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I applaud the initiative to strengthen the teaching of design and personal safety into the undergraduate curriculum ref Academic Safety Challenge. Civil Engineering, September / October 2021
However, the challenges with implementation reflect a somewhat sad and disturbing commentary on our current educational system. Specifically, and as highlighted in the article, many civil engineering educators are focused on theory and / or lack practical experience to teach safety. The article is specific to safety but safety in my opinion is a proxy for a more extensive gap in engineering skills. Bringing in lecturers or professors of practice to teach topics like safety treats the symptoms and not the root cause of a larger problem in my view. Getting the educational system to get the right balance back between educators with theory and practice is not going to easy but we need to try.
How do others see the problem and solutions? Did others see the irony in the safety article?
Universities are responsible for OSHA safety plans, and they should be the ones planning and offering basic safety courses to all students, or at the very least, the science (labs) and engineering students. Economics/business students learn about "risk" and how to avoid it. "Break-out" groups, or homework, could be tailored for particular disciplines. (maybe just having required reading of the regulations, or the Federal Registers for proposed rulemaking that lay out the reasons behind the regs). Even passersby face safety risks at the border of construction projects, on the road, around holes, or at the outlet of ventilation systems. This could be a good way to bring the real world to the whole community, and it might even help make the public a little more knowledgeable about the physical reality, which science and engineering seek to understand and/or modify for human use.Having taken required OSHA safety training while in various environmental roles, I found that it can be an excellent way to understand hazards and how to do a job safely, provided the instructors are good and experienced in workplace conditions where their "trainees" work. We should not reinvent the wheel. But I propose that hazard and safety principles need to be incorporated throughout a department's curriculum, instead of having a separate course for an extra few hours. On the other hand, safety/risk training for safety trainers would be a valuable course addition to any institution of higher learning, and could welcome professionals from outside the ivory tower as students. It would definitely diversify the real world safety stories of the class. As civil or other engineering student are taught to design, they should be fully trained in the hazards and risks of those designs over their lifecycles, including in construction (installation) and operation. Workforce (and personal) risk should certainly be included in our courses. Sarah Simon P.E.Boston Section
If you are really concerned with the current state of CE education, I would like to urge all of you to become more actively involved with ASCE's committees such as the Committee of Accreditation and C. of Education. ASCE provides guidance to ABET which is the accreditation organization for all engineering programs throughout the country. ABET sets the standards for engineering programs in the US and elsewhere. Currently, the program criterion for civil engineering is being rewritten by ASCE. This will impact all current and future graduates in civil engineering.
Some further thoughts on my post, spurred by the responses.
It does not require a 3 credit course to get across the basic tenets of safety. CE graduates (all levels) in my view should have awareness of the importance of workplace and worksite safety and how their actions impacts the safety and welfare of the general public. A knowledgeable and experienced instructor should be able to create this awareness within any design course. Others would hopefully be able to repeat and message. Awareness is the key. Graduates should have sufficient awareness to know if their work environment is safe. They should also have an awareness that they play a critical (albeit small initially) role in managing risk
My original post, while prompted by safety, was more about the current practice and norms for undergraduate CE education. Not to be dismissive of the dedication of those working to update the current system, I see the effort as largely focused on tweaking what is already in place. Change is admittedly hard and is usually most effectively accomplished through small, incremental, steps. The problem with this approach, however, it that it is slow and potentially lagging to the needs of students and employers. I think a valuable exercise, if not already conducted, would be to apply a strategic assessment process to CE education. A process that would objectively look at the end in mind and how to get there, including alternatives and options. The goals would be to gain a view of priorities and how to deliver that transcends vested interests and seemingly inviolable issues. While the outcome may not be able to be implemented it will at a minimum set a strategic road map to support and guide incremental efforts and provide for constructive tension.