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The Molasses Flood of 1919 and Other Ethical Failures in Engineering

The Molasses Flood of 1919 and Other Ethical Failures in Engineering
Course Highlights

This online engineering PDH course describes those aspects of an engineering failure and its aftermath that should be considered when assessing 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 public’s 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.


In creating devices of various kinds for use by clients or by the general public, engineers have an ethical duty to strive to prevent the devices from harming anyone.  Thus, when a failure occurs in an engineering device and someone is injured or killed, the question always arises whether the engineers responsible for the device have failed to fulfill their ethical duty; that is, have they behaved negligently?  But determining negligence can be difficult.


This 2 PDH online course is intended for engineers concerned with ethical behavior in engineering practice.

Learning Objectives

This PE continuing education course is intended to provide you with the following specific knowledge and skills:

  • Understanding the definitions of negligence and standard of care
  • Understanding the relations of safety and risk
  • Learning about Knightian uncertainty
  • Learning about retrospective fallacy in accident investigations
  • Understanding the myth of perfect engineering practice in accident investigations
  • Understanding the uses and misuses of the results of failure investigations
  • Learning about the negative effects of punishment on learning from accidents
  • Understanding the general causes of engineering failures
Course Document

In this professional engineering CEU course, you need to review the document titled, "The Molasses Flood of 1919 and Other Ethical Failures in Engineering," written by Mark Rossow, July, 2015.

To view, print and study the course document, please click on the following link(s):
The Molasses Flood of 1919 and Other Ethical Failures in Engineering (810 KB)
Course Quiz

Once you complete your course review, you need to take a multiple-choice quiz consisting of fifteen (15) questions to earn 2 PDH credits. The quiz will be based on the entire course document.

The minimum passing score is 70%. There is no time limit on the quiz, and you can take it multiple times until you pass at no additional cost.
Certificate of Completion

Upon successful completion of the quiz, print your Certificate of Completion instantly. (Note: if you are paying by check or money order, you will be able to print it after we receive your payment.) For your convenience, we will also email it to you. Please note that you can log in to your account at any time to access and print your Certificate of Completion.

To buy the course and take the quiz, please click on: