ABET Civil Engineering Program Criteria Draft

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Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

  • 1.  Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-14-2021 05:49 PM
    The United States construction industry is a major part of the U.S. economy, and when you add in the industries supplying construction products and related materials, the size and impact gets even greater.  The construction industry also has the highest injury and fatality rates when compared to other U.S. industries.  Having more than fifty years of experience in managing and completing construction as a licensed civil engineer, I can state unequivocally that most entry level hires into construction related positions (non-craft), have little appreciation for the requirements associated with construction safety on job sites.  This can generally be attributed to little to no emphasis of construction safety in undergraduate curricula for Civil Engineers and those studying Construction Management.  It then becomes the responsibility of the hiring entity, be that owner, owner's rep or contractor, to quickly sensitize new hires to the importance of safety in construction operations.

    ABET requirements do not address construction safety.  In discussing the subject of adding an ABET requirement to include Construction Safety in the accreditation process for Civil Engineering with Civil Engineering Department Heads and professors, the reaction to the suggestion is generally met with shock and rejection.  The belief is that there are already significant, if not too many ABET requirements putting pressure on the institution/department to maintain its accreditation.  Yet, the fact remains that undergraduate Civil Engineers (and for that matter even Civil Engineers completing advanced degrees), are reporting to construction companies, and organizations with oversight and/or management responsibilities, with little to no appreciation for the numerous and varied construction safety hazards that they will encounter in their time on a job site.

    At the same time, those Civil Engineers being placed in entry level construction management positions will invariably find themselves immediately faced with the responsibility for ensuring a safe worksite.  They will rely on others, the organization, and published manuals and programs/plans to quickly become familiar with the challenges they face in enforcing safety on the jobsite.  The companies and organizations that succeed in maintaining a safe construction work environment are those that have safety as a core value and part of their culture.  That core value transcends the entire organization and receives visible emphasis from the highest levels of management including CEOs, Presidents and all officers and supervisors in the company.  Many successful organization have programs in place to provide some level of training to all employees in construction safety, as well as jobsite, office and process safety (in the chemical engineering industry, for example).  But it is the adoption of safety as a core value and part of an organization's culture that is essential to ensuring success.  Only when an organization believes that "all accidents are preventable" and "zero accidents is not only attainable but necessary" will there be the necessary framework for building that safety culture and core value.

    Entry level Civil Engineers and others entering the construction industry for the first time will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, if they do not have a working knowledge and appreciation for the hazards associated with construction as an industry, and the numerous and varied opportunities for encountering a safety situation which could result in severe injury or even death if left unaddressed.

    ASCE has taken some actions to work with other construction related organizations (the National Academy of Construction, for example) to explore ways to bring safety awareness to practitioners,  The Construction Industry Institute (CII) has also addressed the subject of improving jobsite safety in many papers and symposia.

    ABET could help improve safety performance in the construction industry by requiring some requirement for addressing construction safety in Civil Engineering and Construction Management curricula.  It is a topic that is definitely lacking in undergraduate coursework, and something which could pay tremendous dividends to reducing construction safety incidents

    Anthony Leketa P.E., F.ASCE
    Gambrills MD

  • 2.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-15-2021 07:59 AM
    14. ...explain the professional attitudes and responsibilities of a civil engineer ... | ABET Civil Engineering Program Criteria Draft (asce.org)

    The discrepancy is discussed in the link above.  Safety and the "hands on" learning appears to be included in the ABET ETAC criteria.  There seems to be a difference between the expectations and responsibilities of the technician and engineer.  Duties may fall to a technician where no licensure is required.  Yet, licensure means the engineer ultimately assumes responsible charge.  There are cases where the minute an engineer steps foot on a jobsite they assume some of that liability just by being there. The ABET criteria alone is not explicit in linking the course work with the overarching objective.  During a pandemic the general public is quick to turn to doctors for help.  During an infrastructure disaster, we should expect the general public to instill that same trust in an engineer.  The age old question to the man on the street remains "what does a civil engineer do?"

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 3.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-15-2021 12:46 PM
    Dear Mr. Leketa:

    Thank you for taking the time to present such a thoughtful and detailed perspective of the importance of exposure of students in civil engineering to concepts and principles of safety, and in particular safety in construction.  As Mr. Morrison noted in his response, the importance of some level of exposure to safety is included in the ABET General Criteria for all bachelor's programs in engineering.  Student Outcome 2 listed in Criterion 3 is:  "an ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, welfare, as well as global, cultural, environmental, and economic factors."

    Recognizing the special importance of safety for civil engineers, the ASCE Industry Leaders Council has recommended that safety receive special attention in the Civil Engineer Program Criteria.  After discussion, the CEPC Task Committee decided that even though safety is covered for all engineering programs under the ABET General Criteria, additional emphasis on safety for CE Programs is warranted.  The addition of "and safety" was included in the following revised statement of CE Program Criteria:  "explain the professional attitudes and responsibilities of a civil engineer, including licensure and safety."

    As you describe in detail, construction safety has its own special considerations.  While no one would dispute this, or the importance of safety in construction, civil engineering undergraduate programs are not required to include construction.  A majority of programs do, of course, but it is not required to be a focus.  According to the CE Program Criteria, programs are required to include in the curriculum exposure to four technical (specialty) areas appropriate to civil engineering.  For many programs, construction is one of these four areas, but there is no requirement that construction be included.  This allows flexibility in curriculum design to incorporate local strengths, needs, and opportunities.  This flexibility also enables programs to support the wide and growing diversity of engineering career tracks that BS Civil Engineering graduates pursue.  Safety is important to all of these career tracks, but in different ways.

    The CEPC Task Committee will be considering your comments and those of all of the others submitted on the important topic of safety.

    Dave Dzombak

    David Dzombak, PhD, PE, Dist.M.ASCE
    Hamerschlag University Professor and Dept Head
    Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Carnegie Mellon University
    Pittsburgh, PA 15213
    [email protected]

  • 4.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-16-2021 06:55 PM
    Dear all-
    Good discussion.  I agree with most that has been stated.  I will note Construction Engineering (CONE) typically have significant content about construction safety in many forms.  Also, not engineering and ANSAC accredited are construction management (CM) programs.  In the Durham School (UNL) CM student graduate in greater numbers and place directly into construction.  These curricula have A LOT of content about safety both in coursework on safety and embedded throughout.

    Aside:  One could also state CE students are missing scheduling, estimating, project management, contracts, ... that a CE who goes into construction will find themselves and employers challenged in this regard.  As more work will be contractor led in the future, is see CE departments will see a significant market for CONE.  This is a trend, perhaps, the CE profession is not capturing.

    Good discussion.  jp

    Jay Puckett P.E., F.ASCE
    University of Nebraska
    Omaha NE

  • 5.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-22-2021 09:45 AM

    Dear Colleagues,

    An excellent discussion indeed.  Mr. Leketa, Mr. Morrrison, Dr. Dzombak and Dr. Puckett are making the case, in their own way, for the importance of safety in CE education.   There is a difference in the unit of analysis, specifically as to  where the jurisdiction of the CE lies based on roles and responsibilities.  As a recipient of a civil engineering degree in 1993 that matches the current program criteria, and to some extent the new proposed one except for the DEI component, I can relate to all that has been shared.  The safety we were taught related to structural safety of the designed  facility.   Safety was also related to the performance during intended use by occupants/users, and in times of failure as to allowing users time to evacuate to a safer alternative.

    Mr. Leketa and Mr. Morrison are pointing to our responsibility during the construction phase when a CE is employed by a construction company or is assumed to be part of the construction team by mere presence on the site.   This responsibility has long been assumed to be mainly a reference to OSHA regulations applicable to construction or practices for compliance with it and not our 'jurisdiction 'as CEs.   My voice is with both Mr. Leketa and Mr. Morrison based on professional and educational experiences.  I realize the debate  on this will remain open.

    I would add another perspective that is less considered because the concept is not as prevalent.  I think that CE programs can do more to incorporate the concept of "Design for Safety" into the curriculum.  This concept was  introduced by Dr. John Gambatese (Oregon State University) and other researchers, where design features are intentionally mindful of the safety of the constructor(s) during the building process.   The construction process is treated as an input to the design process.  This results in safer and more buildable designs.  The CE education needs this as an integral part of design competencies.   The inclusion of 'safety' in the new program criteria as part of the "the professional attitudes and responsibilities of a civil engineer" is mainly reinforcing the traditional view and treatment that we have always had.  I strongly urge the consideration of "Design for Safety" in the new program requirements.

    Keep on Learning – Kind Regards,  TSA

    Tariq Sami Abdelhamid, PhD, CM-Lean

    Chief Lean Enterprise Officer

    Office of the Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises

    Associate Professor, Lean Construction

    School of Planning, Design and Construction

    Adjunct Associate Professor of Construction Engineering

    Civil & Environmental Engineering

    Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI 48824

    [email protected]


    Tariq Abdelhamid
    Michigan State Univ
    East Lansing MI

  • 6.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-22-2021 01:48 PM
    Dr. Dzombak, thank you for your comment.  Generally speaking there are two broad areas of safety = ensuring safety during the design phase of a project, and safety during implementation (construction, manufacturing, process, etc).  As you note, my comment is specifically directed at safety considerations during construction.  Over my career which encompasses the public and private sectors, I have had the opportunity to hire, either directly or by approval, numerous (hundreds) of entry level engineers for a variety of positions which are associated with monitoring construction operations.  One of my mantras is "life is about managing expectations" and I can unequivocally state that the vast majority of new hire civil engineers, who are hired to positions associated with monitoring construction operations, have little appreciation for the intricacies and requirements associated with ensuring safe construction practices.

    The addition of the words "and safety" to the revised statement of CE Program Criteria, may be a start, but it does little to capture the magnitude of the problem, or the consequences of inadequate emphasis in construction operations.  One life lost to lack of attention to safe practices is too many.  I have seen construction related deaths, maimings, permanent disability and the impacts to individuals, families, companies, etc, and I know you will agree we all need to do what we can to reduce the opportunity for future incidents.

    I still believe that incorporating "construction safety" into the ABET criteria for Civil Engineering would be an excellent way to shine a light on this important consideration.  It doesn't need to be a separate course or specialty (though Safety Engineering can, is and should be a designated professional field of endeavor).  But too often, I have seen the attitude that Safety is the responsibility of the safety professional when in reality it is everyone's responsibility.

    Construction is dangerous business, and too often construction safety is considered to be "someone else's" responsibility.  Civil Engineers are uniquely well educated and trained in many of the considerations associated with construction operations, safety should  be a high priority one.


    Anthony Leketa P.E., F.ASCE
    Gambrills MD

  • 7.  RE: Undergraduate Education in Construction Safety

    Posted 06-24-2021 02:39 PM
    Mr. Leketa, you are correct.  Construction is a dangerous business and it is the responsibility of each individual to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them.  This includes the safety of individuals not physically present at the moment (e.g. contractors and subcontractors not on site yet, the end user, future maintenance personnel, etc.) as well as those who are.  Adding robust coverage of safety in civil engineering curriculum would be a benefit to our industry and I support it wholeheartedly.

    Thank you for your comments.  The Task Committee had a lengthy discussion on safety and your comments will continue that discussion.  They will be shared and further discussed.

    Thank you,

    Herbert Raybourn P.E., M.ASCE
    Manager, Environmental Permitting Department
    Walt Disney World Resort
    Lake Buena Vista FL