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Assessing Student Responses to the Potential Conflict between Safety and Welfare in the American Society of Civil Engineers Code of Ethics

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session - Assessment

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Matthew Sleep P.E. Oregon Institute of Technology

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Matthew Sleep is an associate professor of civil engineering at Oregon Institute of Technology. Prior to Oregon Tech, Matthew received his PhD at Virginia Tech researching slope stability, levees, transient seepage and reliability. Matthew is from Nashville, TN and has worked for the United States Army Corps of Engineers and private consulting. He currently teaches and continues research on reliability and transient seepage.

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Yasha Rohwer Oregon Tech

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The first canon of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) code of ethics states that “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public…” While it may seem that safety, health, and welfare are all complimentary to one another, we argue that there are situations where trade-offs exist between these important obligations of civil engineers. Our focus in this paper is on the tension between safety and welfare. Safety can be quite costly and that high cost can affect the welfare of an engineer’s client—especially if that client is poor. Given this trade-off, we surveyed engineering students on how they would apply the code of ethics when navigating two hypothetical cases involving helical piles (foundation systems), which nicely illustrate this tension. In one hypothetical situation the client is quite wealthy, in the other the client is poor. Half of the students were first asked to review the code of ethics’ first canon. Comparing student responses will help us understand the extent to which students consider their code of ethics when approaching a new project, and how they navigate the tension between welfare and safety.

Sleep, M., & Rohwer, Y. (2019, June), Assessing Student Responses to the Potential Conflict between Safety and Welfare in the American Society of Civil Engineers Code of Ethics Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32117

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