"For something to be sustainable, it needs to be environmentally and economically viable over a long period of time. But it also means looking out for people who don't have a say."

Mike Toole, Class of '83, used to be an expert witness on civil cases involving engineering and construction, taking the stand or testifying on behalf of contractors and owners being sued by construction workers hurt on the job. "I would say the owner or engineer had nothing to do with jobsite safety, usually," says Toole. To support his position, he read a lot of academic papers and wrote some of his own. But as he went deeper into the literature, his perspective began to change.

"I thought, 'Hey, it's really murky — the role of engineers and various people in construction safety,'" he says. The tipping point came when a colleague at another university challenged him. "He said to me, 'You know what, Mike? I don't like the way you say engineers have nothing to do with jobsite safety. My research shows they can."

So Toole began looking at how individuals, groups and organizations behave and how engineering standards align with reality. As a faculty member at Bucknell, Toole conducts research in the field of Prevention through Design (PtD), which calls on engineers and architects to consider the safety of construction workers. For instance, a building may be structurally sound, but engineers can change the pitch of a roof or the size of a window opening to reduce the chance of a construction worker being injured or killed in a fall.

For his research and his website, www.designforconstructionsafety.org, Toole has gained an international reputation: One of only three academics on a council of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, he helped establish a research agenda for construction safety research. He was also founding Vice Chair of the Prevention through Design Committee within the Construction Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE). For his professional accomplishments, Toole was elected an ASCE Fellow in 2008. He is the only permanent Bucknell faculty member to receive this honor.

For Toole, PtD is a way to carry out a broader commitment to the wellbeing of others through the concept of social sustainability. "For something to be sustainable, it needs to be environmentally and economically viable over a long period of time," he says. "But it also means looking out for people who don't have a say."

Living this principle, he's traveled to South and Central America to design systems that bring clean water supplies to villages, and he teaches Bucknell students how engineering design can improve lives. "To take it one step further," he says, "social sustainability is really social equity — being fair to all people, whether they're construction workers, the poor or the marginalized."

Posted September 2012

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