One aspect of social sustainability for construction engineering is to make sure our people are working in an environment that’s safe. We want them to go home at the end of the day in one piece.

Nicholas Tymvios

Nicholas Tymvios can't bring a Caterpillar 793D off-road truck into his classroom. Weighing more than 400 tons and standing over 20 feet high, it wouldn't fit through the door of the Dana Engineering Building. So the professor of civil & environmental engineering brings the next-best thing: a 1-to-50 scale model he picked up on eBay. It might be just a toy, but together with a few dozen more die-cast replicas all built to the same scale, it allows his students grasp the physical reality of a construction site almost instantly.

"You can see that some operations are better performed with different equipment and combinations of equipment — you wouldn't want to team up this one with this one," Tymvios explains, standing his shoebox-size CAT 793D model next to one of a comparatively diminutive CAT 365B hydraulic excavator. "But if students don't understand the difference in scale, they might think about doing this when planning for construction operations."

It's one example of how Tymvios teaches his students to not only be great designers, but also to think about how the structures and devices they design will be built — and, most importantly, how to ensure the safety of those who build them. Much of his research focuses on prevention through design, a concept that asks architects and engineers to keep the safety of workers in mind at every stage of designing their work.

"Before they even start planning to build something, they should think about the construction worker who is going to be building it, and eventually the maintenance worker who'll be maintaining it," he says.

It's a concept that Tymvios takes personally. He became interested in studying construction safety after a worker suffered a fatal fall at a construction site where he worked in his home country of Cyprus.

"It was very eye-opening," he says. "When you have such a major incident on a construction site, it changes your viewpoint on what engineers and designers need to be doing in order to make sure our workers go home safe at the end of the day."

Teaching his students to prioritize safety while also staying on budget encourages them to think critically and creatively about how their work will be accomplished in the real world, Tymvios says. He also asks them to work with up-to-date equipment catalogues, labor rates and equipment rental fees, and uses construction projects on campus as opportunities to collect data. All of this prepares his students for the transition from the classroom to career.

"Many of our students will end up going to a construction site once they graduate. Once they're there, we don't want them waiting to be instructed — they always need to be thinking about what is happening and what needs to happen next," he says.

Posted September 2018