit Will. However, it is rare that one deal makes the difference between the success and failure of a company, so while Will has a good reason to make sure that MGM stays afloat, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why he should push for more money in this particular case, as long as his work generally brings in revenue for MGM. Also, if Will does pursue the option that brings in the most money then Will may not win the deal and so risk making no money at all.

An obligation: Questions of self-interest aside, it could be argued that Will has a duty to promote MGM’s financial interests: Even if Will has nothing to gain or lose personally from a deal, he still has a good reason to pursue the deal that makes the most money for the company because, as a company employee, that is what it is his job to do. By pursuing the joint bid, Will would therefore fail in his duty to make money for the company. However, few people would argue that it is Wills’ duty to promote MGM’s financial wellbeing at all costs; no one thinks that financial success is the only thing to be considered when contemplating a business deal. For example, few people think that employee safety should be compromised in order to make company money. So, if Will does has an obligation to make money for MGM (and it seems sensible to think that he does) then the question at issue in this case is whether there are any other duties or obligations that Will has which outweigh his duty to make money for MGM . This is where considerations about honesty or the professional duty to be honest are relevant. Although one may agree that Will should do his duty as an employee of MGM, one might argue that in this case the professional duty to be honest with the client outweighs this other duty. However, one could question whether offering only MGM’s products to paramount would constitute dishonesty on Will’s part. Presumably, Paramount only expect companies to offer their own products and so they would not think that Wills’ tender purported to offer the best possible solution to Paramount’s needs, but merely the best solution that MGM can provide. This means that Will would not be dishonest in putting forward the individual bid.

Question 4: “Public Welfare – Bridge Structure”.

What is Engineer A’s ethical obligation under these circumstances?

The main obligations made based on bridge structure is that professional engineer A needs to attain actions faced with a situation involving direct threat to the public health and safety addressed by this board on several other occasions. A review of the cases decided over the years by the board of Ethical Review demonstrates a approach regarding this basic responsibility on the part of professional engineers.

In this report, a brief mention of his conversation with the client concerning the deficiencies; though, in view of the agreement, the engineer did not report the safety violations to any parties as the engineer made. In determining that it was unethical for the engineer not to report the safety violations to appropriate public authorities, the Board, citing cases decided earlier, noted that the engineer "did not force the issue, but instead went along without rebel or comment. If the engineer's ethical concerns were real, the engineer should have insisted that the client take appropriate action or refuse to continue work on the project." The Board concluded that the engineer had an obligation to go further, particularly because the Code uses the term "paramount" to describe the engineer's duty to protect the public safety, health, and welfare. While the Board recognized that there may be conditions where the natural tension between the engineer's public welfare responsibility and the duty of nondisclosure may be resolved in a different manner, the Board concluded that this clearly was not the case under the facts. The Board believes much of the same reasoning in the earlier cases applies to the case at hand. The facts and circumstances facing Engineer A involve basic and fundamental issues of public health and safety which are at the core of engineering ethics. For an engineer to bow to public pressure or employment situations when the engineer believes there are great dangers present would be an abrogation of the engineer’s most fundamental responsibility and obligation. Engineer A should take immediate steps to contact the county governing authority and county prosecutors, state and/or federal transportation/highway officials, the state engineering licensure board, and other authorities. With failure in taking this action, Engineer A would pay no attention to his basic professional and ethical responsibility.

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