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ASCE's Stance on Safety: More Must Be Done


Safety is paramount to the civil engineering profession and a bedrock on which the public's trust that we hold so dear sits. I have no doubt of the ASCE's commitment to safety:

  • Safety is a core element of the ASCE's mission: to Lead the civil engineering profession to sustainably advance and protect the health, safety, and welfare of all
  • Safety is embodied in a number the ASCE's supporting policy statements.
  • Safety is at the core of the work of many of the technical committees and institutes.

However, there is a shortage of practical information and guidance that civil engineers can use to keep themselves and others safe. This is a significant gap, and there should be a sense of urgency to close, but I have not seen.

Part of the problem may be how safety is defined and where civil engineers' responsibility begins and ends. Safety has many dimensions, and maybe by breaking safety down into constituent parts, meaningful headway can be made to improve the ASCE's stance on safety.

Personal Safety of Civil Engineers in the Office and the Field –  I don't think anyone should dispute this being an ASCE objective. Lifesaving rules would be a solution here, whether adopted formally or informally.

Safety Management Awareness – Civil engineers need to have a broad awareness of safety management across the life cycle of their projects. I don't think anyone should dispute this being an ASCE objective. This needs to come into the 4-year engineering curriculum and continuing education, among other things.

Design Safety – this is the role of codes and standards. In the petrochemical world, design safety is known as process safety. The opportunity here is to help folks understand how codes and standards, including industrial standards, deliver design safety. An opportunity might be to expand design safety to include inspection, maintenance, and future repair.

Construction Safety – This might be where the rub lies. Civil engineers must be responsible to others for their work, e.g., their designs should not be inherently dangerous to construct. Still, civil engineers should not necessarily be held responsible for the construction of their designs.

Several examples follow where I think the ASCE can quickly act in the areas where priorities should be disputed.

Create a Safety Resource Page on

This would complement the existing page on ethics. It would be a place to collate safety content of interest to the civil engineering community. There is already a wealth of content. An example is the interview with Professor John Gambatese, civil and construction engineering professor at Oregon State University and past chair of ASCE's Construction Safety Committee on Optimizing safety through design. This short video touches on job site safety, prevention planning by design, the use of technology to eliminate hazards, and the all-important concept of safety leadership, which would be extremely valuable for raising safety awareness.

Develop a New Policy on Personal Safety / Review the Existing Policies for Consistency and Audience

A new policy on personal safety would address a glaring omission. The existing policies should be reviewed for consistency of message and audience. As many of these policies apply to civil engineers and our work, I also question the wisdom of placing these policies under Advocacy, the risk being Advocacy could be looked at as something that others do. If they apply to civil engineers, they should be made more personal.

Develop and Promulgate Best Practices for Managing Personal Safety

Using best practices would allow civil engineers and engineering firms to benefit and learn from others versus having to self-discover or reinvent the wheel. Consider adopting a set of lifesaving rules. One easy way that I think the ASCE can elevate its game is to develop or adopt a set of lifesaving rules like the oil and gas industry. Through its international industry association, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), the oil and gas industry has developed a set of lifesaving rules to protect workers from injury and save lives.

 The rules include 1) Bypassing safety controls, 2) Confined space, 3) Driving, 4) Energy isolation, 5) Hot work, 6) Line of fire, 7) Safe mechanical lifting, 8) work authorization, and 9) Working at height.

While developed for the oil and gas industry, these rules relate to hazards that can be found on any civil engineering job site. These rules are pretty simple to follow and can protect lives and ensure everyone goes home to their loved ones at the end of their shift or workday. More details can be found by clicking on this link.

Furthermore, promoting simple best practices, such as requiring employees to hold the handrails while on stairs, can significantly reduce falls while creating and reinforcing a safety-first mindset. 

There is no ambiguity in ASCE's commitment to safety. With some simple actions, I think the ASCE can quickly elevate the current safety profile of the profession and, in doing so, prevent injuries and maybe save lives. Furthermore, these actions will benefit students and younger members, filling an acknowledged gap.





18 days ago

The above article is roughly "right on". The industrial firms are the "owners"  and all projects need to have an owner who establishes the site specific safety standards for all contractors as well as the owner's personnel. This could be forwarded to the GC for implementation. Regardless, it needs to be there for all to see and observe. Of course, constant verbal reference to the standards must be on a continuing basis.

Sometimes language can be a barrier. I recall the safety indoctrination at a refinery in Aruba where the rules had to be discussed in three languages and everything had to be verbal- at least for the workers although I never saw anything in writing.

Sometimes, experience and concern may play a part in the local safety standards and execution. If you can stand another story, I recall a prospective rental of a large  truck crane for a steel structure. The contractor was a  out-of-town contractor who mostly did metal buildings, I was appalled at the lack of proper safety precautions and declined to offer a rental.

At our next Monday supervisory  meeting, I mentioned this and the CEO jumped on me harshly for turning down a good rental. However, after a man fell more than 20 feet to his death, the message flipped and I was a hero.  Go Figure!

03-22-2024 04:22 PM

Q. When, what, and how will ASCE take a Leadership Role To mitigate/eliminate construction site safety results?

  • Background:

There is no shortage of posts and papers on engineering ethics, education, and the R,R, and A of engineers herein.

This is true whether a P.E., Ph.D., or not.

Yet on the subject of this post,

"The silence is deafening."

The only way for evil to win is for good people to do nothing.

[I don't recall the original source for the quote.]

Attachments for your review and consideration.



03-20-2024 08:16 PM

Have you considered joining the Construction Safety Committee? It has been in existence for some time. In addition, the Crane Safety Committee is attached to the larger committee. I am a member of the latter as cranes were my career.

Jim Worrell