Washington, D., Potts, A.E. and Sincock, P., (2013) Presented at Engineers Australia Symposium, Structrual Failures. Lessons to be learned - Progress to be made, North Melbourne, October 2013.


In other than trivial instances, fabrication or construction of an asset is preceded by an engineering design process, in which a preferred design concept is first identified and then refined to achieve a final design suitable for construction. The cost of the engineering design process is typically a small fraction of the overall cost of an asset, no more than 10% of the cost of construction, and perhaps only around 1% of the cost of operating and maintaining the asset over its lifetime. However the risk associated with the engineering design process is proportionate to the overall cost of the asset, rather than the cost of the engineering design. Inappropriate design decisions or calculation errors made during the engineering design phase can adversely affect the performance and viability of the asset, causing construction cost overruns, reducing the useful life or requiring expensive rectification works. In extremis the consequence can be partial or catastrophic failure of the asset. A number of approaches have been adopted in the industry on the assumption that these will reduce or control the risks associated with the engineering design process, including:

  • Contractual means (liability, subrogation, insurance, form of contracting).
  • Selection of engineering designers on the basis of prior experience, key personnel, familiarity or size of engineering design office.
  • Checking and auditable design process.
  • Third party design verification, or warranty survey.
  • Design in accordance with design guidelines or to Classification Society requirements.

This paper reviews these approaches, and identifies those, which have a practical role in reducing engineering design related risk.