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Example ethical scenarios

The following example scenarios were designed to test your understanding of how to manage ethical issues. In most examples it is not always clear which response is ethical or unethical. There may also be more than one response that is ethically acceptable.

The Ethics Panel have developed each scenario's response to be in line with established ethical behaviour, as recognised by the Institution and the Engineering Council.

Please note: these scenarios do not provide direct instructions for how to manage the ethical issues you may come across.

 

01. DEALING WITH THE RISK OF STRUCTURAL FAILURE

You have discovered an error in the calculations that show a tall building designed by your firm would be at serious risk of collapse in a 50 year wind. The building is complete and occupied. The possibility exists of strengthening the building but at very significant cost to your firm.

DO YOU:

  1. Assess and conclude that the likelihood of a 50 year wind is sufficiently remote that no action is required.
  2. Tell the client that the building and the surrounding area should be evacuated until the building has been strengthened.
  3. Discuss the problem with the client and your Professional Indemnity Insurers and agree to proceed with the strengthening in as discreet a manner as possible accepting the financial consequences.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

The wellbeing of those using and around the building is paramount regardless of the costs involved.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

  1. Decide that the likelihood of a 50 year wind is fairly remote and do nothing.

RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

  • hold paramount the health and safety of others

 

 

02. DEALING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF STRUCTURAL FAILURES

You work for a sub-contractor who provides a designed structural element. Your firm’s various competitors are designing very tightly using every device to save cost. You believe that the total factor of safety is gradually being eroded and that this will eventually result in problems.

DO YOU:

  1. Match your competitors since you are continually losing out to them.
  2. Write a Viewpoint on the subject for the Structural Engineer.
  3. Submit a report to CROSS (Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety).
  4. Raise the matter with the relevant Trade Association.
  5. Raise the matter with the sub-contractor who is your client.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Saving money, but risking personal injury.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

  1. Match your competitors since you are continually losing out to them.
  2. Write a Viewpoint on the subject for the Structural Engineer.

Cannot put safety at risk to save money and this issue should be raised formally with the appropriate authorities not detailed in The Structural Engineer.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

  1. Honesty and integrity

    • act in a reliable and trustworthy manner

  2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

    • hold paramount the health and safety of others

  3. Accuracy and rigour

    • identify, evaluate, quantify and mitigate risks

  4. Leadership and communication

    • maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour


 

 

03. OBSERVING A HEALTH & SAFETY PROBLEM

A H&S problem on your site, which you observe, is reported to the contractor who takes no action.

DO YOU:

  1. Communicate clearly to the contractor regarding the unsafe practice. Follow this up in writing to the contractor and advise that you will speak to HSE unless action is taken.
  2. Notify the client and recommend remedial action/guidance.
  3. Do nothing other than advise the client and/or contractor – it’s their problem once notified.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Improper H&S practice.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

c) Do nothing other than advise the client and/or contractor – it’s their problem once notified.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

• hold paramount the health and safety of others


 

 

04. FIXTURES AND FITTINGS

You have been appointed to provide structural advice to a tenant fitting out a retail unit. Your scope is limited to specific areas of work e.g. formation of builder’s work holes, a new staircase and floor loading checks on pieces of heavy equipment. A particular shop fitting display case is very heavy but the floor is capable of supporting the load. The item has been used in over 300 stores. You are concerned that if the unit fell for any reason, seriously injuries could occur.

DO YOU:

  1. Confirm your concerns to the Client and recommend structural checks
  2. Do nothing as it is not part of your scope of works
  3. Carry out calculations to satisfy yourself the unit is safe

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

The health & safety of others.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

b) Do nothing as it is not part of your scope of works


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.

• hold paramount the health and safety of others.

2. Accuracy and rigour.

• Identify, evaluate, quantify and mitigate risks.


 

 

05. CORRUPTION/BRIBERY

A trusted supplier sends you a case of wine each Christmas.

DO YOU:

  1. Keep it.
  2. Declare it.
  3. Send a picture of it to your other suppliers to demonstrate how you should be treated.
  4. Return it explaining to the supplier why you cannot accept it.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Is it fair to accept this gift from a supplier? Others may see it as a way to gain preference.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

c) Send a picture of it to your other suppliers to demonstrate how you should be treated.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and integrity

• avoid deception and take steps to prevent or report corrupt practices or professional misconduct

• reject bribery or improper influence


 

 

06. CORRUPTION/BRIBERY

One of your colleagues has been given some regular small cash payments from a contractor. They are less than the limits in the gifts and hospitality register and they have reported them as gifts.

DO YOU:

  1. Tell them that there is a difference between cash and gifts. Cash should never be accepted.
  2. Tell them that the contractor will eventually expect some favour from them in return.
  3. Report them to your line manager (who might be doing something similar) or in accordance with any internal reporting/hotline procedure.
  4. Do nothing as the sums are small and within the limits of the hospitality register.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Your colleague should not be accepting cash payments from the contractor outside of the normal payment structure of both companies.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

d) Do nothing as the sums are small and within the limits of the hospitality register.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and integrity

• avoid deception and take steps to prevent or report corrupt practices or professional misconduct

• declare conflicts of interest

4. Leadership and communication

• maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour


 

 

07. COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

You are a technician member of the Institution. You have started work at a new firm of consulting engineers. You become aware that they use (and therefore you must use) pirated software and you have told the IT manager that this is wrong. He says that everyone does this and then ignores you.

DO YOU:

  1. Point out to the IT manager that the use of pirated software is illegal, the cost of the software would not be very great and considerable damage could be done to the reputation of the firm if they are sued.
  2. Report the issue to a director.
  3. When the director ignores you start looking for another job.
  4. Inform the company whose software has been pirated.
  5. Consider whistleblowing to Public Concern at Work: www.pcaw.co.uk

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Pirated software is theft. Furthermore, using software that does not receive official updates and support from the programmers means it may not be appropriately updated which could cause structures to be put at risk.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

d) Inform the company whose software has been pirated.

It is much better to whistle blow than informing the company whose software has been pirated.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and Integrity

• act in a reliable and trustworthy manner

2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

• respect the ownership of intellectual property

4. Leadership and communication

• maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour


 

 

08. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

You are engaged in the design of a project that involves reclaiming land from the sea. The particular area that the client wants to reclaim is inhabited by a rare species of dolphin. You have advised the client that the reclamation will have an adverse effect on the dolphins, but they ignore you.

DO YOU:

  1. Continue but tell the client that you think the World Wildlife Fund and similar bodies should be informed and you will resign if that does not happen.
  2. Alert the client to the environmental risks, possible mitigation measures and advise that relevant bodies need to be consulted.
  3. Contact the government department responsible for wildlife matters.
  4. Call Greenpeace.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Protection of the environment/endangered species.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

d) Call Greenpeace.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

• protect and improve the quality of built and natural environments

• maximise the public good and minimise both actual and potential adverse effects for their own and succeeding generations

• take due account of the limited availability of natural resources

• uphold the reputation and standing of the profession

4. Leadership and communication

• are aware of the issues that engineering and technology raise for society, and listen to the aspirations and concerns of others

• promote public awareness and understanding of the impact and benefits of engineering achievements

• maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour


 

 

09. DILEMMAS CREATED WHEN BEING ASKED TO SERVE TWO MASTERS

After doing an initial design your firm has been novated to a Design-and-Build contractor. The original client with whom you have a long-standing relationship has told you that monthly reports on the performance of the contractor are needed. The contractor who is responsible for the major remaining part of your fee has told you that he does not need or want you to visit site.

DO YOU:

  1. Tell the original client that you are working for the contractor now and cannot provide the reports.
  2. Explain the situation to the contractor and ask for his permission to visit and report.
  3. Make clandestine visits to site to be able to make confidential reports to the original client.
  4. Say nothing to your former client or the contractor and do not provide any reports.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

It is unethical to advise another person on matters that could harm your current Client (in this case the Design-and-Build contractor) even when there is or has been a previous relationship with the other person.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

c) Make clandestine visits to site to be able to make confidential reports to the original client.

d) Say nothing to your former client or the contractor and do not provide any reports.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and integrity

• declare conflicts of interest

• respect confidentiality


 

 

10. THE PUBLIC GOOD

You are retained to organise the maintenance and assess the safety of a number of bridges for a public authority. You have reported that a particular bridge has become dangerous and should be immediately and totally closed for urgent repair which will take three weeks. The politicians who have to consider the importance of the route and decide on funding priorities are not easily convinced and want to delay the repair until a less busy holiday period in three months’ time. They point out that the bridge has been carrying normal traffic until now.

DO YOU:

  1. Reluctantly give in to the pressure.
  2. Threaten to resign and go to the press.
  3. Try and agree a mitigation plan with the client (such as restricted/safe use). Consider resigning from the commission and alerting the relevant authorities.
  4. Request a second opinion. When the second opinion supports the politicians but you are still absolutely convinced of the danger, tell the authority that if it accepts the second opinion your position will be untenable and you will be resigning.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Ensuring the safety of the public is paramount, regardless of political pressure.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

a) Reluctantly give in to the pressure.

b) Threaten to resign and go to the press.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

2. Respect for life, law, the environment and public good

• hold paramount the health and safety of others

• protect and improve the quality of built and natural environments

• maximise the public good and minimise both actual and potential adverse effects for their own and succeeding generations


 

 

11. PLAGIARISM/IMPOSTURE

You attend interviews pitching for work to various potential clients with a senior member of your firm who is an Institution Member. Your senior colleague frequently presents examples of “previous” jobs that were not actually done by your firm.

DO YOU:

  1. Tell your colleague that if the client realises they will be in an uncomfortable situation.
  2. Point out to them that what they are doing is dishonest and unethical.
  3. Speak to another senior member of the firm.
  4. Continue to use the “previous” jobs in future presentations to other potential clients

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Misrepresentation of work; plagiarism.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

d) Continue to use the “previous” jobs in future presentations to other potential clients

It would be inappropriate to continue use other firms work as examples of your own.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and integrity

• avoid deception and take steps to prevent or report corrupt practices or professional misconduct

3. Accuracy and rigour

• do not knowingly mislead or allow others to be misled

4. Leadership and communication

• are objective and truthful in any statement made in their professional capacity and challenge statements or policies which cause them professional concern

• maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour


 

 

12. RESPECT FOR OTHERS (AND THE LAW)

You arrive by car for a pre-contract meeting on an extension to a hospital building. You have been driven there by the senior partner of the firm. You are late and there is no free parking space. The senior sees a place that is reserved for one of the surgeons and parks in it.

DO YOU:

  1. Tell them that if the surgeon arrives and finds that the reserved place has been taken by a structural engineer the surgeon will have a low opinion of engineers for ever after.
  2. Tell them that taking the only remaining parking space reserved for a surgeon could disrupt the function of the hospital, for example by delaying an important operation.
  3. Suggest that you go into the meeting and that they find somewhere to park some distance away while you explain the problem.
  4. As you are late for the meeting you do not voice any concerns.

Clarification and discussion points ↓

SUMMARY OF THE ETHICAL ISSUE

It would not be appropriate to use the surgeon’s space as it is theirs to use and may affect the surgeon in carrying out his duties.


INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE(S)

d) As you are late for the meeting you do not voice any concerns.


RELATIONSHIP TO ENGINEERING COUNCIL'S STATEMENT OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Honesty and integrity

• act in a reliable and trustworthy manner

4. Leadership and communication

• maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour



 

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