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Unformatted text preview: CIV 402: Engineering Ethics
Chapters Summary Chapter 7: Risk & Liability in Engineering The concern for safety is a common one for engineers. In the Twin Towers case, the risk was increased by the earlier weakening of building codes and the use of new structural designs. This illustrates an important fact that is "Engineering necessarily involves risks, and innovation usually increases the risk. Without innovation, there will be no progress. The relationship of safety to risk is an inverse one. Because of the laws of engineering science and statistics, the more we accept the risk in an engineering project, the less safe it will become. One of the most common concepts in engineering practice is the notion of "factor of safety". For example, if the largest load a walkway will have to carry at any one time is 1000 pounds, then a prudent engineer might design the walkway geometry to carry 3000 pounds. This chapter discusses three different approaches to risk and safety: 1. Risk as the product of the probability and magnitude of harm. To asses a risk, an engineer must first identify it. To identify a risk, an engineer must first know what a risk is. The usual definition of engineering risk is a "compound measure of the probability and magnitude of adverse effect". Risk has two elements: a. The likelihood of an adverse effect or harm b. The magnitude of that effect or harm. Harm can be defined as an invasion or limitation of a person's freedom or wellbeing. Engineers have traditionally thought of harms in terms of things that can be relatively easily quantified. These harms are them measured in terms of the number of lives lost, the cost of rebuilding or repairing buildings and highways and so forth. 2. Utilitarianism & acceptable risks. The engineering conception of risk focuses on the factual issues of the probability & magnitude of harm and contains no implicit evaluation of whether a risk is morally acceptable. The risk expert’s criterion of acceptable risk is in the following way: “An acceptable risk is one in which the product of the probability and magnitude of the harm is equaled or exceeded by the product of the probability and magnitude of the benefit, and there is no other option where the product of the probability and magnitude of the benefit is substantially greater”. One way of implementing this account of acceptable risk is by means of an adaption of cost‐benefit analysis, or risk‐benefit analysis. Despite the following limitations of cost‐benefit analysis, this method has legitimate place in risk evaluation: It may not possible to anticipate all of the effect associated with each option which may lead to unreliable results. it is not always easy to translate all of the risks and benefits into monetary terms, so the method is incomplete Cost‐benefit analysis makes no allowance for the distribution of costs and benefits. The cost –benefit analysis gives no place for informed consent to the risks imposed by technology. 3. Expanding the engineering account of risk: the capabilities approach to identify harm & benefit. The Capabilities Approach to Identifying Harm and Benefit, the capabilities” approach attempts to make the calculations of harms (economic losses and loss of life) more sophisticated by developing a more adequate way of measuring the harms and benefits from disasters to overall well‐being, which it defines in terms of the capabilities of people to live the kind of life they value. A risk is acceptable if the probability is sufficiently small that the adverse effect of a hazard will fall below a threshold (limit) of the minimum level of capabilities attainment (achievement) that is acceptable in principle. Communicating Risk & Public Policy: • Communicating Risk to the Public (What is risk?) – Engineers (representing the Govt. & Entrepreneurship) understand risk as the product of the magnitude & likelihood of harm & are sympathetic with the utilitarian way of assessing acceptable risk i.e. using the cost benefit approach to determine acceptable risk for engineering works. – The lay public however determines risk in terms of simple factual issues, previous incidents, & combined judgments of likelihood & acceptability of risks. – Social Policy should take a wider perspective of risk than what the risk expert approach would indicate because: • –
• Public & Govt. will introduce their own agendas into the public debate about Tech risks & engineers will be forced to adjust to these facts because they are morally legitimate considerations. Guidelines for engineers in Risk Communication Engineers should adopt a critical attitude toward the assessment of risks by considering the audience’s perspective 1. Clearly differentiate between risk (magnitude + likelihood of harm) & risky (the probability of harm) 2. Engineers should be wary of saying “There is no such thing as zero risk” to correct the public’s understanding of ‘zero risk’ as it means that the risks are familiar rather than improbable. 3. Acknowledge the possible limitations of their position to predict risks & outcomes. 4. Take into consideration both cost‐benefit approach as well as the special obligations of the Govt. Regulators. 5. Professional Societies should present info regarding tech risks in an objective manner especially in controversial areas (eg. Nuclear Power). • Difficulties in Determining the Causes & Likelihood of Harm: The Critical Attitude – – Experts & Engineers may or may not be able to estimate the magnitude & probability of harm up to the accuracy expectations. –
• Everybody demands accuracy in estimates of harm but what engineers describe as approximate may not be as good as accurate. A failure mode is a way in which a structure or mechanism fails. Fault Tree Analysis Approach – – • Begin with an undesirable event & trace back the event that caused the undesirable event. It allows prediction of the various failure modes (way in which a structure or mechanism fails) attendant to the project in question. Event Tree Analysis – –
• Reasoning forward from a hypothetical event to determine what consequences this hypothetical event might have & the probabilities fo these consequences. Begin with failure & end with consequences Limitations of Analysis Modals – – It is not possible to anticipate all the types of human error that will lead to the failures anticipated. – Probabilities assigned to failure modes is not based on solid experimental testing. –
• It is not possible to anticipate all the mech., elect, chem., & physical problems that may lead to failure. It is not possible to anticipate all the initiating events neither their order. Limitations due to Tight Coupling & Complex Interactions – • Risk assessment of Tech systems are difficult to estimate because the probability of accidents & their control. These depend on Tight Coupling (the processes are inter‐connected & so shall effect each other in a short time thereby a single process may seriously risk the whole system) & Complex Interactions (the parts of the system may interact in an unanticipated manner thus breeding unexpected consequences) Normalizing Deviance & Self‐Deception – Allowing deviance from proper standards of safety & acceptable risk increases risk & our ability to anticipate risk. – When the prediction of a design is not as expected then we run into anomalies. – Engineers & Managers usually treat anomalies by accepting them or increasing the boundaries of acceptable risk. They should rather trace & correct them. – Challenger Disaster illustrated this phenomena The Engineers Liability for Risk Since risk is unpredictable and difficult to estimate, Engineers normally tend to: – • Allow risks to accumulate without taking remedial actions – Do not expand the scope of acceptable risks to accommodate for risks The correct scope of acceptable risk is still an issue, argued by risk experts, govt etc. Legal liability for risk • There are certain issues about engineers legal liability for risk: The standards of proof in Tort (illegal action) Law and science are different which conflict each other. While protecting the public from risk, engineers themselves can incur legal liabilities. Issue of Standards of Proof • Law suits demanding compensation for harm fall under Tort Law. Injuries to one person caused by another person Due to fault or negligence of the injuring party. Harm from usage of technology also fall under tort law. One example is the harm from usage of asbestos that lead to cancer. Example is Case of Clarence Borel against Fiberboard Paper Products Corporation. • Some courts have begun to impose higher standards of evidence for recovery of damages. Cases should be backed by strong evidence having scientific background and presented by expert witnesses. Advantage: Even though, it may be against the tort law, it might be fairer to defendants because some decision for injured may not be based on valid proof of responsibility for harm. Disadvantage: By requiring higher standards of proof, the courts place a burden on injured people that they may not meet. In many cases, scientific knowledge only is not adequate to determine the cases of injury Issue of Protecting Engineers from Liability • While protecting the public, the engineers themselves can incur legal liabilities, this may hinder safety of the public. For example, the safety issue in excavating for foundations, pipelines and sewers. To reduce the risk, engineers can specify use of trench boxes in their designs. But its use may lead to extra costs and time involved in construction. Engineers are in a dilemma to use the trench boxes or not especially if they are not specified in the building codes. If they do not specify, the workers will be in high risk of death or injury. If they specify it, then they may be incurring liability in case of an accident because of the use of trench boxes. Becoming a Responsible Engineer regarding risk • Development of technology is connected with risk. Engineers should be ethically responsible for risks. Steps to be ethically responsible about risks: – Risk is difficult to estimate and is very sensitive – There are different approaches to the determination of acceptable risk, for example, The risk that a lay man considers is different than what the govt considers – Assume the responsibility for risk and have effective communication of explaining the risk to public, govt, stake holders etc. Formulating a Principle of Acceptable Risk • After considering how acceptable risk can be dealt with, we formulate the following moral general principle of acceptable risk: – “People should be protected from the harmful effects of technology, especially when the harms are not consented to or when they are unjustly distributed, except that this protection must sometimes be balanced against • (1) the need to preserve great and irreplaceable benefits, • (2) The limitation on our ability to obtain informed consent.” Issues accompanied with applying the principle • Some issues accompanied with applying the principle are: – We must define what is meant by protecting people from harm. It does not mean that people are assured that a form of technology is free from harm. – We must define what constitutes “harm”. Is breathing foul smell at work place harm. What about workers in brewery or sewage disposal plant, the foul smell cannot be eliminated. – We must make clear what constitutes a great and irreplaceable benefit in a particular situation. Automobiles are highly valued by people; they would not be eliminated even if they were the cause of many deaths and injuries. So they are considered as great and irreplaceable benefit – We must make clear the concept of informed consent. Providing all the information and getting an agreement is a difficult task in many situations. Informed consent is an important issue from “respect for persons” point of view. – We must make clear the idea of unjust distribution of harm. Some harms associated with risks are unjustly distributed. The risks associated with coal mining are unjustly distributed. – An acceptable risk in one situation may not be acceptable in another situation. Engineers are responsible to protect the health and safety of the public, this is done by reducing risk and sometimes some technology helps in doing that. As new risk reducing technology is available, the responsibility of engineers to reduce risk changes ...
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- Spring '07