Ethical Analysis of Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse The collapse of the overhead walkways in the Hyatt Regency hotel occurred on the 17 June 1981 (Garmon 1982), as a result 114 people were killed (Poel & Royakkers 2011) and many injured. An investigation was lead to determine the cause of the incident. Ultimately, it was concluded that the failure of the walkways were attributed to the fact that the construction did not meet the Kansas City Building code requirements coupled with miscommunication within the project between designers and constructors (Stalking the Causes of the Hyatt Tragedy 1981).
The ethical implications due to the failure of the walkways lead to many moral problems regarding the procedure of duty and responsibility of authority. Within this incident there are a number of parties that hold an interest in the results and findings of the case. These are known as stakeholders and can be ordered into the following sets: the victims and family members of those in the disaster; the Hyatt Regency Hotel as a corporation; the building contractors; and the engineers and the firms that they are associated with.
The main interest of the majority of these parties is to reduce costs and allow for greater ease of construction. This interest raises a moral concern of where cost reduction can be maximised without impairing the safety of other stakeholders such as the users of the hotel. The users of the hotel as well as the victims of the incident and their families hold the interest that they are entitled to the use of the construction without fear of their own safety.
This conflicting moral issue raises the concern that the safety of individuals shouldn’t be sacrificed in order to reduce costs and to cut corners in order to ease construction. The moral problem encompasses the responsibility of the designers and constructors to ensure the safety of people’s lives whilst in use of their designs over minimising costs. The main design of the walkway was initially changed because it was considered difficult and time consuming (Guyer 2010) this fact led to the failure of the walkways.
The failure and collapse of the walkways could have been avoided if there wasn’t a conflict of moral values and interests between stakeholders. If the steel manufacturing company kept the original design the walkways would have met the required building code (Guyer 2010). This would have meant that that the two walkways could have supported a greater load and might not have collapsed. If a greater level of communication between the stakeholders was obtained then the design changes would have been noticed.
Personally I believe that the main moral problem is that cost cutting was prioritised over a safely designed building. The contractors shouldn’t have changed the design because it was considered too expensive, and as a result of this, the engineers should have noticed the changes and deemed that the walkways unsafe. This unethical prioritising and negligence conflicted with the other stakeholders’ opinions that they are entitled to a safe building. The ethical issues of this case can be related to the moral framework of utilitarianism.
This ethical theory is based on a measure of individual happiness. And involves what is considered the best for the majority of society (Mill 1863), this is usually recognised by weighing up the positives and negatives of a situation to determine the best outcome. In the case of this situation, the main factor is the fact that the engineers did not fully check the adjusted drawings of the design. If the change had been recognised then it would have been noted that it did not meet building code standards and, potentially, the whole disaster could have been avoided.
In the situation that occurred, the design was changed resulting in the outcome that only a few individuals benefited by earning more money and that the builders were not faced with a difficult design build. Yet, in this case it resulted in many stakeholders losing their lives which meant that any money gained due to the construction cut was lost in other expenses such as reconstruction, legal fees and compensation and therefore it was not the decision that benefitted the majority of society.
Utilitarianism would dictate that in order to allow for maximum happiness within society it should be ensured that disasters like this do not occur again. To allow for this those responsible should confirm that the same mistakes are not made. According to the utilitarian framework the engineers responsible should have their practising licenses revoked, which is what happened after the investigation into the incident. Kantianism is another moral framework pertaining to the ethical issues of this case.
This theory is derived from the idea that one should contribute to society in a positive manner whereby one should do their duty as they wish wider society would adhere to (Dworkin 1977). Unlike utilitarianism, this theory built on the fundamental of duty not happiness because of the argument that something that makes one happy is not always justifiably moral. The engineers should have been aware of their own moral duty from the engineering code of ethics and as autonomous beings should have checked the drawings.
Under the universality principle of Kantian ethics the engineers have the moral obligation to commit to the duty that is expected of them. They should have been aware of how their negligence was reflecting on the wider society of the engineering community and by their own negligence they were encouraging the practice of negligence within others. According to the reciprocity principle the engineers and contractors need to think of the results of the actions and that people could be, and in this case were, seriously injured because of their inattention.
An ethical solution to this case is derived from the principles according to utilitarianism. Those responsible for the disaster lost their practising licenses and the contractors and companies were all held accountable for the unethical and immoral actions. In terms of preventing the disaster altogether, which would be the most ethical solution, corners shouldn’t have been cut in order to reduce costs. The loss of life could have been avoided completely had attention to detail been made to ensure the walkways were built according to correct procedures initially. References
Dworkin, R 1977, Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard University Press, Cambridge. Feldman, Fred 1978, Introductory Ethics New York: Prentice-Hall; pp. 97-117 Garmon, L 1982, Code breach blamed for hotel disaster, Science News, 121, 10, p. 149 Guyer, J 2010, Ethical Issues from the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel Collapse, CED Engineering, New York Mill, J 1863, Utilitarianism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago Poel, I & Royakkers, L 2011. Ethics, Technology and Engineering: An Introduction, 1st edn, Wiley-Blackwell, UK Stalking the Causes of the Hyatt Tragedy, 1981, Science News, 120, 13, p. 196