By Alexander Barthet

Natural and man-made disasters have a way of exposing all manner of shoddy work and poor design. Whether it is tornadoes in the midwest, frightening hurricanes in the southeast, tsunamis in the Pacific – all have revealed not only inadequate construction methods but worse, a failure in many instances to adhere to established codes of conduct.

Considering the Public Good

Builders and designers have ethical and professional guidelines to which they are expected to conform, not the least of which is the obligation to use their skills and knowledge in a reasonably careful and competent manner. They must also be cognizant of their responsibilities to the public, balancing the interests of clients and society alike. If at any time, the health, safety or welfare of one or the other could be in jeopardy, then architects, engineers and contractors must take a step back, consider both their  legal and ethical duties on a construction project, and rethink their planned approach.

Because of bad planning, use of substandard materials, faulty construction and unenforced building codes, lives can be unnecessarily lost.

Legal and Ethical Duties Not the Same

To be clear, legal and ethical duties on a construction project are not the same. While satisfaction of the legal requirements associated with a particular project might appear to be sufficient, real life examples have illustrated this is not always enough. Thought to the overall impact of any design or construction decision must be part of every analysis. Cutting corners, fee based conclusions, less than full research – none may be illegal but all could result in flawed determinations. Sure, pushing back is never easy, especially against the constant pressure of an owner seeking to move a project forward, but setting aside one’s ethical obligations for the sake of expediency is never a good idea. An ethical violation may not result in a law suit, or even subject one to disciplinary sanctions, but it could well lead to adverse and long lasting consequences for the community one lives in. There are no black and white rules in most instances, but rather, and hopefully, a business climate which encourages and guides one to behave both legally and ethically.