Ethical Responsibilities in Construction: The Aftermath of the Surfside Building Collapse

by | Jul 16, 2021 | Contracts, Litigation & Arbitration

The Surfside building collapse has brought into focus a number of concepts, chief among them the ethical responsibilities of contractors, engineers, architects, inspectors, and even the board members of homeowners or condominium associations.

Ethical behavior is defined by a set of ideals and moral principles, a system of values guiding one’s conduct.  It is in the end society’s sense of what is the right way of acting, working and living.  The concept dates back to the ancient Greek philosophers who struggled to define good and bad character traits.  Fast forward to modern times, the idea of establishing a code of ethics has permeated most every profession and industry, including construction.

The Society for Construction Law published a report a number of years ago outlining a set of ethical principles for the industry, from fairness to integrity, accountability to honesty.

Yet some contractors, developers and owners may be tempted to abandon these responsibilities by skimping on safety protocols for the sake of expediency and profits.

When this happens, is such behavior unethical – probably.  Is it illegal – maybe.  For years, rarely did ethical offenses ever result in criminal charges being levied.  Most safety violations were generally met with financial penalties and little more, even when they produced adverse and long lasting consequences.  The Surfside building collapse will surely change all that.

Indeed, authorities have begun to issue indictments in a number of other jurisdictions for criminal negligence, realizing that injuries and deaths which are the direct result of contractors and owners taking shortcuts at the expense of worker and public safety must have more consequences than a monetary fine.

Legal and ethical duties in construction are not the same.  One can satisfy the legal requirements associated with a particular task and still be behaving unethically.  Cutting corners, rushing a project’s completion, making dollar based decisions, none may be illegal but all could and often do result in flawed determinations and unethical behavior.

There may not be black and white clarity on many ethical situations but the expectation must be that a developer’s, owner’s and contractor’s professional integrity and moral barometer will lead to better decision making when it comes to safety.

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