Do Undergraduate Engineering Faculty Include Occupational and Public Health and Safety in the Engineering Curriculum?
Farwell, Dianna, Rossignol, Annette M., Talty, John T., Journal of Environmental Health
The Professional Engineer's Code of Ethics includes the responsibility "to hold paramount the public safety, health, and welfare," (1) and yet several recent reports suggest that few undergraduate engineering programs include any structured course material relevant to identifying environmental threats to health and controlling occupational and public health and safety hazards (2,3,4,5,6,7,8). Because environmental health professionals must work with engineers in preventing and controlling environmental hazards, both in occupational and public health settings, it is of the utmost importance that engineering students and practitioners are sensitized to the relevance of health and safety in their design and evaluation strategies.
The objectives of this study were to determine whether engineering faculty are including occupational and public health and safety material in their undergraduate engineering courses, why engineering faculty choose to include or not include these areas in their courses, what sources engineering faculty use to locate health and safety materials for use in their courses, and what research backgrounds engineering faculty have in the areas of health and safety.
A questionnaire probing faculty interest in and instructional commitment to occupational and public health and safety was mailed to 324 undergraduate engineering professors in 112 U.S. colleges of engineering. (A subset of the questions asked is contained in Tables 1 and 2.) These 324 professors were divided into three groups of 108 engineering professors. The first group consisted of professors who had attended any of five National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-sponsored workshops for engineering faculty. Members of the other two groups were selected at random: the second group were professors, from the same discipline and university as those who attended the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-sponsored workshops, selected randomly from the 1991-1992 college and university catalogs on microfiche, while the third group were engineering professors from the same discipline but from different universities than the first two groups. This selection process was facilitated by assembling a list from the 1992 Directory of Engineering and Engineering Technology Undergraduate Programs and the 1992 Love Joy's College Guide to identify universities not represented at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health workshops. Colleges and universities were selected at random from these college/university lists, and the faculty were then randomly selected from the 1991-1992 college and university catalogs on microfiche. One hundred seventy-five questionnaires were returned. Eighteen of these questionnaires were excluded, yielding 157 questionnaires (response rate = 51%) for analysis, because the faculty was either retired or had left the university setting. Ninety-seven percent of those faculty responding were from undergraduate engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Fifty-six undergraduate engineering professors were from group 1, 51 from group 2, and 50 from group 3, representing 65 colleges of engineering.
The data were analyzed by contrasting the positive responses ("mildly" plus "strongly" positive) with the neutral plus negative responses to the survey questionnaire.
The majority of engineering faculty believed it is necessary to address occupational health and safety (78.8%) and public health and safety (73.7%) in undergraduate engineering courses. Currently, 57.3% address occupational health and safety in their courses, while 41.8% address public health and safety. Based on feedback to faculty, most engineering students felt that inclusion of health and safety content in undergraduate engineering classes was professionally useful (occupational health and safety, 82.0%, and public health and safety, 82. …