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Engineering: Identifying and Discussion of Ethical Issues

  1. May 20, 2012 #1
    QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ETHICAL ISSUES WOULD BE IN THIS SCENARIO

    QUESTION: WHAT WOULD BE THE IMPLICATIONS ON THE CODE OF ETHICS

    CASE: Laura’s Dilemma

    Laura Jenkins is a qualified environmental engineer who graduated from the University of Stoneybrook two years ago. Laura works for Kentridge Consulting Engineers and she has been with the company since she finished her university studies. Kentridge Consulting Engineers is located in Briswin and has about 25 engineers who are mainly involved with the design of civil engineering structures. Laura is one of two environmental engineers with the company. Her boss and mentor is Keith Inglewood, who is 50 years old and graduated from university 25 years ago as an agricultural scientist. Keith originally worked in agriculture as a consultant on cropping and landcare, but gradually the focus of his career changed to the assessment of the impact of new engineering works on the environment. He has been with Kentridge Consulting for 7 years, and he and Laura are the ‘environmental team’ of the company. The role of the environmental team is to assess the environmental impacts of the company’s projects and to carry out the necessary liaison with the various stakeholders to ensure that environmental issues are adequately assessed and controlled in both the design and construction phases. Most of the work in the company is performed using design teams of civil engineers, draftspersons, and an environmental engineer.

    For the last 7 months Laura has been working on the Risdon Underpass Project. This project is to design a road underpass which will carry the Goldray Freeway beneath the Risdon State Environmental Park for a distance of 850 metres. The Goldray Freeway is an 8 lane, 23 km long road being financed by the State Government which links the major urban centres of Briswin and Adelorne. The project has been strongly supported by Ted Power, the Minister for Highways in the State Government, who also happens to be the elected representative for the electorate in which the Risdon State Environment Park is located. The Minister has made statements that the whole freeway will be completed within a 5 year period, but just 12 months into the work there are indications that several sections of the work are behind schedule.

    The Risdon State Environmental Park is an extremely sensitive environmental area. It is home to a large colony of koalas, and is the only known location of the yellow throated giant earthworm. Initially it was hoped that the underpass could be constructed by the cut and cover method, where an excavation is made in the ground for the concrete tunnel, the concrete tunnel section is built, then the tunnel is covered with earth and revegetated to its original condition. Environmental lobby groups quickly pressured the Government, and it was agreed that the underpass would be bored beneath the existing forest area using a large tunnel boring machine (TBM).

    The design team for the underpass are Frank Cluey, an experienced structural engineer, Bob Markem, a design draftsman, and Laura. Design work on the tunnel has progressed to a stage where Frank has completed all the design and Bob has the drawings and contract documentation about 75% complete.

    Laura has had quite a lot of work to do on this project and has found the work challenging, stressful, but rewarding. She has been responsible for the environmental assessment of the project as well as the community liaison for the project.

    The design for the bored tunnel has positioned the top of the roof of the tunnel approximately 4 metres below the existing ground surface. Positioning of the tunnel was based on a series of test borings taken along the alignment of the tunnel, and environmental impact assessment by Laura. The borings revealed that the tunnel would be bored through a very heavy clay soil (not rock). Laura examined the habitat of the yellow throated giant earthworm and found that colonies of the worm existed to a depth of 1.5 metres.

    For the past week Laura has been attending a conference on invertebrate animals and one of the presentations she listened to was a paper explaining that the habitats of worms of the genus wigula often extend to a great depth in soil profiles. The yellow throated giant earthworm is of the genus wigula. This new information has of course concerned Laura because the habitat of the yellow throated giant earthworm may be severely affected if this new information is correct and the tunnel is placed only 4 metres below the ground surface.

    Upon returning from the conference on Friday morning, Laura has discussed this new finding with Keith, who has told her that she very quickly needs to investigate the situation further, for if this new information is correct there is no way that the tunnel work should proceed without redesign.

    Laura has also spoken to Frank Cluey about the findings. Frank, predicably, exploded with anger and derision when Laura told him the news. He told her that the tunnel design work was far too advanced to consider any redesign, and that “if the colony of these bloody worms was wiped out, that was just too bad!”.

    It is 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon and Laura is just about to leave work and drive to Adelorne to attend her grandmother’s eightieth birthday party. The telephone rings and Laura answers it. The caller is Lou Bandock, president of the environmental action group GreenWorld. Lou is very angry and tells Laura that his group considers that Laura has given them false information. He has found out that the vibrations caused by tunnel boring machines working in the heavy clay soil are likely to be detrimental to the health of koalas and that the animals will become stressed and almost certainly die. His group is planning to protest outside Ted Power’s home, starting at 7 am tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

    Identify and discuss the ethical issues and professional responsibility (including technical and communication issues) involved in this case. What courses of action would be appropriate for Laura to follow, starting immediately (i.e. at 3:30 pm Friday afternoon)?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2012 #2
    I understand Laura has a legal responsibility to uphold and protect the environment given her engineering profession.

    I would just like to know what other ethical issues you can see in this case. Any discussion would be greatly appreciated

    Thank you
     
  4. May 21, 2012 #3
    Lou Bandock should be asked to provide evidence for his beliefs, and advised to await a proper evaluation of the evidence before taking action that might turn out to be inappropriate. However, this communication should be made by Laura's bosses, not her.
     
  5. May 25, 2012 #4
    Thanks pong for your reply
     
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