What is seen as engineering ethics in South Africa and how does this ethics apply within the industry according to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)? In general ethics would be the moral values a person has and how that person can apply these values to distinguish between right and wrong in concepts of systematizing, recommending and defending. In an engineering field this concepts would be applied in an engineering work environment where for example designing of projects and meetings with superiors is done in a systematic manner, the defending of work and positions will be dealt with in a respectful way and recommendation would be given to help solve problems and guide less experienced engineers on a more successful path.
Michael Josephson ones said that among the universal ethical values are integrity, honesty, promise-keeping, fairness, fidelity, respect for others, pursuit of excellence, responsible citizenship and accountability. Although these ethical values would be applied in all life situations and the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) does not require or mention all of these values in the code of conduct for registered persons, all of these ethical values would also apply in the engineering industry in one or more ways. If an engineer can live and work up to these values, he/she would be an asset to the industry.
In an engineering field the best interest of people as well as their lives would rest in the hands of the engineer. For this reason, an engineer should have good engineering ethics and learn from previous mistakes because if this is not the case, bad consequences can follow or even death in certain situations. To understand the importance of engineering ethics and how it can influence the life of people, a case study done by ECSA in 2012 can be used in which an engineer did not live up to the required engineering ethics.
Case study no. 2012/1: The consequences of the collapse of portion of a three-storey office block structure. For this case study the problem statement for the project at hand was design and build a three-storey office block which consists of reinforced concrete structure, comprising spread footings, floor slabs and basement retaining walls. The cross-sectional area of the building’s footprint was approximately 75m x 40m. The structure of the building comprised of a parking basement with two office floors above the basement and had a tiles roof supported by timber trusses resting on external walls. During construction of the building, while placing the roof tiles and building the internal brick wall, the reinforced concrete structure collapsed over half the cross-section of the building. This incident caused thirteen workers to be reported injured, one worker killed and another missing in the incident. The department of labour and ECSA immediately got involved and started to investigate the incident.
During the investigation of the incident, a few problems were found within the designs and the actual building. Firstly, the engineer signed a “A19” form of local authority which states that the person in concern confirms that he takes responsibility for the design, but there were no design drawings for the design and the design calculations could not be retrieved. Also, there were openings in the floor slabs that were not considered when the designing was done, and no geotechnical investigation was done for the foundation design, there were only assumptions made. Another problem found was that the engineer relied on verbal instructions on site and the engineer did his own checking’s on calculations and details.
This incident occurred because of oversight and lack of communication, as the designing was not properly checked, and the necessary documents wasn’t disclosed with the workers or site manager. This situation would have been avoided if the engineer in concern followed the engineering code of ethics which is provided by ECSA.
The code of conduct for engineers has a brief section on ethics that gives a better understanding of engineering ethics within South Africa and how ECSA views these ethics. In the Rules of Conduct for registered persons: Engineering Profession Act, 2000 (Act No 46 of 2000), Section 36 from ECSA, there is some main ethical values that is mentioned which each registered person should adhere to in order to become a viable engineer in South Africa. These values are competency, integrity, public interest, environment and dignity of profession and within these main ethical values there are some other ethics mentioned such as fidelity, honesty, diligence and more.
Competency- This is normally the ability to be sufficient and successful in any task or assignment that’s being done. Being competent in the workplace means that in some degree a person can perform a task or skill with the required level of proficiency. In terms of ECSA’s code of conduct, the ethic value of competency refers to that an engineering professional should discharge his/her duties towards their clients, employers, associates and the public with care, skill and diligence. This also states that a registered person should only pursuit work their education, skill and experience renders them to be competent in.
Integrity- In terms of ethics, integrity means to be honest and have strong moral values. In other words it can be said that it is doing the right thing in a reliable way. According to ECSA’s code of conduct, integrity would refer to discharging engineering duties and opinions to clients, co-workers and public with honesty, dignity and based on facts. Also it refers to not engaging in work or activities that will generate conditions and terms which will compromise the ability to carry out the responsibilities in accordance with the norms of the profession. According to ECSA, a registered person should also avoid situations of dishonesty, bribery and corruption and situations where a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest can rise.
Public interest- This will normally indicate public welfare. Thus public interest in terms of ethics in engineering would be to do a study on how the public would react on a certain project and how the project will affect everyone within the project. ECSA’s vie on public interest according to the code of conduct would be that a registered person would have due regards to the health, safety and interest of the public. Also whenever an engineer offers professional advice to a client or employer and these information is not accepted or taken on with the necessary seriousness, it is the responsibility of the engineer to emphasize the consequences and risks in terms of health, safety and public interest.
Environment- In terms of ethics, environment would refer to the good welfare of the human environment as well as the non-human environment. In terms of engineering, this would mean that any project that is been undertake should have in one or more ways considered the environment in which the project will take commence and either be an improvement on the environment or not change the environment at all. Therefore, as stated by ECSA in the code of conduct, the work of an engineer should be of such that it avoids or minimizes any negative impact on the environment. Also, an engineer is required to think towards future generations, so that the needs in the present does not compromise the future needs.
Dignity of profession- According to ECSA, an engineer should uphold the dignity, standing and reputation of a professional engineer. Also, an engineer may not knowingly in their practice or profession, injure the professional reputation nor the reputation of a company or firm they are associated with. A registered engineer also may not advertise their work skill or abilities in a misleading or exaggerating manner which can hurt the reputation of the profession.
In extend, any profession has a learning curve and the curve is created by failures and by improving on these failures. As an engineer it is crucial to have the minimum amount of failures and to learn from the ones that were made. An engineer would constantly work with people and most of the time have these people’s lives in their hands, therefore it is important to have some sense of morality and guide to do good in the world and this is achieved by engineering ethics. It can be said that engineering ethics is the values, issues and decisions that is made within an engineering field. Thus, engineering ethics is an important tool to become a successful and professional engineer.