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About engineering

In the introductory example case of chapter five, there is a co-op student, John, who is working for a company that carries out tests for major oil firms. When he reviews the most recent drilling report, he discovers that the foreperson of the job, Paul, forgot a crucial ingredient, a test chemical that must be added to a lubricant to determine if a drill site will allow for natural gas protection. This error would force the entire test to be redone, which would cost the company a lot of money. However, John reviews previous reports and finds that only about one percent of the tests carried through using this additive have indicated a natural gas presence. John must make the decision of whether he will bring this information to light. What makes the decision tough for him is the fact that Paul is an old friend who helped John get this job. John also knows that Paul cannot afford to lose his job because not only is the oil business slow now, Paul also has a child on the way. There are many codes of ethics that explicitly state that engineers must be honest and only accept honest work. Other sections state that engineers must not allow one’s name to be associated with those who have dishonest business. Taking these facts into consideration, John should let the information be known because it is the ethical thing to do. In addition, if this test happened to be part of the one percent that would indicate a natural gas presence but was not performed properly, this discretion would put many lives in danger as the company would not know that the community must be protected from the presence of natural gases.

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In many cases, not being completely honest or withholding information can result in a loss of lives. In the case of the Challenger, the crew was made aware of ice buildup on the launching pad and given the choice to postpone the launch because of this, but they were not informed about the reaction of an O-ring to low temperatures, which violates many codes of ethics. The crew’s decision to not postpone the launch was made without knowing all the risks involved, which ended up costing them their lives. In the case of the Ford Pinto, some test results were withheld because Ford was solely focused on its competition, the recent Japanese imports. Rear-end crash tests showed that the Pinto met current safety requirements, but it did not meet the newer requirements that were to be implemented just two years later. Customers were not made aware of these risks, which ended up costing many lives. These cases are also unethical because the engineers knowingly put people in danger instead of prioritizing public safety.

In the introductory cases of chapter six, there is an involvement of aircrafts impacting buildings and killing many people. On July 28, 1945, a twin-engine US Army Air Corps B-25 bomber got lost in some fog and crashed into the Empire State Building at a height of 914 feet above the ground. This hit created an 18-by-20-foot hole and caused flaming fuel to spread inside the building, which killed the entire flight crew and 10 employees of the building. A more infamous incident occurred on September 11, 2001 when terrorists hijacked two Boeing 727 planes, crashing each into one of the Twin Towers about two-thirds of the way up. These planes were filled with high-octane aviation fuel that created fires over multiple floors in the buildings, which trapped thousands of workers in the top several floors, only 18 of which were able to get down the blazing stairs to safety. During the hour after the impacts, the high temperature flames caused the steel members of the structure to sag. As floors collapsed from the top, the increasing loads on each successive floor were too much for the steel to support, which caused the progressive collapse of each tower. The height of the buildings and the type of fuel in the aircrafts also played a role in the severity of each incident. Another important factor to keep in mind is how infrastructure changes over time. The Empire State Building went through heavier construction as opposed to the more modern Twin Towers that were built at a cheaper price by using lighter components that made its height more easily achievable. With different construction methods came different risks/vulnerabilities.

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Often, cost-benefit analyses are done to determine if a design is acceptable, but it cannot be applied to all cases, especially when people’s lives are on the line. For example, in the case of the Ford Pinto, the cost-benefit analysis cannot possibly account for the number of lives lost or ruined as a result of the vehicle explosions, seeing as how you cannot put a price on life. However, Ford did just that when determining if they should release the vehicle by assigning a value of $200″,000 to each human life that would potentially be lost. The cost-benefit analysis is not ethical in these types of cases because it puts public safety at risk.

It is also important for engineers to be familiar with the building codes in their area and determine if they are in fact safe to test designs against. When studying the Empire State Building and Twin Towers cases, one can look at the NYC building codes at the time each structure was being built. The Empire State Building was required to have heavy masonry and concrete surrounding the stairwells, which allowed firefighters to quickly access and put out the fires after the B-25 bomber crashed into it. However, the Twin Towers were only required to have a certain level of performance to be considered safe.

Another reason risk is often increased is because engineers are given some leeway in terms of deviating from safety standards and acceptable risk when making a design, which can also prove to be fatal. For example, in the case of the Challenger, the use of O-rings was allowed because anomalies from previous shuttle flights were merely accepted instead of analyzed to determine a solution. Tests showed that O-rings would not always seal properly, but sealing putty was simply included to classify this as an acceptable risk. New problems arose from the use of this putty, but it was still deemed an acceptable risk. One of the most drastic deviations was the fact that on the launch date, the temperature was 24° cooler than when the tests were carried, but it was still an acceptable risk to them. None of these issues were predicted by the engineers, but when the issues presented themselves, the engineers essentially ignored them and continued with their design as if nothing was wrong.

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