Global Engineering Capability Review

Making the world safer and supporting the greater good

Making the world safer

Engineers improve safety in a variety of ways, from the development of smart sensors in cars to the inspection and maintenance of industrial machinery. Engineering also plays a central role in the growth of circular economies, which move away from the industrial model of consuming finite resources and towards using and recycling natural materials instead.

In 2017 Lloyds Register Foundation released a study identifying global safety challenges where engineers and engineering skills could have a significant impact. These challenges included electronic waste and safety at sea. [6,7]

Electronic waste: Electronic waste (or e-waste) has become one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. Developing countries receive the bulk of electronic waste, much of which is recycled and repurposed for local industry. However, when broken down, e-waste emits toxins that can be highly dangerous. Engineers can design technology that is less harmful when recycled and can help to design cost-effective solutions that reduce workers’ exposure.

Safety at sea: The shipping industry still faces major safety challenges, despite a long-term decline in fatalities. These include the safety of lifeboat-lowering mechanisms, enclosed spaces on ships and mooring systems. Engineers continue to design solutions that improve safety, from more durable ropes to better breathing apparatus.

Supporting the greater good

Engineering can be used to remedy broader natural and social issues that are not captured by economic metrics. For instance, engineers support human livelihood and dignity, the improvement of systems and the avoidance of harm. Our collective future also requires engineering interventions to facilitate more sustainable environmental practices, such as reducing air pollution in cities and expanding access to potable water.

Many of these issues are identified in the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The work of engineers is crucial to achieving these SDGs, which rely on the development of innovative technologies, tools and processes to improve the living conditions of people around the world.[8] Similarly, the growth of digital technologies requires engineering skills to integrate those without internet access into the digital world.

Although safety is not an explicit consideration in the SDGs, it is an important component of their successful achievement. Addressing these safety considerations now will help to manage need in the future. In 30 years an additional two billion people will need access to safe food, water, employment and sustainable infrastructure. Currently, two billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water and experience reduced access to freshwater resources. [9] By 2050, one in four people will live in a country affected by shortages of freshwater. [10] In 2018, 21% of young people were not in employment or training. [11] Increasing levels of automation threaten low- skilled jobs all over the world, and by 2030 millions of new, safe jobs will be needed to meet demand, along with adequately trained workers to fill them. The share of renewable energy in final energy consumption increased by just 0.4% between 2012 and 2014. [12] To ensure access to affordable, clean energy, the world will need to triple annual investment in sustainable energy infrastructure from $500 billion to $1.5 trillion by 2030. [13] Engineering skills are required to ensure that the solutions to these problems embed safety considerations at each stage in the design and implementation process.

Finally, by developing circular economies or closed-loop systems, engineers can reduce the consumption of finite resources and ensure the long-term sustainability of natural ecosystems. A salient example is the creation of sustainable alternatives to the extraction of riverbed sand in the production of concrete, which we examine in greater detail in this report in the Thailand country profile. Engineers have long contributed to sustainable development and the public good and are instrumental to making further progress.