Can you imagine a world without civil engineers? No, neither can site engineer Jack Tregartha, who lets us in on five brilliant things about his profession.
Imagine a world without civil engineers, without the infrastructure that was the foundation for the transition from the industrial to the technology age. Since records began, we’ve been installing the framework to support people’s lives.
Take transportation for instance. A recent study has shown a reduction in road accident fatalities across Europe from 54,000 fatalities to 25,000 over the past 19 years. This is partly down to the work that civil engineers carry out in building safer roads. In the UK there was a total of 160,597 casualties of all severities in reported road traffic accidents in 2018. This was 6% lower than in 2017 and was the lowest level on record.
So here are five great things about civil engineering, the problems we face and how we overcome them to build the world we live in.
1. We provide essential infrastructure
Let’s start with something we probably all take for granted. Civil engineers lay the utility infrastructure from your doorstep right to the network providers to ensure your home has all the essential needs to facilitate quality of life.
We lay complex networks of sewers to take sewage for treatment. A great example and fascinating large-scale project which demonstrates this is the Thames Tideway Tunnel. The tunnel is being constructed beneath the existing river Thames, designed to prevent millions of tonnes of raw sewage being deposited into the river.
As well as taking sewage away, we bring fresh water into your home from reservoirs to provide you with all your basic sanitary requirements. We provide the infrastructure for all the other basic utilities such as gas, electric, communications etc.
Equally important as the utility infrastructure, is the road infrastructure we provide which gets you from A to B. However, the greater challenge is improving the existing roads such as motorways and trunk roads to alleviate congestion. We do this by designing schemes such as ‘smart’ motorways which are designed to allow the motorway to still be operational whilst the upgrade works are being carried out.
2. We overcome challenges
There’s a lot to consider when trying to design and construct any type of work:
Health and safety - We have an obligation to make sure that our workers are kept safe, especially when carrying out high risk operations. To do this, we must comply with HSE regulation and implement safe systems of work such as risk assessments, method statements, permits to work, works plans etc
Sustainable infrastructure - We often need to build infrastructure that meets the needs of today and in one hundred years’ time whilst not impacting the economic cost now.
Experience - Experience is critical for the successful outcome of construction projects and unfortunately can only be gained through time served. Due to the complex nature of the operations we carry out, previous experience is a necessity
Communication - Again, as a complex industry involving a variety of different disciplines and specialists, communication is critical to ensure information is distributed and complies with all the regulatory consents. Lack of clear information is a common problem making the implementation stage more difficult.
Time - Often clients request that projects are completed as soon as possible so they can start operating whatever it is they have instructed to be built. However, if we don’t manage projects to strict timescales then either quality or safety can be impacted.
3. We're innovators and problem solvers
21st century civil engineering is an exciting industry to be in at the moment, with innovations such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), robotic total station and 3D machine control, which have helped us overcome and produce more sustainable projects.
Using state-of-the-art BIM software programmes, we can literally visualise how a project is going to be built from inception to completion. This helps detailed planning to be done, and enables visual representation of how the works are going to be carried out.
This helps improves safety by mitigating risk, identifying it and implementing a suitable control procedure. It also helps implementation, communication and time management as this enables the contractor to put realistic dates against programmed works. Different disciplines can ‘plug’ into the BIM model which reduces the risk of any clashes or missed information thereby saving time and money.
Early contractor involvement is being introduced more predominantly now especially with large infrastructure projects such as HS2, which allows a construction input into the design stage which in turn helps the whole team coordinate.
Another way we have reduced the impact of communication at the construction stage is by using smart systems such as Komatsu’s ‘Intelligent Construction’ platform which enables designs to be loaded into an excavator or bulldozer, which allows the operator to have the latest 3D design information at his fingertips without having to worry about model updates and revisions.
4. We're creatives. No, really!
The public often overlook how much of a creative industry civil engineering can be. Every building is different and behind this is a designer who had a vision to come up with the infrastructure that we see every day. There is also creativity required at the construction stage and bringing to life the design which has been provided.
5. We make a difference!
As an engineer you have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by building connected communities. No two days are the same in the industry. We work with a macroscopic view and it’s truly a great feeling to have built something you are proud of and can show others.