Developing and evaluating
risk awareness in
mechanical engineering at UCT
G.S. Langdon 1,2 *, P.G. Mufamadi 1 ,
K.J. Balchin 1 & C.J. von Klemperer 1
1 Department of Mechanical Engineering, UCT
2 Centre for Research in Engineering Education, UCT
1. Background - why this is important?
2. How do we evaluate student risk awareness?
4. Interventions we have made
5. Future plans
Background – Risk awareness
• Hazard is the potential to cause harm; risk is the likelihood
of harm (in defined circumstances, and usually qualified by
some statement of the severity of the harm).
• Mechanical Engineering graduates should be trained to work
in situations that require them to understand and evaluate
risks and take appropriate action.
• Common objection: is this our responsibility?
Fitting it all in
“And how is education supposed to make me feel smarter?
Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some
old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home
winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?”
• Outcomes based education defines measurable graduate
attributes or outputs (exit level outcomes, or competencies)
that must be achieved in order for students to graduate
from a degree programme.
• Worldwide, the professional education bodies for
engineering have embraced the concept of outcomes (or
competencies) as the only approach to determining the
equivalency of an engineering graduate (and therefore the
• At UCT, this involves a 5 yearly cycle of accreditation visits
by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) where
we present evidence that our Mechanical Engineering
graduates are meeting the ten ECSA exit level outcomes.
From: Engineering Council of South Africa (2004) Whole
qualification standard for bachelor of science in
engineering/bachelors of engineering, PE-61/E-02-PE Revision 2.
Developing engineering identity
• Recently, CREE produced a position paper on learning and
concluded that learning in HEIs involves the development of
discursive identity in graduates
• “becoming” an engineer – learning to think, speak, act
and behave like an engineer
• Legitimate peripheral
participation in communities of
practice is a good way to
develop discursive identity
• Health, safety and the
environment are an integral
part of an engineering job
• In other words, we must let
them practice so they can pull
it off when they graduate
Evaluating risk awareness
• A risk awareness survey developed at the University of
Liverpool was modified for use at UCT (with permission),
using the following criteria:
• must be easily understood by students whose first
language is not English;
• must have information relevant to South Africa (e.g.
• must be limited to risk in engineering (rather than risk in
• must contain questions that can be completed within 15
• results should be comparable to those obtained by UOL
(Schleyer et al. 2007);
• must meet the ethical standards of UCT.
• The survey had questions in five areas:
• Concepts of hazard, safety and risk as part of everyday
• Knowledge of an engineer’s professional responsibility.
• Principles of hazard identification and risk assessment
• Techniques for reducing and controlling risk
• Potential exposure to hazards and risk in the workplace.
Students from 1st, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate Mechanical
and Electro-Mechanical Engineering degree programmes
were asked to participate on a voluntary basis.
Results were compared to those obtained from 1st year
students at the University of Liverpool
Survey results – overall performance
Survey results – by topic
Survey results – by question
Survey results – pass or fail?
• However one measures success or failure, there is clearly a problem,
either with the survey tool or the student awareness of risk and
related health and safety concepts
• There is a clear improvement in the 3rd year UCT student results
• The Liverpool students fare much better than UCT students
• UOL = first year University of Liverpool student data
Analysis of survey responses
• Three of the questions are acknowledged to have debatable
answers, with some disagreement between safety experts
as to the correct option (both in the UK and South Africa)
• Students exhibited poor understanding of risk reduction and
risk control measures
• Students performed best on hazard identification in the
Analysis of survey responses
• Improvements in 3rd year performance were attributed to
the 3rd year design curriculum which formally covers
certain aspects of risk awareness, including the ones
showing improved performance
• The development of a
completely new survey is
underway at present.
• Results were compared to
those obtained from our
graduate exit survey in 2010.
Exit survey on graduation
Exit survey on graduation
• Implementation of a formal risk assessment process at
final year project level
• Incorporating safety talks in each year from a safety expert,
linked to the EBE faculty annual safety week.
• Compulsory attendance at the workshop safety training
afternoon for final year undergraduate students
• However, what we really need is a change in the
curriculum – to fully embed these concepts in our students
For the future:
• Embedding risk concepts into all years, from entry through
to exit level:
• Curriculum review (currently ongoing) - incorporating
health, safety and risk education into more fully into
our undergraduate curriculum, including formal
lectures in a new course on Engineering
• Continue to develop UCT’s own evaluation tools to
assess student risk awareness
• Looking at horizontal and vertical coherence of “golden
strands” like risk through our degree progression
Thank you for your attention…
please complete a risk assessment before driving home..
• In South Africa,
there were 10837
fatal car crashes in
• This resulted in
• 4927 of the