Engineering Code of Ethics Analysis
One of the most important documents to the Professional Engineers is the Engineering Code of Ethics. This governing document serves as the guiding principle for the actions of the engineer and their service to the needs of the public. This document is a living piece of literature, that is ever changing and evolving in order to encompass the always changing job of a professional engineer. The document is upheld by the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) who cite the purpose of the document as “to ensure that the public is protected and that the individuals and companies providing engineering services uphold a strict code of professional ethics and conduct”(1). All the articles listed in this document are of great importance to any practicing engineer, but one article stand out as being very important. The Ontario Regulation 941,77.1 states that:
“It is the duty of a practitioner to the public, to the practitioner’s employer, to the practitioner’s clients, to other members of the practitioner’s profession to act at all times with,
- Fairness and loyalty to the practitioner’s associates, employer, clients, subordinates and employees,
- Fidelity to public needs,
- Devotion to high ideals of personal honour and professional integrity,
- Knowledge of developments in the area of professional engineering relevant to any services that are undertaken, and
- Competence in the performance of any professional engineering services that are undertaken
The articles serves to ensure that in a professional environment that both the engineer and the employer serve the public to the best of their abilities, without compromising of the safety of the public, who are entrusting them with the responsibility. This article serves to ensure that an professional engineer, does not work outside of his/her area of expertise, and that they do not compromise their integrity in order to meet time constraint or budget. A strong emphasis is put on the important of ensure that quality work is completed as well as to remind the engineer that they are ultimately servants of the public, not themselves or any company.
In my own opinion, this article is one of the most important and emphasized in the Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers, as it states the obligations of a professional engineer and the promise of the code of conduct that they have taken for the well-being of the public. This article is first in the code, and this was done intentionally, as it emphasizes the trust that has been placed upon the engineers by the public and highlights the importance of the role that they play in society. Competence, fidelity and integrity to the public are three of the most important traits that an engineer can possess, and they serve as a foundation to all the articles written within the Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers.
To receive your Professional Engineering certificate, there are many measures that have been put in place by the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) to ensure the engineers abide by the code. For example, in order to become a Professional Engineer, one must meet a number of standards, such as: they must possess an engineering degree from an accredited engineering school, they must have at least 4 years of engineering related work experience, they must take a Professional Engineers accreditation exam from PEO, they must be of 18 years of age, and they must be viewed as person of integrity. These statements tie into two subsections of article 1; subsection iii, which states an engineer that is acting with a high degree of integrity and subsection v, which describes that an engineer should act with a high degree of competence (3).
There have been many examples throughout the history of engineering of failures that have occurred due to engineering infidelity and negligence to the needs of the public. This makes article 77.1 extremely important to the strategy of the Engineering Code of Ethics, since without upholding this article, it would have caused countless deaths and injuries due to engineers and companies trying to cut corners by compromising on safety. One example of this that is often referred to in most engineering classes is the Quebec Bridge Disaster in 1907. During 1907, a cantilever bridge was being constructed across the St. Lawrence River near Ste. Foy Quebec. Due to engineering negligence and lack knowledge, the bridge had collapsed. At the time, the Quebec Bridge Company has been commissioned to contract the building of the bridge, they ended up choosing the Phoenix Bridge Company to design the bridge. Before the construction began, problems had arisen regarding some of the calculation that had been made for the bridge. This was due to the lack of knowledge from the lead engineer, as he had little to no experience with designing the cantilever style bridge. A new lead engineer was chosen instead who was named Theodore Cooper, but the problems with the calculations persisted. The lack of competence in the with the calculations made during the preliminary stages of design were not checked properly and with the time-constraints made from the company, lead to the cutting of corners during construction (4). Ultimately this led to the failure of the bridge, which was caused by the maximum load of the beams being exceeded and resulted in the death of 75 bridge workers. The failure of the bridge can be linked directly to the engineering negligence and lack of fidelity to the needs of the public. This disaster emphasized the need for a major reform of engineering practices and introduced the Professional Engineering Code of Ethics in Canada. This code would ensure the moral responsibility in the profession (5). The collapse of the bridge could have been easily prevented had these calculations been checked thoroughly. With the Code of Ethics, the situation would have been a direct violation of Section 1 of the code, which states “… to the practitioner to act at all time, iv. Competence in the performance in the area of any professional engineering services that are undertake” (6). Ultimately, the Phoenix Bridge claimed that all the calculations made of the bridge had been thoroughly checked over, but it was later discovered that that was a false statement (7). The disaster was ultimately due to Phoenix Bridge Company and the Quebec Bridge Company hiring an unexperienced bridge engineer, and were thereby incompetent, which broke the trust of the public, and they had not behaved with a high level of professional integrity. Unfortunately, the lesson had not been learned from the first collapse, but rather the company continued to work on the bridge until it collapsed once again in 1916, killing another 13 bridge workers, which in turn was caused by more engineering negligence. The bridge was completed by 1919, but the cost was severe. Between 1907 and 1919, the bridge has cost the taxpayers more than $25 million and 88 lives (8).
Since Canada introduced the Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers, engineers are now held accountable for their actions by law. The Professional Engineers of Ontario have stated that “Registrants have a duty to practice in a careful diligent manner and accept responsibility and accountability for their actions. This duty is not limited to design, supervision or management, it applies to all areas of practice” (9). The Professional Engineers of Ontario explained that the Code of Ethics is in place to keep engineers accountable for any acts of negligence that they may perform and calls for them to perform engineering work to the best of their ability. Thus, in general, the Code of Ethic is able to be enforced with respect to the articles discussed, however, all the articles in the Code of up to interpretation and can, in some rare cases, be quite ambiguous. For example, in reference to the Article 1, v, it states that “… to the practitioner to act at all times with, (iv.) competence in the performance in the area of any professional engineering services that are undertaken”, an electrical engineer can design a power system under the impression that it is a subject that the engineer is competent in and has experience in, however, if the power systems is overloaded and causes a large electrical discharge, which kills or injures people, then it can be said that the engineer has acted unethically with respect to competence (10). In article 1, iii, it states that “…to the practitioner to act at all times with (iii) devotion to high ideals of personal honour and professional integrity,” however, if an engineer believes that the work they are performing is to a high degree of professional integrity then how can be proven otherwise? (11) Finally, article 1, ii, states that “…to the practitioner to act at all times with (ii) fidelity to the public needs,” if we refer back to the power system example, if the power systems does get over loaded causes a electrical discharge, was it the engineers of the companies interpretation that a power systems would serve the needs of the public and be completely safe? What if all the calculations conducted for the project seemed correct and that the issues still occurred, then were they still negligent in terms of the engineering code? (12) In can, in certain cases, be very ambiguous and may be difficult to determine cases of negligence. In cases like that, an engineer can be fully under the impressions that they have been doing the right thing and followed what they believe to be is correct and have not been negligent. However, due to the Code of Ethics, so one must be held accountable for the actions that make the public unsafe. The intentions of the Code are not falsely accusing someone, but rather make is enforceable and in theory it is, there are countless cases of negligence in the engineering profession that are reported and have causes the industry standard to be raised. The articles will continue to be enforceable, and article 1 helps enforce it because the occurrences of lack of fidelity to the public, lack of competence and lack of personal integrity are often obvious and deliberate, aside from the extenuating circumstances that were listed above. Often cases, professional engineers who have violated article 1 usually have extreme consequences, they stand out more to the public, and the engineers who are at fault can more easily be reported and potentially lead to prosecution.
In order to gain a prospective from someone who has professional engineering experience, I interviewed my father, Russell Morgan, an Electrical Engineering graduate from Concordia University, who received his Professional Engineer in Quebec in 1985. I asked him about article 1 of the Code of Ethics of Professional Engineers and the roles that it has played in his life through his professional career. Mr. Morgan is currently the head of Canadian Operations of an email encryption company called Zix and has held a variety of other engineering roles, where by the Code of Ethics has played an integral role in his career (13). When asked about ethical dilemmas that Mr. Morgan has encountered while being a professional engineer, he recalled of a product that Zix had launched in the early 2000s. The product was called E-Prescribe, it allowed doctors to electronically enter a prescription for a patient and would send the information directly to the pharmacy for the patient to pick up. However, very quickly after the launch of the product, a customer came forward and complained that they had received the wrong prescription, and this was caused by one of the software engineers not fully checking their code, in turn not holding himself to a high degree of personal integrity, and then jeopardizing the safety of the public and the customer. Every year, thousands of patients in the United States are misprescribed drugs, which in turn causes many injuries and fatalities (14). If this issue was not caught in time, it would have led to countless injuries and deaths, and ultimately would cause the failure of Zix as a company. In addition, some of the executives in the company did not want to notify the doctors in order to avoid any liability to the company, which is clearly a violation of article 1, iii, as it calls for the highest level of personal honour and integrity. In the end, the company made the ethically decision to inform the doctors of the issue and releasing a patch to the software, but in the end adherence to ethics were tested in the process (15). A further example that Mr. Morgan recalled was from the 90s when he was working for Lockheed Martin, a military contractor. He was in charge of a team of engineers, working on a project that involved guided missile systems. They were doing testing on the simulated training systems but caught some of the Quality Engineers not following the proper testing process. This resulted in the system not be test thoroughly before live trials. During the trials, they ended up seeing software bugs occur which caused the system to not work properly. This resulted in the project being delayed further and costing the customer and company a lot of money. It is important to note too, the serious implications that could have come from a fault explosive system, it could have been the difference between life and death which would in turn seriously damage the reputation of Lockheed Martin (16). The Quality Engineers did not act with the high level of honour and integrity that is required by a professional engineer, and the ethically violation of article 1, ii, iii, v, make it even more important.
While speaking with Mr. Morgan, he expressed some frustration with the Engineering Code of Ethic, stating “I don’t think the PEO does enough to ensure that engineers are compliant with the articles. Test and qualification ends with getting the PEO designation. I think there should be a requirement for ongoing training and better oversight of practitioners. This is done in the medical profession and the financial professional… there should be a similar program for engineers” (17). Think this brings up a very thought-provoking idea, as continuous training could remind engineers of their guiding principles and reduce further cases of negligence in the future. I think that a Professional Engineering certificate should need to be renewed every 5-10 years in order to make sure the engineer is reminded of the ethic ties they have while being a professional engineer. This would also make the title of a professional engineer much more honourable. As mentioned previously, the Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers is living document that is always evolving over time, and an article could be added to the document which would enforce a training and update of professional engineering every few years to allows engineers to be up to date with the Code of Ethics. In turn, this would potentially prevent further cases of negligence and ensure that engineers who train new Engineers in Training (EIT’s) are instilling the core values from the Code; a high standard of honour and integrity, high degree of competence and a fidelity to the public. A report was conducted by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, which stated that “Ontario’s licensed engineers will lose credibility in the eyes of public… if PEO does not establish an effective continuing professional development program” (18). This emphasizes the need to update the Code of Ethics, to ensure more compliance, which could prevent more cases of negligence in the future.
Although the disaster of the Quebec bridge opened a lot of eyes, and helped to develop the Engineering Code of Ethics, major engineering failure continue to occur with recent examples such as the Lac-Megantic Disaster in 2013. This shows the need for an ever-evolving Engineering Code of Ethics, which helps to put more pressure on engineers and their companies to avoid cutting corners of a project, and to take full responsibility for their actions. This will in turn create a better and more abundant engineering future for everyone. The Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers in Ontario is a great example of how far engineers have come and how much further we need to go in order to keep the public safe as the technology continuously evolves and then need for competent engineers grows. Article 1 of the Code of Ethic for Professional Engineers is the most important article in the code. The examples discussed through the paper demonstrate why this article exist and where it takes place. Being an engineer comes with a great amount of responsibility, and by holding engineers to a high degree of work, by keeping them accountable for their work, it helps create better engineers for the future.
1 Professional Engineers Ontario, How We Protect the Public.
2 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1)(ii, iii, v). Government of Ontario
3 Professional Engineers Ontario, Become a P.Eng. / Requirements for Licensure.
4 C.C. Schneider, Royal Commission Quebec Bridge Inquiry (Order of Parliament, 1908), 48 https://archive.org/details/reportandplansa01schngoog
5 Eda Kranakis, Fixing the Blame: Organizational Culture and the Quebec Bridge Collapse (University of Ottawa, 2005), 188 https://muse.jhu.edu/article/172990/pdf
6 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1)(v). Government of Ontario
7 Scientific American, The Quebec Bridge Disaster (Scientific American, 1907), 185-187 http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/docview/126839183?pq-origsite=summon&accountid=15115
8 Cynthia Pearson and Norbert Delatte, Collapse of the Quebec Bridge, 1907 (Cleveland State University), 2006 http://ascelibrary.org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/doi/full/10.1061/%28ASCE%290887-3828%282006%2920%3A1%2884%29
9 Engineers Canada, Guidelines on the Code of Ethics., 2012. Accessed February 8, 2017. https://engineerscanada.ca/sites/default/files/guideline_code_with_1.pdf 1 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1). Government of Ontario
10 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1)(v). Government of Ontario
11 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1)(iii). Government of Ontario
12 Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, 1990, R.R.O. Reg. 941, s.77(1)(ii). Government of Ontario
13 Zixcorp, 2017
14 Elan Ruppel Shell, First, do no harm: lack of understanding often results in the misprescription of drugs, 1988
15 Russell Morgan (Zixcorp), interview with the author May 2017
16 Russell Morgan (Zixcorp), interview with the author May 2017
17 Russell Morgan (Zixcorp), interview with the author May 2017
18Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, Continuing Professional Development, 2013, https://www.ospe.on.ca/public/documents/advocacy/2013-maintaining-enhancing-engineering-capability.pdf
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