Engineering Code of Ethics
The engineering code of ethics provides the guidelines in implementation of various engineering projects and practices. They act as the checklist for aversion of disasters that may occur due to neglect in the case of the engineers and also due to equipment failures. These codes of ethics have been developed and implemented by statutory bodies like the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) created by an act of parliament. Chemical engineering is also embodied by the said principles and registered practitioners are expected to follow them or face hefty penalties including denial of practicing license. The sole responsibility relies upon the chemical engineer in case of any accidents and legal action may be taken as so deem fit. Several cases of manufacturing plants tragedies have occurred from which valuable lessons have been learnt and effective measures implemented.
According to the NSPE codes, the health, safety and wellbeing of the public is supreme in the design and implementation of industrial processes. Even chemical engineers have to ensure they consider this canon in the selection of various chemicals for the manufacture of different products like fertilizers. The soil and plant impact of these chemicals should be within the defined safety levels. Engineers are to exercise within their field of expertise. Chemical engineers are expected to act within their field and provide advice whatsoever on anything related to this field. They are expected to maintain high ethical standards and accept responsibility for anything/circumstance that results from their judgement. Chemical engineers are expected to maintain high quality of work and sound decisions supported by preamble theories or background. High work quality includes the design and implementation services, for example, the type of material/chemical to be used in the production of a product, the material that will package or convey these products. They are supposed to provide handling suggestions for the product and recommendations in case of an accident resulting from the unintended usage of the same chemical. The NSPE codes outline how chemical engineers are expected to conduct themselves, for example, avoidance of deceit or fraudulent activities that may be an insult to the engineering profession. This entails the recruitment and dissemination of information important in the performance of presumed duties. An engineer, shall not by any purpose or occasion disclose unwarranted information about his/her client to the third parties. This information should be treated private and the client’s consent on decisions relating to it is important.
Consider the Bhopal incident in India. In the manufacturing industry, the waste products have to be detoxified before discharge to the surrounding environment. In Bhopal, a pesticide manufacturing plant had released toxic gases and wastes to the environment. The chemical engineer should design detoxification processes to make the wastes released less toxic or even find alternative disposal techniques. The manufacture of pesticides involves toxic ingredients like the methyl isocyanate. The industrial processes are exothermic. An environmental assessment on the impact of this plant by the chemical engineer would have unearthed the potential risks associated and precautionary measures to be undertaken. In the Bhopal incident, methyl isocyanate mixed with water in the tank. The water was maintained at high temperature and pressure. The accidental leak of methyl isocyanate into this tank increased the pressure and temperature margins, up to around 2000C. The high operating conditions activated the emergency systems, which attempted to release the extra pressure causing the vapor to be released to the atmosphere. The methyl isocyanate vapor has a higher density than air making its release to the atmosphere lethal. Its higher density caused it to lurk in the nearest surrounding and resources. Had its density been lower, it would have dispersed over a wide region with little harm. The vapor is presumed to affect both the plants, animals, soils and human around the plant. Many deaths were reported with still long term effects being felt. Government records in 2006 put the number of injuries at around 558,000. The incident presents the chemical engineers’ approach to the safety of the industrial process and their precautionary measures. In the incident, the leak was caused by use of unwarranted material for the flow of methyl isocyanate according to the NSPE standards. Preferably, the pipe used should have an extra coating/layer and should be flexible enough as to not allow leakage spots for the chemical. The water tank and the methyl isocyanate should have different carrier systems (methyl isocyanate should not be conveyed in high pressure and temperature zones as it is very toxic once let out at those conditions). Emergency systems should also be designed to contain any leakages of these chemicals to prevent contact with the surrounding. Since then, after the incident, chemicals have been treated separately and carefully, for example, there have been standards set for containers to carry chemicals. Usually, they should have thick walls to reduce any leakage risks. For chemicals like sulfuric acid, their containers are dark in color to prevent contact with light, which affects its quality as more lethal concoction is formed (which is highly unstable).