Engineering is recognizedas a profession, whereby those practicing are licensed and have specializedknowledge, obtained through education and training, used to ensure the public’ssafety and welfare. As part of the engineering profession, engineers are a self-governingbody, which disciplines any misconduct or wrongdoing, and agree to follow a specifiedCode of Ethics. Integral aspects of an engineer’s obligations are the safetyand welfare of the public. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, safety is “astate in which … you are … not in danger or at risk” 2 while welfare isdefined as “physical and mental health and happiness.” 3 Therefore, publicsafety encompasses the removal of any possible hazards that may cause harm toan individual and to ensure the protection of their life, property andenvironment.
This would include, forexample, being certain that structures will remain standing after constructionand long enough to be evacuated in case of a disaster. Another example could beconstructing machinery, such as airplanes, which function as intended but arestringent with regards to their design in order to meet safety regulations. Publicwelfare, such as the quality of life and well-being of individuals, is a more abstractconcept. Considering public welfare could mean assessing the air quality withinbuildings so that it contains nothing toxic to the occupants, or ensuring theoccupants have access to basic needs such as water and heat. Mandates for bothsafety and welfare are focused on the public. This is because the mainobligation of engineers is to safeguard the end-users, which is often thepublic but can also include the environment. All the basic tenets of EngineersCanada’s Code of Ethics have at their core the health, safety and welfare ofthe public . The following paragraphs will discuss these tenets and obligations,as well as their implications to engineers.
As stated in Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience: Practice and Ethics,”the most basic professional duty is to protect the public.” 5 The many otherobligations all circle back to ensure this duty is withheld. Engineers, as with everyother citizen, are bound by the law. As part of a self-governing body, professionalengineering associations in each province and territory have developed additionalregulations and a code of ethics their members are bound to and must follow.This includes the Professional Engineers Act 1, as well as codes andstandards. All of these have been put in place by the authoritative bodies toensure public safety and welfare.
The codes and standards were developed as theminimum mandatory requirements for design, and all engineers should strive to exceedthe requirements for public safety and welfare beyond what is prescribed. An important obligationis the duty to inform 5. This is done throughinforming the client, employer, regulatory agencies, and/or the public of thepossible harm that could occur if the recommendations made by the engineer wereto be not implemented as stated. Clear and honest communication of theconsequences of neglecting to heed the engineer’s recommendation is crucial whenpublic safety and welfare is at stake.
Those making the final decisions may nothave the specialized knowledge the engineer who was responsible for the designhas. Without the knowledge put forward regarding consequences, they may ignoreor overrule the recommendations made by the engineer. It is the engineer’s dutyand of utmost importance that the harm caused by such a mistake is communicatedclearly and effectively.
Since an engineer’sprimary duty is to the public, there are times when they must be a ‘whistleblower.’If an engineer observes any illegal or unethical decisions or practices made,it is their responsibility to report such activities to the appropriateassociation or regulatory agency. While they must remain loyal to their clientsand employers, public safety and welfare is paramount and therefore takesprecedence. An engineer, knowing there is a fault in the design of a structurehas an ethical and legal responsibility to bring forward that information. Ifthe engineer fails to do so, there are potential issues affecting the safety ofthe public for which they must be held accountable for not reporting theirknowledge of said issues.Two duties outlined in thenational Code of Ethics are risk management and due diligence . These requirethe evaluation of every possible risk and mode of failure.
When a risk, orhazard, is noted, it is the engineer’s duty to implement a mitigation strategy toaddress it. If the removal of the risk is not possible, a contingency plan mustbe put in place to reduce the possibility of injury. It is the engineer’sresponsibility to ensure that at every stage of construction, the building issafe. Plans for construction would include safety considerations to preventcollapse and accidents. Risk management and due diligence demand a significantamount of time and work, especially when multiple modes of failures are possible.Engineers working within a company or for clients can sometimes be asked – orpressured – by those in higher positions to work faster or seal documents they havenot had the chance to thoroughly review. As part of their professional duty tothe public, engineers must not succumb to these pressures and must diligently performtheir tasks to the best of their ability.
Part of an engineer’sobligation is to only accept work in areas where they are competent and forwhich they have been trained. Beinglicensed as a professional engineer does not mean that the individual hasknowledge regarding every aspect of engineering. An engineer should know thelimits of their area of expertise and direct any of the work beyond thatexpertise towards an appropriate specialist. This ensures that the work is doneby someone competent and able to take responsibility for the safety of thataspect of the project. Engineers are also required to remain informed of newdevelopments in their field of expertise and maintain their competence bycontinually advancing their knowledge. The duty to ensurepublic safety and welfare spans more than just the present. Engineers must beaware of the consequences their decisions will have on the society andenvironment, present and future.
This is why one of the tenets outlined in the Codeof Ethics is that sustainability is considered within each engineering project.The safety and quality of life of future generations must also be consideredwhenever current engineering decisions are made. Therefore, it is important to besensible in making decisions which encompass sustainability.
This could mean usingrenewable resources for construction and energy, or creating innovative designsthat help to reduce the impact on the planet by reducing carbon emissions,waste or any other method. In the sameway that engineers must inform the client of any risks in overrulingrecommendations, engineers must also inform stakeholders about the potential impactstheir design will have on society and the environment. An engineer must havethe foresight to consider how climate change and other changing environmentaland societal factors will impact the design of structure. They must incorporateinto their design components which will allow the structures to withstand thesefactors, ensure their longevity.
Engineers should be fiercein ensuring that their organization meets or exceeds the standards set in theProfessional Engineers Act. Any failure discovered by an engineer, whetherduring the design process, the development or after the work have beencompleted, must be corrected at any expense. It is easier and less expensive todesign for public safety and welfare before they become issues.
Engineering hasincorporated this into their profession by making safety and welfare paramountto any other obligation. The tenets within the Code of Ethics should beinherent to any engineer. They must abide by the law, codes and standards set byauthoritative bodies. It is their duty to inform the client and/or employer ofthe possible consequences of overruling their recommendations, and they must reportany illegal or unethical decisions or practices to the regulatory authorities.Engineers must assess and minimize every risk, and they must do their duediligence by evaluating all the modes of failure.
Documents and plans shouldonly be sealed by an engineer that has thoroughly reviewed them. Engineersshould only accept work within their limit of expertise, and they shouldmaintain their competence through continued education. Their obligations includesustainable development which will ensure the safety and welfare of futuregenerations. All of the duties outlined in Engineers Canada’s Code of Ethicsand within the Professional Engineers Act have as their primary focus thesafety and welfare of the public.