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Q: Give a couple of real life examples of disputes or fraud or accidents in any Engineering area where multiple laws / ethics were breached at the same time. (500 words)
The following Cases are designed as problems for you, so seek resolutions that you personally think are the most appropriate, keeping in mind the ethics and the laws recently discussed.Each student has to reflect on any two of these (500 words total).
Case 1

Newly hired as a production engineer, you find a potential problem on the shop floor: workers are routinely ignoring some of the government mandated safety regulations governing the presses and stamping machines.

The workers override the safety features such as guards designed to make it impossible to insert a hand or arm into a machine. Or they rig up “convenience” controls so they can operate a machine while close to it, instead of using approved safety switches, etc., which requires more movement or operational steps. Their reason (or excuse) is that if the safety features were strictly followed then production would be very difficult, tiring and inefficient. They feel that their shortcut still provides adequately safe operation with improved efficiency and worker satisfaction.

Should you immediately insist on full compliance with all the safety regulations, or do the workers have enough of a case so that you would be tempted to ignore the safety violations? And if you’re tempted to ignore the violations, how would you justify doing so to your boss?

Also, how much weight should you give to the workers’ clear preference for not following the regulations: ethically, can safety standards be relaxed if those to whom they apply want them to be relaxed?

Case 2

You and an engineer colleague work closely on designing and implementing procedures for the proper disposal of various waste materials in an industrial plant. He is responsible for liquid wastes, which are discharged into local rivers.

During ongoing discussions with your colleague, you notice that he is habitually allowing levels of some toxic liquid waste chemicals, which are slightly higher than levels permitted by the law of those chemicals. You tell him that you have noticed this, but he replies that, since the levels are only slightly above the legal limits, any ethical or safety issues are trivial in this case, and not worth the trouble and expense to correct them.

Do you agree with your colleague? If not, should you attempt to get him to correct the excess levels, or is this none of your business since it is he rather than you who is responsible for liquid wastes?

If he refuses to correct the problems, should you report this to your boss or higher management? And if no one in your company will do anything about the problem, should you be prepared to go over their heads and report the problem directly to government inspectors or regulators? Or should one do that only in a case where a much more serious risk to public health and safety involved?

Case 3

Your company has for some time supplied prefabricated wall sections, which you designed, to construction companies. Suddenly one day a new idea occurs to you about how these might be fabricated more cheaply using composites of recycled waste materials.

Pilot runs for the new fabrication technique are very successful, so it is decided to entirely switch over to the new technique on all future production runs for the prefabricated sections. But there are managerial debates about how, or even whether, to inform the customers about the fabrication changes.

The supply contracts were written with specifications and functional terms, so that load bearing capacities and longevity, etc., of the wall sections were specified, but no specific materials or fabrication techniques were identified in the contracts. Thus it would be possible to make the changeover without any violation of the ongoing contracts with the customers.

On the other hand, since there is significant cost savings in the new fabrication method, does your company have an ethical obligation to inform the customers of this, and perhaps even to renegotiate supply at reduced cost, so that the customers also share in benefits of the new technique? More specifically, do you have any special duty, as a professional engineer and designer of the new technique, to be an advocate in your company for the position that customers should be fully informed of the new technique and the associated cost savings?

Case 4

Your company manufactures security systems. Up to now these have raised few ethical problems, since your products were confined to traditional forms of security, using armed guards, locks, reinforced alloys which are hard to cut or drill, and similar methods.

However, as a design engineer you realize that this modern technology much more comprehensive security packages could be provided to your customers. These could also include extensive video and audio surveillance equipment, along with biometric monitoring devices of employees or other personnel seeking entry to secure areas which would make use of highly personal data such as a person’s fingerprints, or retinal or voice patterns.

But there is a problem to be considered. A literature search reveals that there are many ethical concerns about the collection and use of such personal data. For example, these high-tech forms of surveillance could easily become a form of spying, carried out without the knowledge of employees and violating their privacy. Or the data collected for security reasons could easily be sold or otherwise used outside legitimate workplace contexts by unscrupulous customers of your surveillance systems.

Your boss wants you to include as much of this advanced technology as possible in future systems, because customers like these new features and are willing to pay well for them.

However, you are concerned about the ethical issues involved in making these new technologies available. As an engineer, do you have any ethical responsibility to not include any such ethically questionable technologies in products which you design and sell, or to include them only in forms which are difficult to misuse? Or is the misuse of such technologies an ethical problem only for the customers who are buying your equipment, rather than it being your ethical responsibility as an engineer?


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