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In small and large ways, the engineer is often confronted with situations in which ethics plays
a role. How can we know how to act ‘correctly’ in these situations?
In contrast to the legal liability an engineer may incur as a result of intentional or unintentional
acts that cause injuries, property damage, or economic loss, this chapter examines the basic
rightness or wrongness of actions from an ethical or moral standpoint. At the outset, we note
that it is sometimes difficult to partition the two issues in a particular situation. Certainly an
action can be both legally and morally wrong, and we sometimes tend to think of the two matters
as one. But, as with apartheid, it is also possible for an action to be legally right but morally
wrong, and there are also possibilities where we consider something morally right but the law
determines to carry some legal liability. Despite the tendency to commingle professional liability
and professional ethics, the engineer is urged to consider them separately when confronting a
particular decision.
We must not become complacent, especially since we are far from perfect, as attested to by the
fiascoes that occur from time to time, and also since most all engineers report that ethical
considerations are at least occasionally a part of their decision making. We begin with some
distinctions and definitions about morality and ethics and a discussion of personal morality as
related to social justice and workplace issues. Then we review some information about codes
of ethics and the three primary, sometimes conflicting, interests to which such codes usually
speak. A major section deals with a number of ethical issues, including conflict of interest,
contributions, whistleblowing, and confidentiality, as well as some global issues including
environmental ethics and national defence. At the end, we consider the engineering manager’s
responsibility for ethics and offer some hope for the engineer about to be faced with ethical
considerations in the real world.
It is my belief that there are absolutes when it comes to personal morality and the application
of personal standards to the professional workplace. In an era when everything seem relative,
it may be a source of either strength or frustration to approach the workplace with the view that
some things are wrong, no matter what.
17.1 Morality and ethics
The terms morals and ethics are often used interchangeably, both denoting something about
good or right as opposed to bad or wrong, We commonly speak of an ethical or moral person
or action without distinguishing between the adjectives. One basis for ethical and moral
behaviour is
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Golden Rule
Confucius is supposed to have replied, when asked for a single word to guide one’s life
Is not reciprocity such a word? Confucius
It is possible that ethical and moral principles may not have corresponding legal obligations;
there may be no legal requirement for you to report a cheating fellow employee or an
environmental violation, for example. But those traditional values of honesty, integrity, and
concern for the rights and needs of others are still excellent guidelines for ethical decisions for
professional engineering situations, as they are in one’s personal life.
Even though the two terms are commonly used interchangeably, it is helpful to distinguish
between them.
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Morality is concerned with conduct and motives; the difference between right and wrong, good
and evil.
Ethics is the philosophical study of morality; moral science or philosophy.
Thus, ethics is a framework, or an approach, that helps us to study moral dilemmas and arrive
at an acceptable course of action. Moral values, on the other hand, are those standards or
patterns of choice that guide us toward satisfaction, fulfilment or meaning.
If ethics has something to do with a system for evaluating choices that involve moral values,
then engineering ethics can be defined as:
9 The study of the moral issues and decisions confronting individuals and organizations
involved in engineering.
9 The study of related questions about moral conduct, character, ideals and relationships
of people and organizations involved in technological development.
What is the proper basis for making ethical choices? In other words, what makes some actions
right and others wrong? Ever since the time of Socrates, philosophers have argued this vital
but elusive question. Five primary theories seem to have emerged.
Utilitarianism: Holds that actions that produce the greatest utility ought to be chosen. Good and
bad consequences are the only relevant moral considerations. Our actions should result
in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Duty ethics: A system under which there are certain duties to be performed, without
consideration of the consequences. Such universal moral imperatives as ‘Do not lie’,
‘Do not steal’ and ‘Be fair’ are always ‘right’, even though they may not produce the
greatest good.
Rights ethics: Views actions as wrong if they violate certain fundamental moral rights.
Virtue ethics: Distinguishes between right and wrong actions depending on whether they
support good or bad character traits (virtues or vices). The emphasis is on the morally
good person, rather than right actions. Those actions are right because they build good
Environmental ethics: A modern concept, developed in the mid-twentieth century. Whereas
the other approaches include only people in the ‘moral community’, this concept
broadens the outlook to involve plants, animals, and even inanimate objects.
Environmental ethics can be utilitarian, wherein a right action is that which promotes the
greatest overall good, or duty-based, in which case there are some absolute wrongs with
respect to the overall community including the environment.
Is it possible to teach morality and ethics? As ethics is considered a moral science or
philosophy, then engineers can be taught to think ethically, just as they can be taught to think
scientifically of philosophically. On the other hand, we cannot teach what is right or wrong,
except by example. We must be role model for the student, providing a set of moral values,
which complement other role models such as parental, cultural and societal.
Engineering itself is not free of value judgements: acceptance of scientific knowledge as truth
involves an understanding of what is meant by truth. Truth is not what is, but the understanding
of what is opens the door to truth. Fact and value are distinct concepts that are not always
possible to separate. An engineering education is not so much concerned with facts, but rather
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the identification and collection of data that can be assembled and turned into information. The
subjective evaluation of this information produces the knowledge that the engineer seeks. The
aim of teachers is to guide and influence learners who emerge with attitudes and values instilled
by teachers. There is a moral responsibility on teachers to ensure that their personal attitudes
and values do not negate their teaching.
17.2 Codes of ethics
One of the characteristics of the professions that distinguishes them from other human
endeavours is the habit of developing codes of ethics to guide the actions of their members.
In this section, we list the various roles played by such codes, describe how they are structured,
discuss modes of enforcement, and report recent changes in some codes of ethics for
The codes of ethics for engineers are intended as guidelines to protect the public, to build and
preserve the integrity and reputation of the profession, and to describe proper relations between
engineers and their employers and clients. There is no universal code for all engineering, but
there is considerable agreement as to what constitutes ethical behaviour and thus much
similarity among the several codes.
What roles are these codes of ethics expected to play? Seven prominent roles are listed here,
three of which may have negative as well as positive consequences.
Inspiration and guidance: They provide a positive stimulus for proper conduct and, to some
degree, guidance concerning obligations in particular situations.
Support: If a code has been proclaimed publicly, an engineer is able to say, ‘I am bound by the
code of ethics of my profession, which in this situation, says ...’
Deterrence and discipline: Codes are used as the formal basis for investigating allegations of
unethical conduct by professional societies and registration boards.
Education and mutual understanding: Codes are used in the classroom, in professional
meetings, and elsewhere as opportunities for professionals to ‘gather around’ the
principles and remind the participants of their obligations.
Contribution to the profession’s public image: Codes present a positive public image, depicting
a profession committed to high ethical standards. A result can be more opportunity for
self-governance and less governmental regulation.
Protecting the status quo: The ethical conventions become minimum standards of conduct,
which may be difficult to change.
Promoting business interests: Codes may unduly protect the profession at the expense of the
public and thus become self-serving.
A typical code of ethics begins with general introductory section, followed by a series of
fundamental statements or canons. Then, the canons are expanded and explained as a means
of providing guidance in particular situations. The code ends by providing a number of
fundamental canons.
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Core Concepts of Development Ethics
A Paramount responsibility to the public health, safety and welfare, including that of
future generations.
B Call attention to threats to the public health, safety and welfare, and act to eliminate
C Work through professional societies to encourage and support engineers who follow
these concepts.
D Apply knowledge, skill and imagination to enhance human welfare and the quality of
life for all.
E Work only with those who follow these concepts.
A Be honest and impartial.
B Advise employer, client or public of all consequences of work.
C Maintain confidence; act as faithful agent or trustee.
D Avoid conflicts of interest.
E Give fair and equitable treatment to all others.
F Base decisions and actions on merit, competence and knowledge, and without bias
because of race, religion, sex, age or natural origin.
G Neither pay nor accept bribes, gifts or gratuities.
H Be objective and truthful in discussions, reports and actions.
A Competence for work undertaken.
B Strive to improve competence and assist others in so doing.
C Extend public and professional knowledge of technical projects and their results.
D Accept responsibility for actions and give appropriate credit to others.
Do codes of ethics have any teeth? Can they be enforced? The answer is ‘Yes”. Professional
societies that promulgate codes of ethics have an interest in having their members abide by the
written provisions, and a responsibility for seeing that this is done. Likewise, boards of
registration often are vested by statute with authority to investigate allegations of violations of
codes of ethics. Alleged infractions of its code by members can be brought to the attention of
the professional body. In a very structured, thorough and confidential manner, the body
conducts its investigation and reports its findings. Hearings are held and penalties imposed,
if appropriate. Penalties can include a letter of reprimand with no disclosure of names, a letter
of reprimand with disclosure to the membership of the nature of the infraction and the names
of the guilty parties, dismissal from the professional body for a given number of years, or
expulsion with no possibility of later reinstatement.
Codes of ethics are an excellent source of guidance for the engineer when confronting
questions of right and wrong. They are intended to provide guidance in relations with the public,
the profession, and the employer and client.
Codes of ethics can be categorized into three key concepts as shown in the table. In the
following section we look at situations in which ethical obligations to more than one of these
groups may be in conflict.
17.3 Obligations in three sometimes conflicting directions
Keeping one’s performance closely in line with one’s professional code of ethics is not always
easy and is sometimes impossible. Even though the various elements shown in the table all
seem laudatory, closer examination reveals that they may be in conflict. If we identify the
engineer’s primary duties as being threefold, to the public, to the profession, and to the
employer or client, fulfilling a duty to one may mean being unfaithful to another.
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Consider an engineer whose employer requires that all correspondence be routed strictly ‘within
channels’. If the employee discovers a practice that is unsafe to the public and reports it to the
employer, who chooses to ignore the report, what action is proper? Should the engineer go
outside the regular communication channels to call attention to the unsafe condition? Loyalty
to the employer and concern for public safety seem to be in conflict.
Concern for the profession may militate against genuine concern for the needs of the public.
In this context, it is possible for a professional to ignore totally the larger, moral dimensions of
the professional scope of activities and yet be a paragon of virtue within the profession. In the
years under the apartheid government, civil engineers abided by the law and designed and
constructed facilities and infrastructure that helped consolidate what was considered by the
outside world as a crime against humanity. Yet these same engineers were considered to be
decent, upright citizens who upheld the code of ethics of their professional society. How many
black engineers were able to register as professional engineers, let alone join their professional
One approach to resolving the potential dilemma inherent in trying to satisfy the three elements
of the engineer’s duty is to prioritize them in the following order:
1 The effect on the welfare of the public.
2 The effect on the members of the profession and the profession as a whole.
3 Giving adequate consideration to the matter of loyalty to the employer.
17.4 Some ethical issues in development
Some types of situations that can give rise to ethical dilemmas are discussed here. By citing
major cases from engineering practice, we do not wish to leave the impression that the engineer
typically encounters dilemmas in day-to-day practice. Rather, it is more often the seemingly
minor issue that is encountered; furthermore, probably every world-scale fiasco began in some
small way.
17.4.1 Conflict of interest
Conflicts of interest can arise in a number of situations. In the broadest sense, conflict arises
whenever taking an action for a given party prevents one from meeting at least one other
obligation. For example, the interests of your employer and a supplier, a public body and your
private practice, your employer and a competitor. If you serve on a hospital board of directors,
should you seek and be granted a contract to do design services for that hospital?
The engineer is often in a position of receiving gifts from suppliers or others. While there are
probably no absolute rules for deciding what size gift is too large, consider the following
9 A supplier invites engineers to attend a free one-day seminar, including refreshments,
buffet luncheon and cocktail reception, at which advantages and disadvantages of
various of its products are to be discussed. Does attendance by an engineer constitute
unethical practice? (Not if the seminar is primarily an educational event and there is no
obligation for the engineer to specify the company’s products. However, travel
expenses to a multi-day event at a resort location would be not be considered ethical.)
9 A firm is hired to design a major highway project in another country. That government
subsequently hired the same firm to represent the country’s interest in the construction
work being undertaken by another firm. What happens when it becomes apparent that
the design is inadequate? (The firm should not allow itself to be in such a predicament.)
9 A manufacturer offers an engineer indemnification if the client would bring suit against
the engineer in the event the manufacturer’s product did not perform according to the
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client’s expectation. (The engineer has an ethical obligation not to accept the
indemnification for personal benefit.)
17.4.2 Confidentiality and employee loyalty
The apparent need to keep certain information confidential, and the obligation to remain loyal
to one’s employer, are issues that at times are one and the same, and are treated as such here.
9 An engineer who shares secret laboratory results with the employer’s competitor has
violated both confidentiality and company loyalty.
9 An engineer who informs a regulatory agency that the engineer’s employer has made
improper changes in test procedures for the sake of more favourable engine emission
test results is certainly discounting loyalty to the employer in exchange, presumably, for
a more important concern about public health.
9 The ethical obligation not to share a former employer’s trade secrets with a new
employer is a confidentiality issue that protects the former, but not the latter, employer.
It is virtually impossible not to share general knowledge, but is unethical to share trade
9 The tenants of an apartment building sued the owner to require that defects affecting
their quality of life be repaired. The owner’s attorney engaged an engineer to inspect
the building and give expert testimony that would support the owner’s position. During
the inspection, the engineer discovered serious structural defects that constituted an
immediate threat to the safety of the tenants. The attorney directed the engineer to keep
the findings confidential, as they did not cover the current brief. What should the
engineer do? (It is unethical for the engineer not to report the information directly to the
tenants and public authorities, as the public health and safety are at risk.)
17.4.3 Contributions and kickbacks
It seems impossible to give absolute guidance on the proper limits to engaging in social
relationships with those responsible for contracting with you. But certainly the payment of bribes
or kickbacks in exchange for public work is absolutely unethical. It is truly sad when the
engineer participant in such schemes justifies the action by claiming a higher loyalty to
employees (to provide them with jobs) or to family (to provide them an income) than to the
public whose resources are being diverted for personal gain.
9 A former US vice president, Spiro T Agnew, was a civil engineer and lawyer who had
assumed increasingly responsible positions in local government, awarded contracts to
engineering firms for public works projects. Certain consulting firms were given special
consideration for contracts in exchange for payments to Agnew of 5 per cent of its fees
for these projects. Several of the many participants were tried, convicted, sentenced to
fines and imprisonment, and expelled from their professional societies. Twenty years
later, Agnew resigned as vice president of the US midst charges of bribery and tax
9 A 32-year-old principal in a consulting engineering firm was approached by the county
engineer about doing highway design work for the county. A condition was that 25 per
cent of the payments to the engineer would be paid back covertly to the county
engineer. The engineer decided to go along, on the ground that it would keep staff
employed. When the authorities began investigations into the county’s contracting
practices, the engineer destroyed all records pertaining to the kickback, then turned
state witness against the county engineer, who was subsequently convicted of extortion
and sentences to a large fine and jail term. The engineer was investigated by another
government authority, suspended from the professional society, threatened with
lawsuits, and subjected to public exposure and embarrassment in front of family, friends
and colleagues.
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Are most engineers engaged in such schemes? Certainly not. But, just as we can learn much
about structural behaviour by studying examples of the small minority of structures that collapse,
so too can examples of the professional failures help to remind us of the kind of activities to be
17.4.4 Whistleblowing
A dilemma often faced by the professional is whether to ‘blow the whistle’ on an employer for
acts or situations the employee believes to be ethically improper. Professionals, because of
their superior knowledge and background in their respective areas of speciality, can find
themselves suspecting or knowing about highly sensitive situations even though a lay-person,
including the supervisor, does not. On the other hand, the employer may understand the
situation fully and still choose not to act ethically.
Whistleblowers sound an alarm from within the very organization in which they work, aiming to
spotlight neglect or abuses that threaten the public interest. The stakes are high. All know that
they pose a threat to those whom they denounce and that their careers may be at risk.
The whistleblower hopes to stop the game, but is neither referee nor coach, but blows the
whistle against his or her own team, an act seen as a violation of loyalty. In holding a position,
the whistleblower has assumed certain obligations to colleagues and clients; stepping out of
channels to level accusations is regarded as a violation of these obligations. Loyalty to
colleagues and clients comes to be pitted against loyalty to the public interest, to those who may
be injured unless the revelation is made.
Most managers have firsthand knowledge of fraud, waste or mismanagement, but few of their
companies provide effective methods for revealing and reporting such conditions. The
employee tends to be punished for reporting problems internally. Thus, ethically minded
employees tend to respond to such lack of support by taking the information outside formal
channels; for their trouble they are often transferred, demoted, suspended or forced to resign.
There are four common methods of retaliation against whistleblowers:
9 Make the dissenters, not the message, the issue.
9 Isolate the dissenters in bureaucratic Siberia, both to make an example of them and to
block their access to information.
9 Put a dissenter on a pedestal of cards: give them a problem to solve, and then make the
job impossible.
9 When the problem is not solved, fire the employee for incompetence.
There is also a monetary and personal cost, as an example a civil engineer in the US reported:
9 If you blow the whistle on your boss, you are likely to be without a job for three or four
months, and legal fees will be in the range of $30 000 to $40 000.
9 For blowing the whistle on an agency, you may expect to be out of work for one or two
years, and your legal fees may run from $125 000 to $150 000.
9 If you blow the whistle on the political administration in power, you may be off the job
four to seven years, and legal fees may be in the $400 000 to $550 000 range.
9 Another aspect of cost is personal. Friends, for example, turned on me because they
thought I had no right to imperil my family’s security by telling the truth. I found this
attitude in most people I knew.
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17.4.5 Professional conduct
This section treats both assurances by the engineer that products and services are competent
and the topic of relationships among professionals. Such issues are covered to some degree
in the typical code of ethics in paragraphs dealing with the signing of drawings, the role of the
engineer as ‘faithful agent or trustee’, and the standard injunctions against falsely injuring
another’s reputation or untruthfully criticizing another’s work.
9 An engineer designed a structure that although proper, resulted in a construction that
was deemed to be too costly. The contractor suggested changes to the design to
reduce the costs, but the engineer’s analysis of these changes indicated that the cost
of use and the maintenance costs would both increase. The engineer’s supervisor, who
was not an engineer, requested that the designer sign off the changes. No risk to public
safety and health was involved. After raising the concerns with the supervisor, the
engineer agreed to sign off the changes without further protest. Should the engineer
have signed the changes? (While no health or safety issue was involved, the engineer’s
ethical obligation to act as a faithful agent or trustee came into play: How can an
engineer be said to be acting as a faithful agent or trustee by silently assenting to a
course of action which will have serious long-term ramifications for an employer? Since
the immediate supervisor was not receptive to the engineer’s concerns, the engineer
had an obligation to advise the supervisor that the matter would be brought to the
attention of those in higher management.)
How closely must the engineer be involved in the preparation of a drawing in order for that
engineer to be ethical in signing them? The engineer does not need to be personally involved
in preparing the drawings, plans and other documents. The key requirement is that an engineer
possesses sufficient competence, assumes full responsibility for the work product and carefully
directs, controls and reviews the material prepared under the engineer’s responsible charge.
Is the engineer responsible for a bug in a computer program that produces erroneous results?
The engineer takes responsibility for the design by signing the design documents. It is the
engineer’s duty to ensure that any software being used has been properly quality assured and
produces the correct answers, within the current knowledge of engineering competence (the
limits of engineering knowledge).
To what extent is it proper to criticize the work of another engineer? The key here seems to be
whether the intent is malicious and whether the criticism is untrue or simply a matter of opinion.
There may be honest differences of opinion among equally qualified engineers in interpreting
known physical facts, and it is not unethical for engineers to offer conflicting opinions in such
17.4.6 Global issues
As the world becomes more complex, and linkages among people and systems become more
pronounced, the impact on society of the engineer’s decisions assumes increasing importance.
In doing their work as ‘social experimenters’, engineers must pay greater attention to the social
impact of their decisions.
The political environment in which some engineers work may provide challenges with respect
to the distribution of public services. The city engineer or public works director may make
decisions, or may be subject to the decisions of others, regarding public works improvements
for certain areas to the exclusion of other areas. There are laws that provide equal protection
under some circumstances, and these must be respected. Beyond that, tendencies toward
some form of subtle (and not so subtle) discrimination may be part of the environment in which
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persons in these positions must work.
We have already noted the increasing of environmental ethics as a legitimate basis for decision
making. It is not our purpose here to take a position on how badly our earth has suffered from
development and industrialization or to predict the future of ecological trends. Certainly,
environmental politics can lead to the most heated of controversies and debates, and most
engineers find themselves in the middle.
Issues include acid rain (from the sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced in burning fossil
fuels), nuclear power generation, chemical production, asbestos from mining operations, water
reservoirs that flood nesting areas, and oil spills that damage animal and plant life, as well as
the view as seen by the human eye. The code of ethics that stipulates that the engineer must
hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public will be interpreted to include the
environment as well. Surely, the traditional cost-benefit analysis will need to recognize the
benefits and costs of environmental impacts, however difficult such recognition may be.
While the threat of global war seems to have lessened, national defence and weapons
development are still major industries, and engineers continue to play major roles. Is there an
answer to this dilemma? The duty ethicist may say either ‘Thou shalt not kill’ or ‘Protect the
homeland and innocent peoples at any cost’. And the utilitarian may justify either war or no war
on the basis that the respective results are best for the overall good.
The activities of engineering firms who do business with other countries and the influences of
large, multinational corporations also testify to an increasingly interconnected world. ‘When in
Rome do as the Romans do’ suggests that a company operating in a region with different ethical
standards should drift with the local conventions. However, one can choose not to participate.
Ethical companies should not lower their standards; rather they should be role models.
17.5 Ethics and the construction manager
If an engineering organization and its employees are expected to make decisions that are
ethical, it is certainly incumbent on the construction manager to provide the proper setting. This
responsibility is both a privilege and an overwhelming challenge. The manager has an
obligation to the public, the employee, the organization, and the profession to enforce ethical
decisions and behaviour.
Primary among the ways the construction manager can instill ethical behaviour is to provide a
good example. The engineering manager demonstrates ethical behaviour by maintaining high
personal standards, when interpersonal relationships within the organization are above
reproach, when relations with associates and competitors are conducted in an atmosphere of
respect, recognition, communication and fairness, and when clients are selected because of
their ethics, contracted with on a fair basis, and told the truth about project status and problems
(rather than what they might want to hear).
As a supervisor, the construction manager must be available to discuss matters of ethical
concern with employees, to assure them that the ethical decision is always the right decision,
and to convey an attitude that assures the employees that the manager can be trusted. Beyond
setting the example, an active involvement with employees assists them in carrying out their
Finally, the construction manager can provide opportunities for education and information
exchange, by providing access to suitable resource material on engineering ethics and case
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17.6 Exercises
1 An environmental engineer employed by a state environmental protection division was
directed to prepare a construction permit for a manufacturing facility power plant. The
engineer was told by a superior to move quickly and to ‘avoid any hangups’ on the
technical issues. The engineer believed the plans as presented were inadequate
because outside scrubbers to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions had been omitted.
Without such devices, plant operation would result in air pollution under standards set
forth in clean air legislation. Thus it would be wrong to issue a permit. The engineer’s
superior believed that an alternative method would allow the plant to meet the regulatory
requirements. The engineer contacted the professional engineer’s registration authority
and was told that suspension or revocation of the engineer’s registration was a
possibility if the engineer prepared a permit to operate in a way that violated
environmental regulations. The engineer refused to issue the permit and submitted
findings to management, whereupon the department head authorized issuance of the
permit. The case was reported widely by the news media, and was being investigated
by the proper authorities. Discuss the questions:
(a) Would it have been ethical for the engineer to withdraw from further work on the
(b) Would it have been ethical for the engineer to issue the permit?
(c) Was it ethical for the engineer to refuse to issue the permit?
2 A series of roles that codes of ethics are intended to play are identified in section 2.
Which three of these roles might have negative consequences? Give an example of
3 A conflict arises between you and your supervisor. You suspect the supervisor of taking
actions that could endanger the public. You further believe that the supervisor is not
telling the truth about these actions. In trying to decide what action you should take, if
any, you remember the five theories listed in section 1. Might you possibly reach a
different conclusion depending on which theory you adopt? Explain.
4 How might the adoption of one or another of the five theories in section 1 lead to a
different management decision in the case of:
(a) Deciding whether to introduce robotic control in a manufacturing operation.
(b) Selection of a highway traffic improvement scheme.
(c) Choice of a space shuttle launch time during inclement weather.
5 Among the different activities provided by the South African Institution of Civil Engineers,
which are likely to be most important during the early phases of an engineer’s career?
In what ways might this list change during the later career phases? Why?
6 You have scheduled a crew to work the weekend to complete a task that cannot be
done during normal operating periods. This task is in the critical path of an important
larger project; thus, if the task is not completed this weekend, the whole project is likely
to be delayed by a week. Management will be aware of this shortfall because of the
costs involved in any delay. Unknown to you at the beginning of the shift, the certified
crane operator failed to report to work. The crew and their supervisor proceeded with
their work using a non-certified operator to run the crane, which is in violation of
company rules. While overseeing the work area, you note the situation. Obviously, the
crew does not feel this is a safety issue or they would not be working. You would:
_____ Immediately stop the work with the most likely result being the loss of a week in
the schedule.
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_____ Call over the supervisor, ‘slap him on the wrist’ for violating the rules, but allow
the work to continue.
_____ Walk on by.
7 Your engineering group has let contracts for a major railroad bed repair in a remote
area. Following normal procedures, tight controls on costs, specifications, and
performance dates are set. An employee then points out that the work is scheduled to
take place near the nesting place of a pair of endangered birds during the mating
season. You know that the human activity could be disruptive to the nesting birds. Your
contractor indicated that it will cost $100 000 to delay at this point and defer work until
after the nesting season. From past experience with your boss, you know that he will
not be sympathetic to spending money on that kind of ‘foolishness’. You would:
_____ Take the decision to your boss who will turn down the overrun in cost and
proceed on the original schedule.
_____ Proceed with the original schedule and hope for the best.
_____ Delay the work and cover the additional cost with extras to the contract rather
than expose a lack of foresight on your part.
_____ Delay the repair work and simply take the heat for the cost overrun.
8 You are managing a substantial project of work to be done for a municipality. The city
inspector refuses to allow release of the final payments by continually nit picking. When
confronted, the inspector broadly hints that ‘a few thousand rands for his bosses’ would
solve the problem. You bring the matter to your firm, which is pressing for a resolution
because it is costing thousands of rands for each day that passes. The next morning,
you receive an envelope marked ‘Personal and Confidential’ that has in it a few
thousand rands.
Would you pass the envelope onto the inspector? G Yes G No
9 You are completing a project management assignment that has been highly successful
for the client and your firm. In writing a summary report and checking a minor
discrepancy, you uncover an error made by the Engineering Design Department. It
looks like an honest mistake in calculation, as they are normally competent and
professional. You realize that you could have caught it earlier had you checked out the
discrepancy when it first appeared. You know enough about the design to be able to
estimate it will now cost R500 000 to make the correction, making the project over
budget and, of course, late. As designed now, there is the likelihood everything will
perform successfully. If there would be a failure, with a remote possibility of an operator
injury, an investigation could reveal the obvious design calculation error. You would:
_____ Complete the summary report, close out the project, and keep the information
to yourself.
_____ Informally notify your organization and let them decide what is appropriate.
_____ Formally notify your organization with a memo to be retained in the files.
If no action is taken, would you notify the client to work out a solution with them?
G Yes G No
10 You are required to secure three bids on work to be completed by outside contractors.
Unless there are obvious and compelling reasons, the bid must be awarded to the
lowest bidder. One firm has been very helpful in suggesting ideas and new design
concepts for the work being considered. They are competent and price their services
in the middle of the price range. From your experience you know capable contractors
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who are likely to submit lower prices and contractors who do excellent work and almost
always be at the top of the price range.
Is it ethical to secure two bids from the contractors who price their services at the high
end and the third from the contractor you favour?
11 There is a budget cut and austerity measures are announced: a hiring freeze, no
overtime pay, no salary increases in the coming year. Your promotion in grade level,
which you were led to believe was imminent, appears to be a dead issue even though
your contributions were acknowledged to be outstanding.
You have worked hard to develop a new project which, if implemented, will make the
operation significantly more efficient. Because of the obvious merit, the project is
approved but there is no additional staffing available. Therefore much of the added new
work will fall on your shoulders for at least six to eight months.
Would you continue working fifty to sixty hours per week to make the project a success
in spite of the pay situation?
Would you just ‘put in’ your forty hours and take it easy because of the short-sighted
business decisions that have been made and the unfairness of your pay situation?
12 Recalling how in ancient times the messenger, bringing bad news from the war, might
have been run through with a javelin, you fear reporting some bad information to your
boss. Press releases have been issued, the directors have been notified, and a letter
has been sent to the whole organization. Your boss looked at the PERT/CPM chart you
prepared and thought the mean expected time represented the not-to-exceed rather
than a 50% probability completion date. To be realistic, four more months need to be
added to the date announced.
You are confident that pointing out the error your boss made will result in you being
You decide to try to protect yourself by writing a memo to the public relations executive
explaining the correct technical interpretation of the analysis. You are confident that
there will be no retraction of the press releases and the bad news will not be passed on.
If trouble occurs later, your memo will serve as a defence that you tried to correct the
misinterpretation and so you cannot be blamed.
Is this a politically good tactic? Is it ethical?
13 You are working on maintenance and retrofit work for a large utility. The work is
performed under a continuous support agreement. Projects are assigned on the basis
of a sole-source negotiated agreement. The client’s engineer provides a scope of work
that is then reviewed, and a mutually agreed-upon person-hour budget is developed.
Authorization is then given on a not-to-exceed basis.
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On one such project request, the client’s engineer reviews the submitted budget and
asks you to increase the person-hours by 15 per cent. The engineer advises you that
there is some unauthorized work that is wanted in the same plant. That work scope was
rejected by the engineer’s management, but the engineer nevertheless wants it
performed, and requests that you perform the authorized work within the original budget
and provide the unauthorized service using the 15 per cent the engineer has approved.
Your management, upon being informed about the matter, tells you to do the
unauthorized work but be sure to have any reference hidden in the status and time
reporting. They also advise you that they hold you responsible for seeing that the effort
is paid for. If you bring the matter to the attention of the client engineer’s superiors, you
might find that they agreed with the engineer and directed the efforts to obtain the
unauthorized work. If so, you could lose your client. If the engineer was acting
unilaterally, the engineer would be reprimanded but probably not be replaced or
transferred. Therefore, you would probably experience difficulty in obtaining additional
work from this engineer or at least find less cooperation on future efforts. If you perform
the unauthorized work and a subsequent audit uncovers the facts, your company will be
back-charged for the amount and the client may very well cancel the continuing services
agreement. Do you
1. Keep quiet, perform the work and hope it is never uncovered?
2. Inform the engineer’s supervisor?
3. Inform the client’s director of engineering?
4. Get your CV out on the street?
14 One of your work crews accidentally shorts a main feeder; the computer fails, and other
electrical damage occurs to the system. The computer service contract covers only
normal usage and operation. The computer repair person who came to service the
system is inexperienced and cannot determine the cause of the extensive damage. You
are asked about the probable causes.
If you mention the work crew incident, you run the risk of being billed the full amount of
the repair. This would come at a bad time, when management is exercising tight
security over expenditures, especially any unnecessary expenses.
Would you tell the service person about the work crew incident and expect a budget
overrun? Would you answer any direct questions but avoid mentioning the work crew
incident as being speculative? Would you divulge the work crew information only if
required in a legal proceeding?
15 While the firm for which you work supplies for industry, some items are usable for both
military and industrial applications. An order comes to your attention involving
specifications and a mix of items that you conclude are likely to be for military use. The
documents have been issued by an overseas representative, but you learn the actual
destination is a country subject to UN sanctions. The negotiated price is unusually high
for these items.
The agent handling the sale assures you that even though this is a new customer, there
is nothing to be concerned about. The firm’s top manager tells you to stop asking
questions, indicating it is none of your business to whom sales are made.
Would you alert a government agency about a possible illegal sanctions-busting
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shipment or take some other provocative action?
16 State reasons for Construction Managers and Quantity Surveyors to abide by a strict
Code of Ethics.
17 Discuss the Code of Professional Conduct for Construction Managers and Quantity
18 Discuss the Method of Inquiry into alleged Improper Conduct of Professional Engineers.