CROSS Safety Report
Checking structural calculations
A reporter worked for a small consultancy as a graduate structural engineer where their calculations were never checked.
Key Learning Outcomes
For engineering design consultancies:
- A quality assurance system within your organisation, that includes the internal checking of calculations, can help prevent safety issues from occurring
- Competent supervision of design by experienced personnel can enable less experienced engineers to develop a feel for the right solution
- In 2009, SCOSS published a Guidance Note, Independent review through peer assist, which sets out the relevant principles
For civil and structural design engineers:
- Design engineers should be encouraged to seek reviews of their work by a competent person. Independent reviews are helpful not just in ensuring good practice but also in assisting with learning and team development
Find out more about the Full Report
The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.
A reporter worked for a small consultancy for three months as a graduate structural engineer where they prepared calculations for four substantial public buildings. On initial enrolment, the manager told the reporter they would check the beams they thought might be wrong, but none of the calculations the reporter produced were ever checked.
Once, when a mishap occurred, the reporter began saying to the manager: 'In my calculations I assumed ...', when their manager interrupted and replied "I've got no interest in looking at your calculations and neither has anyone else. I just want to make sure the drawing is correct'.
The reporter does not think that this is right, regardless of the seniority of the engineer doing the calculations. The reporter has since found another job where everything is checked, so they can learn from mistakes they may make and have peace of mind that their designs are safe.
Expert Panel Comments
Find out more about the Expert Panels
Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.
The Panel has sympathy for the reporter, a graduate engineer who was clearly concerned about not having their design calculations checked. Everyone makes mistakes at all points in their career, we are only human. It should always be welcomed to have a second opinion or check of some sort. How can someone tell if a drawing is correct, if the calculations underpinning it are not?
Creating a good safety culture
What is particularly worrying is that a graduate is, by definition, not fully qualified and therefore should not be producing safety critical work without proper oversight. It is part of a good safety culture for work to be reviewed and, if necessary, criticised so that lessons can be learned and safety issues not perpetuated. Nowhere is this more important than for graduates learning their profession.
If you compare the number of lecture hours on a course, say on structural analysis, to a week’s work in an office (38 hours), you will find the teaching hours remarkably small in comparison. Any management that employs a starting graduate and assumes they do not need to have their work checked is at fault. It is good practice for organisations to have a quality assurance system in place to ensure that designs are properly checked.
Independent reviews are encouraged
Designers should be encouraged to seek reviews of their work by a competent person. Independent reviews are helpful not just in ensuring good practice but in assisting with learning and team development. In 2009, SCOSS published a Guidance Note, Independent review through peer assist, which sets out the relevant principles and is a useful reference.
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