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R151
The Molasses Flood of 1919 and Other Ethical Failures in Engineering

Mark P. Rossow, Ph.D, PE Retired

In creating products of various kinds for use by clients or by the general public, engineers have an ethical duty to strive to prevent the products from harming anyone. Thus when a product fails and someone is injured or killed, the question always arises whether the engineers responsible for the product are guilty of negligence. But determining negligence can be difficult. The purpose of this course is to describe those aspects of an engineering failure and its aftermath that should be considered when trying to judge if engineers have acted negligently. The subjects considered include the expected standard of care, safety and risk estimates, biases often present in failure investigations, the publicís desire for identifying wrong-doers, punishment, and the uses and misuses of the results of investigations. These concepts are illustrated with a description of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, for which a new possible cause was identified only in 2014. Four other case studies are also included.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.


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NY PE & PLS: You must choose courses that are technical in nature or related to matters of laws and ethics contributing to the health and welfare of the public. NY Board does not accept courses related to office management, risk management, leadership, marketing, accounting, financial planning, real estate, and basic CAD. Specific course topics that are on the borderline and are not acceptable by the NY Board have been noted under the course description on our website.

AIA Members: You must take the courses listed under the category "AIA/CES Registered Courses" if you want us to report your Learning Units (LUs) to AIA/CES. If you take courses not registered with AIA/CES, you need to report the earned Learning Units (not qualified for HSW credits) using Self Report Form provided by AIA/CES.

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