Any professional either from an organization or self-employed, has a moral obligation to contribute to society. It is imperative for a professional to be conscious of society’s needs and contribute to the community. Thus, social responsibility also applies to engineers; for an engineer it means to respect other engineers and to place public safety and interest above all other considerations and obligations. Despite the importance of social responsibility in the life of a professional engineer, inadequate attention is paid to this area by both the education sector and professional societies. The recent collapse of a five-storey building under construction in Roysambu is a harsh reminder of the responsibilities engineers bear.
An engineer’s conduct in their profession is vital because of the impact their work has on society and the potential consequences of their conduct on the well-being of others. Engineering in Kenya is regulated by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK), which is a statutory body established by the Engineers Act 2011. The Board is responsible for a variety of things including, registration of engineers and firms, regulation of engineering professional services, setting of standards and development and the general practice of engineering. Moreover, the Engineers Act provides an outline of what is expected of engineers, their code of conduct and responsibilities. Generally, the Act provides the regulation and development of the practice of engineers. This illustrates that Kenya recognizes the importance of having morally upright engineers. However, in the end, bodies such as EBK or Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) cannot do everything, it boils down to individual engineers and their efforts to positively contribute to society.
So, for an engineer it is not simply about infrastructure and innovation, the well-being of their respective communities is of outmost importance. Although unlike doctors, engineers are not expected to recite an oath, it is fair to say that a mistake by an engineer can result in the loss of lives. From the collapse of the Makongeni building, to the Huruma building collapse and the more recent Roysambu building collapse, deaths due to structural failures in Kenya have become eerily common. As a result, the issue of moral responsibility among engineers, especially those in Kenya, cannot in any way be taken lightly. So what are some of the social responsibilities of engineers? Here are some examples:
• Speaking out against a proposed project that could prove harmful to society
• Blowing the whistle on illegality, corruption or other wrong-doings
To know and understand the facts of design, development and deployment of projects
• Prioritizing the safety and well-being of the public
• Contributing to worthy, non-profit groups and projects
• Concern of project’s or technology’s impact on environment
• Contributing to democratic procedures for technology policy making
• Retaining individuality and integrity in firm/organization
In most cases, regulatory bodies, engineering firms themselves and sometimes schools outline social responsibilities of engineers. However, in terms of engineering schools, the issue of ethics and moral responsibilities is not heavily touched upon and needs further improvement. For example, in journalism, schools heavily emphasize on the ethics and social responsibilities. In Kenya, engineering education has made noteworthy progress in strengthening the basic sciences in engineering, including mathematics, chemistry and physics. Moreover, more engineering schools are improving their programs to allow for more courses that are practical and to focus on teaching relevant skills for the job market. Still, as compared to the sciences, topics of professional responsibility and engineering are receiving little to no attention in most engineering schools in Kenya.
Kenya faces many corruption issues that trickle down to every sector, from schools to churches. There are a variety of ethical issues facing not just the construction industry in Kenya but also the electric industry and others. In order to combat these issues, engineers must develop an understanding of their professional responsibilities. Since engineering institutions are still relatively weak in instilling ethical concerns on engineers, it falls to individual engineers. The various definitions of engineering all illustrate just how deeply intertwined humanity and engineering are; one of them is as follows:
Engineering is the professional art of applying science to the optimum conversion of the resources of nature to the uses of humankind. (Encyclopedia Britannica)