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Ethical issues in engineering design: safety and sustainability

Enter keyword or title. Publication Title. Start Page. Advanced Search. Engineering Ethics: Ethical Challenges for Robotic and Automation Engineers Course Description: This tutorial is designed to introduce engineers who work in the fields of robotics and automation to ethical considerations and codes of ethics. Intentional leadership development and institutional integrity are linked. We create tools and resources to support both. We also offer workshops and MOOC-based coursework devoted to ethical leadership, intentional professional development in a range of settings, and coping with challenges in the rapidly changing environment of higher education, here in the U.

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Was this page helpful? The UK has suffered its share of engineering disasters. Few have given rise to issues comparable to the space-shuttle Challenger. Many, however, have revealed deep-seated management problems, particularly a succession of serious railway accidents which have been fully investigated and reported. The guidelines were offered to the professional Institutions for consideration. The guidelines state that many organisations have established procedures and that engineers should work within those procedures where they exist.

The guidelines emphasise the need for the engineer to stay within his or her existing framework of responsibility by passing on warnings to others in a position to take action and to those ultimately responsible for resolving the situation. Individual engineers are encouraged to consult others or obtain guidance from the relevant chartered engineering institution. The notes state that informal warnings should be followed by a formal written statement and that this process may involve senior executives or ministers.

Guidelines and notes are, however, infused with concern about legal liability as well as confidentiality.

Engineering Ethics: Ethical Challenges for Robotic and Automation Engineers

The papers published in the volume of proceedings bear out the complexity of any real life situation in which an engineer is faced with the burden of passing on a warning of perceived danger. The papers indeed demonstrate the way in which even well-expressed principles and guidance can be of little assistance when faced with the need for practical action. The most valuable contribution to the collection is a paper by the late Dr Edmund Hambly FREng, 9 describing two situations in which, as an independent consultant, he had been driven to act. He describes the difficulties that lay in the path of attaining appropriate action, inevitably involving serious economic consequences.


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Despite this, a series of collapses in the s still took the industry and the public by surprise. The Royal Academy of Engineering Draft Guidelines for warnings of preventable disasters are endorsed by the SCOSS report, which discusses three types of situation in which professional engineers can find themselves under a duty to warn or to heed warnings.

Code Addresses New Ethical Challenges

These are:. It is emphasised that in all these situations the engineer must deal with each of the questions:. The report points out that there is a corresponding duty on persons to heed warnings both in the immediate and in the long term, and also to consider the significance of warning in relation to other projects.

The question of warning of preventable disasters gives rise to many further issues, some of which are now considered. If an engineer takes it upon him- or herself to deliver a warning to the public in relation to issues of safety or environment, they expose themselves to personal risks beyond the threat of legal proceedings. The actions by engineers in such circumstances have given rise to major activity in the field of engineering ethics in the USA.

While extensive state and federal legislation exists in the USA, 11 publications on ethical issues report numerous cases of hardship following loss of employment and other forms of victimisation. It is abundantly clear from the American experience that engineers acting in pursuit of a supposed public duty are not necessarily perceived as heroes and there seem few instances of appropriate recognition being accorded to them. In England relief is now available in such circumstances through the Public Interest Disclosure Act These include information which, in the reasonable belief of the employee, tends to show one or more of the following:.

Engineering Ethics: Ethical Challenges for Robotic and Automation Engineers

In most cases the employee is obliged to go first to his employer but in some circumstances may go over his head. These include where the worker reasonably believes he will suffer a detriment if he goes to the employer or that evidence will be concealed. Going direct to the public might also be justified where the matter is of an exceptionally serious nature.


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  6. Where a disclosure is protected the employer is prohibited from subjecting the employee to detriment, dismissing him or making him redundant on the grounds of the disclosure. The effect of the English Act remains to be established. The importance of disclosure, and the adverse consequences which may flow, dictate that all other avenues should be explored to find more satisfactory means of passing on significant information. The most useful procedures presently available take the form of limited confidential reporting systems.

    Such reporting does not guarantee either publicity or action, but does have the advantage of informality and avoids accusations of disloyalty. The 13th Report of SCOSS noted the existence of proposals for a confidential reporting system for the construction industry and that such systems had been developed in other sectors, particularly in air transport 14 and in shipping.

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    In the wake of the highly publicised Ladbroke Grove accident in October , the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System CRIAS was regarded as a crucial element in the maintenance of safety on the railways and of regaining public confidence. Although the system is now well established there is, as yet, no indication of a measurable affect on statistical trends in the incidence of accidents.

    Indeed, the nature of confidential reporting systems is such that they are unlikely to prove an appropriate vehicle for dealing with major shortcomings in design or management. At a different level, SCOSS itself welcomes warnings from engineers relating to long-term dangers, which it may pursue. However, where an engineer becomes aware of facts which might lead to imminent disaster there is little alternative to the more direct procedure discussed above and illustrated by the examples quoted from the paper by Dr Hambly.

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    Given the difficulties faced by individual engineers in regard to disclosure, it is to be expected that the Institutions will themselves consider action in support of engineers who do publish warnings. As a result of pioneering activities within the ethics movement in the USA, it seems that such action is available in the form of amicus curiae or intervention proceedings in an existing court action relating to the issue.

    The existing action has usually comprised action by the engineer following dismissal, but it might also involve proceedings against the engineer, as already discussed, to restrain disclosure.