Engineering News

Friday, 23 August 2019

An insider’s perspective on the importance of Safety in Design

An insider’s perspective on the importance of Safety in Design

Brandon Geüe is a Mechanical Systems Engineer at Engineering. Systems. Management. Below, Brandon shares his perspective on the importance of Safety in Design and Engineering Governance.

I started my engineering career working in the defence industry. Defence is renowned for having very rigorous engineering and safety processes. At the very least, if a system fails, no one wants to be responsible for the deaths of the operators or the failure of a mission, or potentially the loss of a multi-billion-dollar asset.

After some years in this environment I changed industries and was working as a design engineer for a manufacturing business. The company didn’t have much in the way of process but I was confident that it wouldn’t prevent me from doing my job. Within 18 months of starting my new job, I had experienced the safety-related downsides to this lack of process and was no longer comfortable working for the organisation.

I moved jobs and started working as a consultant, predominantly focussed around reviewing engineering processes and engineered-safety training. Again, it didn’t take long before I realised that what I had been trained in early in my career was not standard practice in many organisations.

Engineering is typically the most complex and expensive part of a project and when not done correctly it can be potentially lethal and or can bankrupt an organisation. An engineering process is crucial to ensuring the design integrity and success of a project, yet many engineering organisations don’t have one.

Through my experience, I’ve learned not to take an engineering process for granted and that what are viewed by some as “onerous” processes are simply the correct way of doing engineering, developed and proven by people who had experienced the consequences of getting it wrong and made available so that people didn’t have to repeat their mistakes.

I’ve experienced both extremes of the engineering process spectrum and I find it baffling when engineers are expected to deliver complex projects with little more structure than a vague wish-list, a budget and a deadline. Most people wouldn’t consider this enough information to order a sandwich, yet it’s how some organisations approach engineering.

Not every project needs military-grade processes, but without anything governing an organisation’s most complex activity, how do they expect to get it right? The level of design assurance required by defence applications would cripple many commercial operations but having no process leaves everyone exposed and no one wants to be left “holding the bag”. A properly developed engineering process not only ensures the integrity and safety of a product but also works to effect a work culture where engineers can focus on adding value rather than trying to protect themselves from being exposed.

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