Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

5 Critical Assessment Questions for Design Safety

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well.  Work has slowed down for me a bit, but I did go on a site visit recently where our firm inspected a floor structure collapse.  The collapse reminded me of the responsibility engineers have in regards to occupant/pedestrian safety and I would like to discuss some of my thoughts about that.  In this post, I will share the 5 questions that addressed to ensure a safe design.


1) Would you would feel safe?
The floor collapse first reminded me of a quote (written by Michael Armstrong) that I read a long time ago.  “The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.”  When you design something, the safety of the occupants and other pedestrians is critical; if you don’t believe that you did everything possible to safely design the structure, then it shouldn’t be considered safe for other people to use either.
2) Are you qualified to make the decision?
In designing a structure, it is critical to have the necessary qualifications.  This ensures that you have practiced enough engineering and gotten enough experience in the design process.  Knowledge is important; however, just knowing how to do something does not mean you can adequately design the structure and all the parties involved can stand behind your decision from a legal perspective.  The best engineers have extensive practice and repeatedly executed the design process so that they know how to analyze the design instinctively. 
3) Do you have enough knowledge to make the decision?

This is similar to the previous point, but this gap in knowledge can also happen to an experienced engineer.  A design can start out being in one area of focus, but shift to another very quickly.  Or the scope of the design could not be very focused at all, and as time goes on the focus gets far more detailed which requires special education.  When this happens, it is critical that you as engineer obtain this knowledge and/or get some consultation from some one who as this knowledge.  If you don’t, it leaves doubts as to whether the design will perform as desired.
4) Are there unique circumstances that might make this situation different?
A design could also fail due to unique circumstances that were overlooked.  For example, you may be designing a structure that has been done a million times before but is constructed differently.  Or the structure and/or area around it could be different.  Whatever it is, these unique circumstances could change what is required for a safe design.  If these unique circumstances are overlooked, a critical check in the design process could be missed.
5) What is at stake if you are wrong?
Different buildings are used for different purposes.  Depending on the purpose, the cost of failure could change drastically; either in terms of pedestrian safety or the usage of the building.  To ensure that the design is safe and the community is not drastically impacted by it’s failure, the consequences of being wrong needs to be considered.
In my opinion, these are the 5 critical questions that need to be addressed for design safety.  What questions do you think are important for design safety?  Are there any critical questions I missed?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!
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