Engineering disaster at Hyatt Regency Hotel
The Hyatt Regency Hotel Collapse
The Hyatt Regency Hotel walkway collapse of 1981 is one of the most noted engineering failures in the country. The hotel had a 40-storey hotel tower and conference facilities. Connecting the two was an open atrium. Three walkways connected the hotel to the conference facilities. They were on the second, third and fourth floors. The length, width, and height of the building were 145 feet 117 feet and 50 feet respectively. Two vertical walkways collapsed in the hotel’s lobby. It happened during a tea dance party. Many people were standing and dancing on the walkway, which was suspended from the ground. The ceiling rods that held the second and fourth floor walkways failed. Both walkways collapsed to the first floor atrium. The fourth floor walkway collapsed on the second floor walkway. The third walkway remained intact. It was one of the worst disasters as it led to the deaths of 114 people and more than 200 were injured. The disaster affected many people directly and indirectly and a lot of money was lost following the disaster.
The hotel was not old and neither were the walkways. It had only been in operation for one year when the collapse happened. The investigations revealed that there was negligence and that the disaster could have been prevented from happening. The change in design of the walkway from a single to a double rod caused the eventual collapse. This was done to simplify the assembly task. The engineering design team and the fabricator argued over this change. Investigations also revealed that this was not the first incident at the hotel. There was another accident in 1979, which led to the failure of the atrium after the roof collapsed. This happened when the building was still under construction. The engineering firm revealed that it had contacted the owner following the collapse. The owner hired an independent engineering firm who checked the roof collapse alone. The independent firm did not check the designs or highlight any other factors that may have contributed to the collapse. Construction of the building continued after the independent firm gave the report. The walkways would not have been fit for the population expected when they were constructed. There was leniency in failing to meet the Kansas City building codes.
Several factors emerged during investigations and court proceedings. It was clear that there was inefficient communication between the contractor and the engineering firm. The fabricator changed the designs of the atrium with the full knowledge of the engineers. However, the engineers denied knowledge of this. They claimed that the contractors did not inform them of any changes in the construction. During the ruling, it was clear that engineers are responsible for the outcome of the project. The ruling established that the engineers were guilty of gross negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct. They were held responsible for the safety of the public. The engineers had the responsibility of ensuring that their structure adhered to the current building codes. The engineering firm lost its license to practice as an engineering firm. Some of the engineers lost their licenses as well. The involved companies, including the hotel incurred massive losses.
Kantian Deontological Ethics
The foundation behind deontology is the belief that being moral or ethical is a matter of duty. People have the moral obligation to do what is right and to avoid doing the wrong thing. This is regardless of the consequences that are bound to occur following ones decision. Moral judgments are not a matter of feelings, but they concern doing what is right. Rather people should do something because it is the right thing to do. Acts are right or wrong in themselves. Intentions are necessary in determining the type of action. It is possible to determine the morality of an action based on the intention of the person doing it.
Kant came up with a fundamental principle of morality. A person should act only in such a way that he also wills the maxim of his action to become universal law. Any decision that a person makes is a choice. If the rule that governs a person’s actions cannot be universalized, then that rule is unacceptable. If a person cannot will that everyone else follow the same rule, then that rule is not moral (Mackinnon and Fiala 73). He also came up with the principle that humanity should always be treated as an end and not merely as means. This principle highlights the need to distinguish between human beings and things. A person should treat others with respect. People should not merely be used as a means to get something. This emphasizes the fact that the end does not always justify the means.
Case Analysis from a Deontological Perspective
Examining the case from the perspective of deontological ethics, every person had a duty and responsibility to do the right thing. Every entity involved in the construction process should have been aware of his responsibilities and all the people involved should have known the right thing to do. The engineering contractors had the responsibility to ensure that everything on their part worked well. They could have used the first collapse as an indication that they needed to recheck the design and the materials used in the construction of the atrium. After the roof collapsed, the engineering firm informed the courts that they had told the owner of the building concerning the problem. However, the owner did not want to incur additional costs and he refused them to conduct the site inspections. The owner acted unethically in this case. His main intention was to avoid any more costs during construction. He was not concerned with additional safety of the construction workers or the people who would use the building. Failure of the owner to consider the safety of the construction first indicated that he did not think of the people who would have used the building. Had the owner done so, he would have done everything within his power to ensure that there would be no more failures.
The engineering firm had a responsibility as well. They were the professionals in this case and it was their duty to ensure that they followed all the regulations and the necessary precautions. They indicated that the owner did not want to incur extra costs. The engineers would have proceeded to inspect the building based on their professional experience and not based on the fact that they would not be compensated for this. The engineers should question whether they would want their considerations of cost and owner refusal to become a law governing other similar situations in future. The right action would have been for the owners to proceed with the recommendations from the professionals after the initial collapse of the roof and for the engineers to proceed with the inspection irrespective of the additional costs.
The court proceedings revealed that the initial design and the changed design of the atrium failed to meet the city’s building codes. Every person involved in the design and the construction failed to observe ethics. They failed to follow the set regulations. Their intentions for doing so were not clear. However, the fabricator who changed the design was morally responsible. He failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the design was practical. In addition, his intentions for doing so were morally unacceptable and questionable. He wanted to reduce the time it would take to assemble all the parts. He did not include enhanced safety measures in his second design. The second design doubled the load on the connector.
The contractor claimed that he had informed the engineers of the proposed changes and that the engineers had agreed with the plan. However, this call is in dispute because the engineers claimed that they did not receive it. Nevertheless, the contractors had the responsibility of ensuring that the changed plans were in line with the city’s building codes. This is irrespective of whether they had informed the engineers of the pending changes. The professional engineers are tasked with the major responsibility of ensuring that every structural component in the building has been constructed well and that it is safe. The engineering firm was aware of the changes as they were being implemented. It had a duty to dispute the changes during construction and to rectify the necessary changes.
ethics considers the moral obligations instead of the consequences. Had every
person involved in the construction done the right thing, then it is possible
that the collapse, death, and destruction could have been avoided. Following
the maxims, it is clear that there was no respect for human life. People were
seen more as a means to an end. The owners, the engineering firm, and the
contractors did not seem to care that the building lacked enhanced safety
measures. They did not show a lot of concern that the roof had fallen and that
it could have injured those who were working there as well. In addition, their
actions depicted their thinking concerning the universal applications of their
maxims. They placed costs and expenses above safety. The engineering firm
failed to act professionally by failing to conduct its investigations. It
depended on the word of the owner instead of professional experience and
Kay, Charles D. Notes on Deontology. 1999. Web. 18 Feb. 2016
Mackinnon, Barbara and Andrew Fiala. Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues. New York: Cengage Learning. Print
The Engineer. “Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse.” Engineering.com. 24 Oct. 2006. Web. 18 Feb. 2016