Engineers in Organization and the Environment

posted Jun 16, 2018, 6:42 PM by jeffery jim

Morally responsible in organization without getting hurt:  This knowledge helps engineers to understand (1) how they and their managers tend to frame issues under the influence of the organization and (2) how one can act in the organization effectively, safely, and in a morally responsible way.


Organizational Culture: Customer-oriented companies, engineer-oriented companies and finance-oriented companies. Additional suggestions that should make acting ethically easier and less harmful to the employee are;

First, engineers and other employees should be encouraged to report bad news. Second, companies and their employees should adopt a position of “critical” loyalty rather than uncritical or blind loyalty. Uncritical loyalty to the employer is placing the interests of the employer, as the employer defines those interests, above every other consideration. By contrast, critical loyalty is giving due regard to the interests of the employer but only insofar as this is possible within the constraints of the employee’s personal and professional ethics. Third, when making criticisms and suggestions, employees should focus on issues rather than personalities. This helps avoid excessive emotionalism and personality clashes. Fourth, written records should be kept of suggestions and especially of complaints. This is important if court proceedings are eventually involved. It also serves to ‘‘keep the record straight’’ about what was said and when it was said. Fifth, complaints should be kept as confidential as possible for the protection of both the individuals involved and the firm. Sixth, provisions should be made for neutral participants from outside the organization when the dispute requires it. Sometimes, employees within the organization are too emotionally involved in the dispute or have too many personal ties to make a dispassionate evaluation of the issues. Seventh, explicit provision for protection from retaliation should be made, with mechanisms for complaint if an employee believes he or she has experienced retaliation. Next to the fear of immediate dismissal, probably the greatest fear of an employee who is in disagreement with a superior is that he or she will suffer discrimination in promotion and job assignment, even long after the controversy is resolved. Protection from this fear is one of the most important of employee rights, although it is one of the most difficult to provide. Eighth, the process for handling organizational disobedience should proceed as quickly as possible. Delaying resolution of such issues can be a method of punishing dissent. Sufficient delay often allows management to perform the actions against which the protest was made. Prolonging the suspense and cloud of suspicion that accompanies an investigative process also serves to punish a protesting employee, even if his or her actions were completely justifiable.


Management Decisions

The primary function of engineers within an organization is to use their technical knowledge and training to create structures, products, and processes that are of value to the organization and its customers. But engineers are also professionals, and they must uphold the standards that their profession has decided should guide the use of their technical knowledge. Thus, engineers have a dual loyalty—to the organization and to their profession. Their professional loyalties go beyond their immediate employer.

These obligations include meeting the standards usually associated with good design and accepted engineering practice. The criteria embedded in these standards include such considerations as efficiency and economy of design, the degree of invulnerability to improper manufacturing and operation, and the extent to which state of-the-art technology is used. Engineers also ascribe preeminent importance to safety. Moreover, they are inclined to be cautious in this regard, preferring to err on the conservative side in safety considerations.

The function and consequent perspective of managers is different. Their function is to direct the activities of the organization, including the activities of engineers. Managers are not professionals in the strict sense. Rather than being oriented toward standards that transcend their organization, they are more likely to be governed by the standards that prevail within the organization and, in some cases, perhaps by their own personal moral beliefs.

This perspective differs from that of engineers. Rather than thinking in terms of professional practices and standards, managers tend to enumerate all of the relevant considerations (‘‘get everything on the table,’’ as they sometimes say) and then balance them against one another to come to a conclusion. Managers feel strong pressure to keep costs down and may believe engineers sometimes go too far in pursuing safety, often to the detriment of such considerations as cost and marketability. By contrast, engineers tend to assign a serial ordering to the various considerations relevant to design so that minimal standards of safety and quality must be met before any other considerations are relevant.

These considerations suggest a distinction between what we call a proper engineering decision (PED), a decision that should be made by engineers or from an engineering perspective, and what we call a proper management decision (PMD), a decision that should be made by managers or from the management perspective. PED: a decision that should be made by engineers or at least governed by professional engineering standards because it either (1) involves technical matters that require engineering expertise or (2) falls within the ethical standards embodied in engineering codes, especially those that require engineers to protect the health and safety of the public. PMD: a decision that should be made by managers or at least governed by management considerations because (1) it involves factors relating to the well-being of the organization, such as cost, scheduling, and marketing, and employee morale or welfare; and (2) the decision does not force engineers

(or other professionals) to make unacceptable compromises with their own technical or ethical standards.

We make three preliminary remarks about these characterizations of engineering and management decisions. First, the characterizations of the PED and PMD show that the distinction between management and engineering decisions is made in terms of the standards and practices that should predominate in the decision-making process. Furthermore, the PMD makes it clear that management standards should never override engineering standards when the two are in substantial conflict, especially with regard to safety and perhaps even quality. However, what is considered a ‘‘substantial conflict’’ may often be controversial. If engineers want much more than acceptable safety or quality, then it is not clear that the judgment of engineers should prevail. Second, the PMD specifies that a legitimate management decision not only must not force engineers to violate their professional practices and standards but also must not force other professionals to do so either. Even though the primary contrast here is the difference between engineering and management decisions, the specification of a legitimate management decision must also include this wider prohibition against the violation of other professional standards. A complete characterization of a legitimate management decision should also include prohibitions against violating the rights of nonprofessional employees, but this would make the characterization even more complicated and is not relevant for our purposes. Third, engineers may often be expected to give advice, even in decisions properly made by managers. Management decisions can often benefit from the advice of engineers. Even if there are no fundamental problems with safety, engineers may have important contributions with respect to such issues as improvements in design, alternative designs, and ways to make a product more attractive.


Paradigmatic and Nonparadigmatic Examples

The characterization of the PED does not define ‘‘technical matters,’ and it certainly does not define “health” and “safety.” PMD does not fully specify the kinds of considerations that are typical management considerations, citing only “factors relating to the wellbeing of the company, such as cost, scheduling, marketing, and employee morale or welfare.’’ The characterization of the PMD requires that management decisions not force engineers to make ‘‘unacceptable compromises with their own professional standards,’’ but it does not define unacceptable.

We refer to the relatively uncontroversial examples of PEDs and PMDs as paradigmatic. The characterizations of PED and PMD provided earlier are intended to describe such paradigms. These two paradigms can be thought of as marking the two ends in a spectrum of cases. This is because (1) the decision involves issues related to accepted technical standards and (2) the decision relates in important ways to the safety of the public and therefore to the ethical standards of engineers. The choice between valves A and B is a paradigmatic PED. Comparing the decision by the two criteria in the PMD, we can say that (1) management considerations (e.g., speed of delivery, cost, and the decision as to which customers should be cultivated) are important, and (2) no violation of engineering considerations would result from either decision. Here again, rational people of good will might differ on whether management or engineering considerations should prevail.



Organizational disobedience: It is helpful to keep the following two points about organizational disobedience in mind. First, the policy that a professional employee disobeys or protests may be either specific or general. It may be a specific directive of a superior or a general organizational policy, either a single act or a continuing series of actions. Second, the employer may not intend to do anything morally wrong. For example, when an engineer objects to the production of a faulty type of steel pipe, he is not necessarily claiming that his firm intends to manufacture a shoddy product.

There are at least three distinct areas in which responsible engineers might be involved in organizational disobedience: 1. Disobedience by contrary action, which is engaging in activities contrary to the interests of the company, as perceived by management. 2. Disobedience by nonparticipation, which is refusing to carry out an assignment because of moral or professional objections. 3. Disobedience by protest, which is actively and openly protesting a policy or action of an organization.


Disobedience by Contrary Action

Engineers may sometimes find that their actions outside the workplace are objectionable to managers. Objections by managers are usually in one of two areas. First, managers may believe that a particular action or perhaps the general lifestyle of an employee reflects unfavorably on the organization. Second, managers may believe that some activities of employees are contrary to the interests of the organization in a more direct way. On the one hand, there is no doubt that an organization can be harmed in some sense by the actions of employees outside the workplace. A company that has a reputation for hiring people whose lifestyles are offensive to the local community may not be able to hire highly desirable people, and it may lose business as well.

Many managers will act strenuously when they believe they or their organizations are threatened by actions of employees outside the workplace. Therefore, two observations may be appropriate. First, some actions by employees outside the workplace harm an organization more directly than others. Second, there can be a major difference in the degree to which curtailment of an employee’s activities outside the workplace encroaches on his freedom.


Disobedience by Nonparticipation

Engineers are most likely to engage in disobedience by nonparticipation in projects that are related to the military and in projects that may adversely affect the environment. Disobedience by nonparticipation can be based on professional ethics or personal ethics. Engineers who refuse to design a product that they believe is unsafe can base their objections on their professional codes, which require engineers to give preeminence to considerations of public safety, health, and welfare. Engineers who refuse to design a product that has military applications because of their personal objections to the use of violence must base their refusal on personal morality because the codes do not prohibit engineers from participating in military projects. The basis of objections to participating in projects that engineers believe are harmful to the environment is more controversial. Some of the engineering codes have statements about the environment and some do not; when present, the statements are usually very general and not always easy to interpret.

Several things should be kept in mind about disobedience by nonparticipation: First, it is possible (although perhaps unlikely) for an employee to abuse the appeal to conscience, using it as a way to avoid projects he finds boring or not challenging or as a way to avoid association with other employees with whom he has personal difficulties. Second, it is sometimes difficult for employers to honor a request to be removed from a work assignment.


Disobedience by Protest

In some situations, engineers find the actions of the employer to be so objectionable that they believe mere nonparticipation in the objectionable activity is insufficient. Rather, some form of protest, or “whistleblowing,” is required.

This suggests two characteristics of whistleblowing: (1) One reveals information that the organization does not want revealed to the public or some authority, and (2) one does this out of approved channels.

Whistleblowing is morally permissible if: 1. the harm that ‘‘will be done by the product to the public is serious and considerable’’; 2. the employees report their concern to their superiors, and; 3. ‘‘getting no satisfaction from their immediate superiors, they exhaust the channels available’’ within the organization

whistleblowing is morally obligatory if: 1. the employee has ‘‘documented evidence that would convince a responsible, impartial observer that his view of the situation is correct and the company policy is wrong’’; and 2. the employee has ‘‘strong evidence that making the information public will in fact prevent the threatened serious harm.’’


Three Attitudes toward the Environment

The first attitude is what we call the sub-minimal attitude. Industries in this group do as little as is possible—and sometimes less than is required—in meeting environmental regulations. They often have no full-time personnel assigned to environmental concerns, devote as few financial resources as possible to environmental matters, and fight environmental regulations.

The second attitude is what we call the minimalist or compliance attitude. Firms adopting this orientation accept governmental regulation as a cost of doing business but often without enthusiasm or commitment. There is often a great deal of skepticism about the value of environmental regulation.

A third attitude is what we call the progressive attitude. In these companies, being responsive to environmental concerns has the complete support of the CEO. The companies have well-staffed environmental divisions, use state-of-the-art equipment, and generally have good relationships with governmental regulators. The companies generally view themselves as good neighbors and believe that it is probably in their long-term interests to go beyond legal requirements because doing so generates good will in the community and avoids lawsuits.



10 principles:

1. Protection of the biosphere. Reduce and make progress toward the elimination of any environmentally damaging substance and safeguard habitats and protect open spaces and wilderness, while preserving biodiversity. 2. Sustainable use of natural resources. Make sustainable use of renewable natural sources, such as water, soils, and forests, and make careful use of nonrenewable resources. 3. Reduction and disposal of wastes. Reduce and, if possible, eliminate waste, and handle and dispose of waste through safe and responsible methods. 4. Energy conservation. Conserve energy and improve the energy efficiency of all operations, and attempt to use environmentally safe and sustainable energy sources. 5. Risk reduction. Strive to minimize the environmental, health, and safety risks to employees and surrounding communities, and be prepared for emergencies. 6. Safe products and services. Reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use, manufacture, or sale of products and services that cause environmental damage or health or safety hazards, and inform customers of the environmental impacts of our products or services. 7. Environmental restoration. Promptly and responsibly correct conditions we have caused that endanger health, safety, or the environment, redress injuries, and restore the environment when it has been damaged. 8. Informing the public. Inform in a timely manner everyone who may be affected by the actions of our company that affect health, safety, or the environment, and refrain from taking reprisals against employees who report dangerous incidents to management or appropriate authorities. 9. Management commitment. Implement these principles in a process that ensures that the board of directors and chief executive officer are fully informed about environmental issues and fully responsible for environmental policy, and make demonstrated environmental commitment a factor in selecting members of the board of directors. 10. Audits and reports.


Two Modest Proposals

We believe that professional engineering obligations regarding non-health-related issues can best be handled in terms of two proposals: 1. Although engineers should be required to hold paramount human health in the performance of their engineering work (including health issues that are environmentally related), they should not be required as professionals (i.e., required by the codes) to inject non-health-related environmental concerns into their engineering work. 2. Engineers should have the right to organizational disobedience with regard to environmental issues, as this is required by their own personal beliefs or their own individual interpretations of what professional obligation requires.


The first proposal embodies the idea that a minimal conception of professional obligation to safeguarding the environment should be incorporated into professional codes. The second proposal assumes that individual engineers may have a conception of what it is for them to act as professionals that is not a consensus view, or that they may have personal beliefs about the environment unconnected with their professional obligations.


Rights to disobedience

First, engineers should have the right to disobedience by contrary action with regard to environmental issues; that is, they should have the right to promote their personal beliefs or their own individual interpretations of what professional obligation requires, including their beliefs about the environment, outside the workplace. Second, engineers should have the right to disobedience by nonparticipation with regard to environmental issues; that is, they should have the right to refuse to carry out assignments they believe are wrong, including environmentally related assignments. Third, engineers should have the right to disobedience by protest with regard to environmental issues; that is, they should have the right to protest employer actions they believe to be wrong, including actions they believe are harmful to human health or the environment.