The Responsibility of an Engineer

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My daughter is shortly to graduate from Ryerson University and recently took part in the ritual of ‘The calling of the Engineer

She told us about it and my first reaction was that it was all rather silly. However, being an engineer I had to look into it, carry out a root cause analysis if you will.

It was all rather fascinating.

The worlds of the ritual were written by Rudyard Kipling at the request of the Canadian professor H. E. T. Haultain. The ritual was deemed necessary because of the Quebec bridge disaster in which seventy four people died because of incorrect engineering analysis.

The complete wording of the ritual is not publicly available but a part of the ritual is reciting a Poem by Rudyard Kipling called the “Hymn of Breaking Strain”, this is the first verse (to give you a flavor):

THE careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
‘The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on the Stuff—the Man!

While the language may be archaic, we now have many women engineers including my mother and my daughter, the sentiment remains sound. An engineer carries responsibility for the work. You cannot blame the thing that broke, you have to blame the engineer. It does not matter why it broke, the engineer is responsible for and mitigating all possible risks. These include materials (where do your materials and allowable values come from?), geometry (Too thin? Too slender? Too few fasteners?), manufacturing (read and understand those process specifications and understand the quality system), installation (process specs again, corrosion protection, clamp up forces, etc) , service (load and environmental conditions), repair (approved repairs, field repair materials and processes, etc.). If any of these are incorrect or inappropriate the engineer is to blame.

Many engineers see their discipline as an abstract theoretical exercise and spend all their time working on, for example, finite element analysis. This is common if you work in a large technical office and it is how I spent the first few years of my career. However, the level of responsibility of each engineer is not changed by their working environment.

Rituals are an important way of imprinting ideas and memorizing them.

So having spent some time looking into it from the position of an old(ish) and cynical engineer I have concluded that the ceremony has value. Those values do have to be reinforced on a regular basis though.

Modernity seems to take a dim view of rituals, but I think we do need them and we institute them in our lives when they are not imposed externally.

Good for the Canadian engineers and their seven wardens.

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Your email address will not be published.

The Responsibility of an Engineer

A version of this article first appeared in our free newsletter, to subscribe click here.

My daughter is shortly to graduate from Ryerson University and recently took part in the ritual of ‘The calling of the Engineer

She told us about it and my first reaction was that it was all rather silly. However, being an engineer I had to look into it, carry out a root cause analysis if you will.

It was all rather fascinating.

The worlds of the ritual were written by Rudyard Kipling at the request of the Canadian professor H. E. T. Haultain. The ritual was deemed necessary because of the Quebec bridge disaster in which seventy four people died because of incorrect engineering analysis.

The complete wording of the ritual is not publicly available but a part of the ritual is reciting a Poem by Rudyard Kipling called the “Hymn of Breaking Strain”, this is the first verse (to give you a flavor):

THE careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
‘The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on the Stuff—the Man!

While the language may be archaic, we now have many women engineers including my mother and my daughter, the sentiment remains sound. An engineer carries responsibility for the work. You cannot blame the thing that broke, you have to blame the engineer. It does not matter why it broke, the engineer is responsible for and mitigating all possible risks. These include materials (where do your materials and allowable values come from?), geometry (Too thin? Too slender? Too few fasteners?), manufacturing (read and understand those process specifications and understand the quality system), installation (process specs again, corrosion protection, clamp up forces, etc) , service (load and environmental conditions), repair (approved repairs, field repair materials and processes, etc.). If any of these are incorrect or inappropriate the engineer is to blame.

Many engineers see their discipline as an abstract theoretical exercise and spend all their time working on, for example, finite element analysis. This is common if you work in a large technical office and it is how I spent the first few years of my career. However, the level of responsibility of each engineer is not changed by their working environment.

Rituals are an important way of imprinting ideas and memorizing them.

So having spent some time looking into it from the position of an old(ish) and cynical engineer I have concluded that the ceremony has value. Those values do have to be reinforced on a regular basis though.

Modernity seems to take a dim view of rituals, but I think we do need them and we institute them in our lives when they are not imposed externally.

Good for the Canadian engineers and their seven wardens.

Comment On This Post

Your email address will not be published.