Engineering professionalism and ethics - 2014

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Class date(s): 24 November
Download video: Link [802 M]

Download video: Link [811 M]

Resources and slides

Class slides, videos, and other resources

Date Class number Topic Slides/handouts for class Video and audio files References and Notes
28 November 13D

We will cover an introduction to the PEO

  • Handout (available to you in class)


01 December 14A

We considered the use of problem solving strategy to solving engineering ethics problems.

  • The Ontario Code of Ethics for engineers (available to you in class). All other jurisdictions have a similar Code of Ethics.


  • Some ethics case studies and scenarios for you to work through. In each case can you identify the relevant section of the code that applies to all parties in the case?

Some case studies to practice with

Consider these situations (they are based on situations I have experienced, witnessed, or are actual cases). For each case answer:

  • Who are the parties involved?
  • In the Define step:
    • what is the ideal outcome? and
    • what is the current state?
  • In the Explore step:
    • what are opinions and what are facts?
    • is there a way to verify the information is consistent? (equivalent to how we would verify our sensors in process troubleshooting)
    • which sections apply from the Code of Ethics for each party involved?
  • In the Plan step:
    • is there a way to move the situation away from a win-lose scenario?
    • what alternatives can you suggest? [you should be able to suggest at least 5 feasible alternatives in each case]
    • Now evaluate each alternative by looking forward (predicting):
      • what is the potential impact if you do not take the action?
      • what is the potential impact if you do take the action?

Apply the above bullet points to each case study:

  1. Your boss asked you to use a thinner pressure vessel wall, to reduce cost, but you know that this will push you to a lower safe operating pressure, and it is likely that for short times you will operate at higher pressures.
  2. You realize your colleague, and your friend, has a drug problem, that will almost certainly influence his abilities at work. Your work is related to planning production schedules across 25 different sites in North America. Is your answer any different if your job were designing, installing and servicing SIS units for packed-bed reactors? Do you report this matter to your company and harm his career? What about human-rights issues, where your friend's health concerns should remain private? If you remain silent, and something bad happens on the job, will you be held partially responsible if you keep silent?
  3. You continually make improvements to a major process at your employer. Last week you discovered an interesting and unique way of improving reactor efficiency, but your employer has not given you raises and recognition for several years - here is a chance to start your own company and sell the technology back to them, and other similar companies.
  4. In your SDL project you discover a group member has plagiarized a section describing how the fluidized bed reactor works.
  5. You realize 5 months later that the supplier under charged for the heat exchanger; they forgot to add installation costs, and some extra piping that they delivered. Your project is already over-budget by 15%. You approved their invoice to be paid two months ago and didn't notice the omission at that time (is your answer any different if you have not paid yet?)
  6. You are requested by higher level management to downplay the level of pollutant discharged; if you report pollutants accurately, you risk having the plant shut down, losing your job, and your colleagues' jobs will certainly be cut as well. You have student loans to pay off, a house and a car payments.
  7. You work for company C; company A has developed a new rubber process in the lab for snow tires, they have contract with you, company C, to perfect the process and scale it up to high volumes. You work with one of your other clients, company B, and realize this rubber will work well for athletic tracks and field. You tell an engineer in company B about the work you are doing with A; after all, snow tires and athletic fields are as unrelated as possible.
  8. You graduate and look for jobs for many weeks. You land an interview and receive a job from company A. Two weeks later you receive positive news from company B that you had interviewed with earlier, but they didn't get back to you quickly. Company A has already started training you. Company B is your dream job, or pretty close to it. Does it matter what the salary of company B is vs A (say within a $20,000 range)?
  9. The safety system at Bhopal, in India, was known to be incapable of dealing with the quantity of methyl isocyanate in the storage tank. Some of the safety systems were turned off to save money.
  10. It's December 2004 and you are an engineer at BP, at the Texas City refinery. You review the safety systems and realize (a) the level of redundancy required between the BPCS and SIS layers are not present and (b) maintenance on the sensors have not been performed, even though the forms claim they have. What courses of action might you take? [How different is your answer, in the context of what happened on March 2005?]
  11. From the 2013 Final exam: You graduated three years ago and has been working at a polymer company PolyON since graduation. PolyON does not hold patents, but it maintains trade secrets for many processes. Not long ago, you responded to an advertisement for a position at another polymer company, PolyTO. The new company does not compete directly with PolyON in any product line. After being at PolyTO for a few months, you recognize a new application of the reactor design that you have learned at PolyON. This could be a big money maker for your new employer, and a boost to your career.

This class is not a guide to what you should do in these cases, but about how the code of ethics can highlight the problem (every case will have additional complexity). We can then brainstorm several alternative courses of action.