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  • 1.  Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-20-2017 11:41 AM
    Dear ASCE Members,

    I hope to stimulate conversations on ethical dilemmas that engineers may face. So, please consider the following engineering ethical dilemma and contribute to the advancement of our profession by providing your thoughts on the situation Rachel faces. Thank you.

    Best Regards,

    Rachel has been working as an EIT for a couple of years with a consulting firm. She is commonly instructed to create some specific design components for various projects. Some of the aspects she designs small contributions to the overall plans, but in some Rachel has created all of the design aspects on many pages of plans. She has inquired about the review process and has been informed the review process is functioning fine. Rachel doesn't receive any comments nor changes to her design work from the P.E. stamping the plans. It is Rachel's opinion that her design work is not being adequately reviewed and this makes her worried. She has little design experience, she isn't a P.E., and she is starting to lose sleep over worrying about if her design work is correct.

    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    Director Honor and Integrity System
    Kansas State University
    2017 President, ASCE-EWRI

  • 2.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-21-2017 03:08 PM

    Rachel needs to have a close and comfortable relationship with her PE. To that end I suggest that she seek opportunities to do this and must not be afraid to ask any question, including, "...someday I will be reviewing an EIT. Can you show me the process that I should use?"

    Michael Gruby, PE, M.ASCE
    San Diego CA

  • 3.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-22-2017 03:18 PM
    Rachel should not assume that she may not be doing well because she is not getting feedback. I have had under my supervision thousands of people and I can tell you that this is a very common problem in business especially with engineers. I always encourage staff to be transparent and honest with their subordinates. Tell them how well or not well they are doing and what they can be doing better. Young engineers especially need extra care because they are developing a sense of professional self worth. If she is only getting "everything is fine" feedback she should not be afraid to ask for more specific feedback on her projects. She still may get the same answer but she has to try. A good supervisor knows to give specific feedback. But supervisors also need training and encouragement by their supervisors. Like I said, a common problem. 

    Fredrick Rubin P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Malibu CA

  • 4.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-23-2017 11:38 AM

    I began my career in private consulting and did that for sixteen years.  Then I redirected to public service and spent thirteen years in municipal government and now sixteen years in state government.  I don't think Rachel's problem is as much ethical as it is a failure of her P. E. supervisor to recognize his responsibility to lead and mentor new engineering talent.  In that context, Rachel should as for critique of her work and how it is contributing to the overall project objective.

  • 5.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-22-2017 10:40 AM
    Civil Engineering practice is knowledge involving, and if sincerely she had little experience in design, She must be worried for the review of her work to ensure and forgetting that knowledge acquired in doubts may create fears. Also, when working with a senior engineer, it is necessary to allow for assistance during the design process which will assure knowledge, and that will be of more benefit to learning and working.

    Olusegun Afolabi P.E., M.ASCE
    University of Lagos
    234803 4248600

  • 6.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-23-2017 11:42 AM
    Rachel is to be commended for the trust her superiors have in her work. As to feedback on her work, she should approach the one in responsible charge humbly and ask. Always best to error on the side of over communicating then hoping for the best. Helps one sleep at night.

    Mark Dawson, PE
    Arvin-Edison Water Storage District
    20401 Bear Mountain Blvd.
    P.O. Box 175
    Arvin, CA 93203-0175

  • 7.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-22-2017 03:17 PM
    Well, given the stated facts, this isn't an ethical issue. This is a supervisory management issue example.  A few observations / expressions of professional opinion.

    1) The firm either does not inform their new staff of the firm's review procedures (extremely poor management and professionalism) or she is woefully afraid to demand to know them.

    2) Her supervisor is evidently either extremely non-communicative or not the stamping PE.  Given the stated conditions, I would be out looking for a position at a new company if I were her and had heard zero feedback on my design work in two years.  The "facts" stated are extremely short and inconceivable. If those are the actual conditions, they are irresponsible and unprofessional (not technically but supervisory) if the stamping PE were her immediate supervisor (not stated).

    3) The design reviews may be uncovering issues but the firm has someone else correct them and not her. (The stated facts did not say if any corrections were ever actually made or if she observed design changes appearing in the final stamped plans or "product".)  A poor management decision to not inform her of shortcomings or errors is possibly being made as the young design engineer will never learn if she is making mistakes and given a chance to correct her knowledge or technique if she receives no feedback.  However, I have personally experienced and observed such poor process or personal feedback.

    4) This could be a case of design compartmentalization for projects that can have parallel but separate design components and a process that does not provide for feedback or comparison of the designs for compatibility. Design issues could be being addressed in another design to make hers work or someone else could be correcting any of her design shortcomings. Splitting up design can create communication breaks that result in issues or not, depending on the degree of interaction of the two design components. (Your building design can be off by ten feet and the wall layout can change three times but if I design a building pad that goes 10 feet beyond the buildings exterior walls, it doesn't matter if the two designs are exact.  The compatibility degree required can be a factor.)  If real and serious design issues are occurring, she can expect she would be hearing about it.

    5) The lack of feedback from the stamping PE could be resulting from an assumption on the stamping PE's part that someone else rather than the PE giving her feedback.  It is possible the feedback is not making its way to her.   Some firms have only the / a principal stamp every plan set. Some states' licensing / registration laws seem to require this using various wordings.  The stamping PE sees only the clean version and not any iterations. Again, the young engineer should press for an explanation. See 6 below.

    6) She apparently has not raised the issue enough at her semi-annual and / or annual reviews.  She has had reason to have a discussion and is not pressing the issue.  She needs to press the issue.  If she asks and the firm is not forthcoming, that can be viewed as a hostile work environment and the firm can be sued.

    Failure to train staff and communicate may be failings of the firm and its management staff but failing to ask for review documentation and feedback on designs is a fault of the design individual.  You don't always get spoon fed feed back and not all engineering supervisors are micromanagers.  However, in the stated "facts", no one has used a design that was not sealed; been demonstrated to not be familiar enough with the design to not seal it; there were no dangers to public health, safety or welfare from the designs that went out; nor were their any failures noted.  She may be losing sleep but it is not for ethical reasons.

    Bradley Novacek P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Engineer
    Stanley Consultants, Inc.
    Phoenix AZ

  • 8.  RE: Engineering Ethics. Case Study 1

    Posted 01-23-2017 11:37 AM
    I'm not sure why she would jump to the conclusion that she is doing something wrong. I'm also not sure why she would pass designs on for review if she felt they were wrong. If in doubt seek guidance. If not in doubt why second guess yourself later?

    In her position, I would take what I though to be wrong or questionable to a more senior engineer and ask if there was a better way to do it.

    Ron Zagrocki P.E., M.ASCE
    Aliquippa PA