Engineering professional duty is to protect the public.” [5]

Engineering is recognized
as a profession, whereby those practicing are licensed and have specialized
knowledge, obtained through education and training, used to ensure the public’s
safety and welfare. As part of the engineering profession, engineers are a self-governing
body, which disciplines any misconduct or wrongdoing, and agree to follow a specified
Code of Ethics. Integral aspects of an engineer’s obligations are the safety
and welfare of the public. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, safety is “a
state in which … you are … not in danger or at risk” 2 while welfare is
defined as “physical and mental health and happiness.” 3 Therefore, public
safety encompasses the removal of any possible hazards that may cause harm to
an individual and to ensure the protection of their life, property and
environment.  This would include, for
example, being certain that structures will remain standing after construction
and long enough to be evacuated in case of a disaster. Another example could be
constructing machinery, such as airplanes, which function as intended but are
stringent with regards to their design in order to meet safety regulations. Public
welfare, such as the quality of life and well-being of individuals, is a more abstract
concept. Considering public welfare could mean assessing the air quality within
buildings so that it contains nothing toxic to the occupants, or ensuring the
occupants have access to basic needs such as water and heat. Mandates for both
safety and welfare are focused on the public. This is because the main
obligation of engineers is to safeguard the end-users, which is often the
public but can also include the environment. All the basic tenets of Engineers
Canada’s Code of Ethics have at their core the health, safety and welfare of
the 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 other
obligations all circle back to ensure this duty is withheld.

Engineers, as with every
other citizen, are bound by the law. As part of a self-governing body, professional
engineering associations in each province and territory have developed additional
regulations and a code of ethics their members are bound to and must follow.
This includes the Professional Engineers Act 1, as well as codes and
standards. All of these have been put in place by the authoritative bodies to
ensure public safety and welfare. The codes and standards were developed as the
minimum mandatory requirements for design, and all engineers should strive to exceed
the requirements for public safety and welfare beyond what is prescribed.

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An important obligation
is the duty to inform 5. This is done through
informing the client, employer, regulatory agencies, and/or the public of the
possible harm that could occur if the recommendations made by the engineer were
to be not implemented as stated. Clear and honest communication of the
consequences of neglecting to heed the engineer’s recommendation is crucial when
public safety and welfare is at stake. Those making the final decisions may not
have the specialized knowledge the engineer who was responsible for the design
has. Without the knowledge put forward regarding consequences, they may ignore
or overrule the recommendations made by the engineer. It is the engineer’s duty
and of utmost importance that the harm caused by such a mistake is communicated
clearly and effectively.

Since an engineer’s
primary 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 appropriate
association or regulatory agency. While they must remain loyal to their clients
and employers, public safety and welfare is paramount and therefore takes
precedence. An engineer, knowing there is a fault in the design of a structure
has an ethical and legal responsibility to bring forward that information. If
the engineer fails to do so, there are potential issues affecting the safety of
the public for which they must be held accountable for not reporting their
knowledge of said issues.

Two duties outlined in the
national Code of Ethics are risk management and due diligence .  These require
the evaluation of every possible risk and mode of failure. When a risk, or
hazard, is noted, it is the engineer’s duty to implement a mitigation strategy to
address it. If the removal of the risk is not possible, a contingency plan must
be put in place to reduce the possibility of injury. It is the engineer’s
responsibility to ensure that at every stage of construction, the building is
safe. Plans for construction would include safety considerations to prevent
collapse and accidents. Risk management and due diligence demand a significant
amount of time and work, especially when multiple modes of failures are possible.
Engineers working within a company or for clients can sometimes be asked – or
pressured – by those in higher positions to work faster or seal documents they have
not had the chance to thoroughly review. As part of their professional duty to
the public, engineers must not succumb to these pressures and must diligently perform
their tasks to the best of their ability.

Part of an engineer’s
obligation is to only accept work in areas where they are competent and for
which they have been trained.  Being
licensed as a professional engineer does not mean that the individual has
knowledge regarding every aspect of engineering. An engineer should know the
limits of their area of expertise and direct any of the work beyond that
expertise towards an appropriate specialist. This ensures that the work is done
by someone competent and able to take responsibility for the safety of that
aspect of the project. Engineers are also required to remain informed of new
developments in their field of expertise and maintain their competence by
continually advancing their knowledge.

The duty to ensure
public safety and welfare spans more than just the present. Engineers must be
aware of the consequences their decisions will have on the society and
environment, present and future. This is why one of the tenets outlined in the Code
of Ethics is that sustainability is considered within each engineering project.
The safety and quality of life of future generations must also be considered
whenever current engineering decisions are made. Therefore, it is important to be
sensible in making decisions which encompass sustainability. This could mean using
renewable resources for construction and energy, or creating innovative designs
that help to reduce the impact on the planet by reducing carbon emissions,
waste or any other method.  In the same
way that engineers must inform the client of any risks in overruling
recommendations, engineers must also inform stakeholders about the potential impacts
their design will have on society and the environment. An engineer must have
the foresight to consider how climate change and other changing environmental
and societal factors will impact the design of structure. They must incorporate
into their design components which will allow the structures to withstand these
factors, ensure their longevity.

Engineers should be fierce
in ensuring that their organization meets or exceeds the standards set in the
Professional Engineers Act. Any failure discovered by an engineer, whether
during the design process, the development or after the work have been
completed, must be corrected at any expense. It is easier and less expensive to
design for public safety and welfare before they become issues. Engineering has
incorporated this into their profession by making safety and welfare paramount
to any other obligation. The tenets within the Code of Ethics should be
inherent to any engineer. They must abide by the law, codes and standards set by
authoritative bodies. It is their duty to inform the client and/or employer of
the possible consequences of overruling their recommendations, and they must report
any illegal or unethical decisions or practices to the regulatory authorities.
Engineers must assess and minimize every risk, and they must do their due
diligence by evaluating all the modes of failure. Documents and plans should
only be sealed by an engineer that has thoroughly reviewed them. Engineers
should only accept work within their limit of expertise, and they should
maintain their competence through continued education. Their obligations include
sustainable development which will ensure the safety and welfare of future
generations. All of the duties outlined in Engineers Canada’s Code of Ethics
and within the Professional Engineers Act have as their primary focus the
safety and welfare of the public. 

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