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Is the civil engineering profession doing enough to promote the safety-critical nature of our work, and does the profession have the necessary checks and balances to ensure safe outcomes? The recent partial collapse of the Bronx apartment building got me thinking about quality assurance. Not to get into this incident, but does the profession have sufficiently exacting standards for review and assurance? I read the ASCE's advocacy statement on quality assurance, and it's just about Milquetoast. I think the civil engineering profession might benefit from looking at the chemical (process) engineering profession and how they manage hazards and get paid for it. A structural collapse or failure in a critical water resource system can be just as dire as a loss of containment.
So Mitch, the collapse you note can be reviewed by Forensic Engineers.
But to get to the root-cause,
Dr. Deming's "Ask Why 5 times" would get us there.
I think a lot of this comes down to local requirements and company policies/practices. I was talking to an older engineer the other day about the circumvention of proper review channels at a previous firm: engineers planning to be out of the office with an upcoming deadline would sign the: "performed by" line on calculations, leave the "checked by" blank, and also sign for "approved by", before the calc had been reviewed. This gave the reviewer a blank check, and actually discouraged them from finding mistakes.
The standard of care and managing liability are powerful forces to keep engineers dotting i's and crossing t's, but clearly given that disaster-causing mistakes are still made, these incentives are not a complete solution. I think we need to examine these failures with more of an eye towards cultural and process factors that lead to technical mistakes. Owners don't know they're taking on risk of loss of life when they pursue aggressive schedules, bid projects fast-track, and reward consultants who "get it done" on whatever timeline, and with whatever constraints, but engineers should.
This is a good and challenging question.
Here are some concerning opinions or facts.
One of my old professors often expressed the point of view that 90 % of buildings would suffer failures if subjected full design loads
When reviewing the business of structural engineering consulting fees provided dictate the use of professional engineers with 5 years or less on Architectual client work.
We have professional associations that sole focus is safety for all professional engineers by their definition.
What I have observed because of economics there is less understanding of structural behavior and loading. Designs attempt to maintain safety by being more conservative. This approach does not prevent errors being made because lack of attention or lack of understanding. These are two of most common sources of errors.