Responsibility in Engineering

posted Jun 16, 2018, 9:39 AM by jeffery jim   [ updated Jun 16, 2018, 9:42 AM ]

Responsibility: Obligations, Accountable, Conscientious, integrity, blameworth/praiseworth.

The most obvious way for a graduate to ease the mental transition between theory and application is to be trained to think like an engineer: Knowledge retention and recall, Comprehension, Applying knowledge to a variety of different situations, Defining multiple solutions to a given problem, Elaborating on an idea or solution, and Originality of thought.

Graduate engineer must be trained in the following areas: Ethics and liability, Business knowledge, Communicating and delivering a product, Technical knowledge

A Philosophy of Training: (Attitude &) Method: Teaching, Rebuking, Correcting, Evaluating.

Mentors lead by example, and those who do so successfully display the following qualities, concerns, and abilities: 1. Recognizes a person’s potential for growth, 2. Turns a mistaken notion into a teaching opportunity, 3. Flexible with employees, supervisors, clients, and circumstances, 4. Clearly envisions goals and defines how to achieve them, 5. Maintains a proper perspective when things go wrong, 6. Raises curiosity in a particular project or subject through active involvement or encouragement, 7. Accepts criticism with grace, humility, and eagerness to correct errors, 8. Sorts through available resources to select that which will offer the greatest, benefit to professional growth, 9. Strategically manages and directs the course of projects, 10. Coordinates the efforts of a design team, including correction and admonition.

What is structural engineering? The design of structures has always involved theory, buttressed by testing and direct observation, and a professional engineer is able to make wise use of intuition and experience to bring theoretical truths into reality. In order to develop an adequate understanding of structures that are designed, an engineer must make justifiable approximations and assumptions in regards to materials used and loading imposed and must also simplify the problem in order to develop a workable mathematical model.

Processes? Analysis and Design, Uncertainty (imperfect methods) and Error, and The Experience

 Engineering standard: One way in which engineers can try to gain the trust of those they serve and with whom they work is to commit themselves to a code of ethics that endorses high standards of performance. Standards of responsibility expressed in engineering codes typically call for engineers to approach their work with much more than the minimalist dispositions mentioned previously. At the same time, satisfying the standards that the codes endorse does not require that they operate at a supererogatory level.

Equally important, engineering codes of ethics typically insist that engineers conform to standards of competence—standards that have evolved through engineering practice and presumably are commonly accepted, even if only implicitly, in ordinary engineering training and practice.


Standard of care: Engineers have a professional obligation to conform to the standard operating procedures and regulations that apply to their profession and to fulfill the basic responsibilities of their job as defined by the terms of their employment. Sometimes, however, it is not enough to follow standard operating procedures and regulations. Unexpected problems can arise that standard operating procedures and current regulations are not well equipped to handle. In light of this, engineers are expected to satisfy a more demanding norm, the standard of care.

To explain this idea, we can first turn to codes of ethics. Codes of ethics of professional engineering societies are the result of efforts of their members to organize in a structured way the standards that they believe should govern the conduct of all engineers. However, because particular situations cannot be anticipated in all their relevant nuances, applying these standards requires professional judgment. Engineering codes of ethics typically make statements about engineers being required to conform to accepted standards of engineering practice. What such standards translate to in actual practice depends, of course, on the area of engineering practice in question, along with whatever formal regulatory standards may be in place. We have noted that the codes of ethics of engineering societies typically endorse principles that seem intended to apply to engineers in general rather than only to members of those particular societies.

Although engineers and their employers might try to excuse failure to provide safety and quality by pointing out that they have met existing regulatory standards, it is evident that the courts will not necessarily agree. The standard of care in tort law (which is concerned with wrongful injury) is not restricted to regulatory standards.


Legal liability in many ways parallels moral responsibility, although there are important differences. To be legally liable for causing harm is to warrant punishment for, or to be obligated to make restitution for, harms. Liability for harm ordinarily implies that the person caused the harm, but it also implies something about the conditions under which the harm was caused. These conditions are ordinarily ‘‘mental’’ in nature and can involve such things as malicious intent, recklessness, and negligence.

We shall also see that, although the concept of causing harm is present, the notions of liability and responsibility are the focus of attention. First, a person can intentionally or knowingly and deliberately cause harm. Second, a person can recklessly cause harm by not aiming to cause harm but by being aware that harm is likely to result. Third, a still weaker kind of legal liability and moral responsibility is usually associated with negligently causing harm.

In law, a successful charge of negligence must meet four conditions: (1) A legal obligation to conform to certain standards of conduct is present. (2) The person accused of negligence fails to conform to the standards. (3)There is a reasonably close causal connection between the conduct and the resulting harm. (4) Actual loss or damage to the interests of another results.

In principle, if not in practice, there will be more than one way to satisfy the standards. This does not mean that professional standards have no effect on practice. As Stuart Shapiro notes, “Standards are one of the principal mechanisms for managing complexity of any sort, including technological complexity. Standardized terminology, physical properties, and procedures all play a role in constraining the size of the universe in which the practitioner must make decisions.”

However, standards of practice have to be applied in particular contexts that are not themselves specified in the standards. Standards of practice allow engineers freedom to adapt their designs to local, variable circumstances. This often brings surprises not only in design but also in regard to the adequacy of formal standards of practice. Standards of practice are based on the previous experience and testing of engineers. Design operates on the edge of ‘‘the new and the untried, the unexperienced, the ahistorical.’’ Thus, as engineers develop innovative designs (such as LeMessurier’s Citicorp structure), we should expect formal standards of practice sometimes to be challenged and found to be in need of change—all the more reason why courts of law are unwilling simply to equate the standard of care with current formal standards of practice.

Some standards of practice are clearly only local in their scope/range. There is good reason to believe that professional standards of engineering practice can cross national boundaries.

Recall that the first principle was: gather full and reliable information about the specific situation. The second was: view engineering plans and projects in context, taking into account impacts on workers, the needs of workers, systems of transportation and communication, resources needed, resource accessibility, economic feasibility, impacts on users and on other affected parties, such as people who live downward. Weil goes on to point out that underlying Palchinsky’s two principles are principles of common morality, particularly respect for the well-being of workers—a principle that Palchinsky argued was repeatedly violated by Lenin’s favored engineering projects.

As technological developments and their resulting products show up across the globe, they can be expected to be accompanied by global concerns about quality, safety, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. This, in turn, can result in uniform standards in many areas regarding acceptable and unacceptable engineering design, practice, and products. In any case, in the context of an emerging global economy, constructive discussions of these concerns should not be expected to be only local.

What attitudes and frames of mind can contribute to less than fully responsible action, whether it is intentional, reckless, or merely negligent. Some impediments to responsible action are; (1) Self-deception (ambition, hope, egoism), (2) Self-interest (avoidance of truth painful to confront self-consciously, normalizing deviance within boundaries of acceptable risk without sound engineering basis), (3) Fear (fear is the fear of retribution for objecting to actions that violate professional standards), (4) Ignorance (often it results from a lack of imagination, from not looking in the right places for necessary information, from a failure to persist, or from the pressure of deadlines), (5) Egocentric Tendencies, (Tendencies to interpret situations from very limited perspectives and it takes special efforts to acquire a more objective viewpoint. We may have good intentions for others but fail to realize that their perspectives are different from ours in important ways), (6) microscopic vision (microscopic vision may be highly accurate and precise but our field of vision is greatly limited), (7) uncritical acceptance of authority (related to professional autonomy), (8) groupthink (situations in which groups come to agreement at the expense of critical thinking) with the following symptoms; illusion of invulnerability, ‘we-feeling’ with shared stereotyping, illusion of morality, tendency of individual members toward self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, direct pressure and mindguarding - protecting the group from dissenting views.