Engineering Ethics

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Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public?
John Uff CBE QC FREng Nash Professor of Engineering Law, Kings College, London

Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public?
John Uff CBE QC FREng Nash Professor of Engineering Law, Kings College, London

Contents
Introduction Codes of Conduct and the Institutions Legislation governing safety and environment Duties arising in contract Limits on enforceability Duties arising in tort Ethical duties recognised by the law Provisional conclusion as to public duties Warnings of preventable disasters Publication of relevant research and data Can disclosure be restrained? Consequences of unauthorised disclosure Other means of securing disclosure Amicus action by Institutions Ethics in other roles of the Engineer Conclusions Acknowledgment 4 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 17 18 20 20

Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public? © John Uff

ISBN 1-903496-05-5

The information contained in this publication has been published in good faith and the opinions expressed are those of the author not of The Royal Academy of Engineering. The Academy can not accept any responsibility for any error or misinterpretation based on this information. Published by The Royal Academy of Engineering 29 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3LW Telephone 020 7222 2688 Facsimile 020 7233 0054 www.raeng.org.uk The Royal Academy of Engineering is a Registered Charity (No. 293074)

Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public?

John Uff CBE QC FREng Nash Professor of Engineering Law, Kings College, London

Professor John Uff CBE QC FREng is an internationally renowned barrister and arbitrator and an authority on construction law. Having graduated with a BSc in Engineering from King's College London in 1963, he went on to gain a PhD in Geotechnics in 1966 and was called to the Bar in 1970. During the 1980s he served on the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers and has played a role in new ICE contract forms and arbitration procedures. In 1987 he established the Centre for Construction Law and Management at King's College where he continues teaching and research activities. He is perhaps best known publicly for chairing the Yorkshire Water Enquiry in 1996, the Southall Railway Accident Enquiry in 1999 and the Joint Public Enquiry into Railway Safety in 2000.

The Royal Academy of Engineering 3

© James Hunkin

Engineering Ethics: Do engineers owe duties to the public?
Introduction The subject of "Engineering Ethics" is no longer novel: there is a growing body of literature, both in the United Kingdom1 and elsewhere,2 particularly in the USA.3 The subject still lacks any generally accepted definition and its scope remains uncertain. However, a convenient summary of the practical objectives of the subject is to be found in the Codes of Conduct promulgated by the Engineering Institutions. The Codes currently in operation within the United Kingdom are briefly reviewed below. Taking these Codes as a starting point, I have selected for examination the narrow but significant question that underlies much of their content: "Do Engineers owe duties to the public?" In addressing this question, I shall examine both the nature and scope of any such duty as well as the means by which it may be implemented. In the course of this inquiry, I shall also address a number of specific ethical questions that arise. It is then necessary to define an objective for any duty to the public. In this respect, the literature is largely focused on safety issues coupled increasingly with the need to avoid damage to the environment, and it is convenient to examine the postulated duty initially in this context. It needs to be borne in mind, however, that there are many other objectives that may equally merit inquiry, only some of which will be touched on. Duties in relation to safety and the environment will plainly be owed to particular individuals...
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