Civil engineers design and supervise large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
Civil engineers typically do the following:
- Analyze survey reports, maps, and other data to plan projects
- Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors in planning stages
- Test soils to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
- Test building materials, such as concrete, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
- Provide cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labor to determine a projectís economic feasibility
- Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
- Oversee, or participate in, surveying to establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
- Present their findings to the public on topics such as bid proposals, environmental impact statements, or property descriptions
Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions ranging from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others work in design, construction, research, and teaching. They work with others on projects and may be assisted by civil engineering technicians and technologists.
The federal government employs about 12,100 civil engineers to do many of the same things done in private industry, except that the federally employed civil engineers may also inspect projects to be sure that they comply with regulations.
Civil engineers work on complex projects, so they usually specialize in one of several areas.
Geotechnical engineers work to make sure that foundations are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). Additionally, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.
Structural engineers design and assess major projects, such as bridges or dams, to ensure their strength and durability.
Transportation engineers plan and design everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ports, and harbors.
Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Most technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.
At crime scenes, forensic science technicians, also known as crime scene investigators, typically do the following:
- Walk through the scene to determine what and how evidence should be collected
- Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence
- Make sketches of the crime scene
- Keep written notes of their observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence as it is found
- Collect all relevant physical evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids
- Catalog and preserve evidence before transferring it to a crime lab
Crime scene investigators may use tweezers, black lights, and specialized kits to identify and collect evidence. In addition to processing crime scenes, they may also attend autopsies.
In laboratories, forensic science technicians typically do the following:
- Identify and classify crime scene evidence through scientific analysis
- Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity using the results of chemical and physical analyses
- Consult with experts in related or specialized fields, such as toxicology, about the evidence and their findings
- Reconstruct crime scenes based on scientific findings
Forensic science technicians reconstruct crime scenes by carefully studying information gathered by investigators and conducting scientific tests on physical evidence. For example, lab technicians may look at photographs of blood splatter patterns and conduct ballistics tests on bullets found at the crime scene to determine the direction from which a shot was fired.
Forensic science technicians who work in laboratories use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also use computer databases to examine fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected at crime scenes in order to match them to people and things that have already been identified. Most forensic science technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence analysis, such as DNA or ballistics.
All forensic science technicians prepare written reports that detail their findings and investigative methods. They must be able to explain their reports to lawyers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials. In addition, forensic science technicians may be called to testify in court about their findings and methods.
Health and Safety Engineers
Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to keep people from getting sick or injured and to keep property from being damaged. They combine a knowledge of health or safety and of systems engineering to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other products are not going to cause harm to people or buildings.
Health and safety engineers typically do the following:
- Review plans and specifications for new machinery or equipment to make sure it meets safety requirements
- Inspect facilities, machinery, and safety equipment to identify and correct potential hazards
- Evaluate the effectiveness of various industrial control mechanisms
- Ensure that a building or product complies with health and safety regulations, especially after an inspection that required changes
- Install safety devices on machinery or direct the installation of these devices
- Review employee safety programs and recommend improvements
- Maintain and apply their knowledge of current policies, regulations, and industrial processes
Health and safety engineers also investigate industrial accidents, injuries, or occupational diseases to determine their causes and to see whether they could have been or can be prevented. They interview employers and employees to learn about work environments and incidents leading up to accidents or injuries. They also evaluate the corrections that were made to remedy violations found during health inspections.
Health and safety engineers are also active in two related fields: industrial hygiene and occupational hygiene.†
In industrial hygiene, they focus on the effects of chemical, physical, and biological agents. They recognize, evaluate, and control these agents to keep people from getting sick or injured. For example, they might anticipate that a particular manufacturing process will give off a potentially harmful chemical and recommend either a change to the process or a way to contain and control the chemical. †
In occupational hygiene, health and safety engineers investigate the environment in which people work and use science and engineering to recommend changes to keep workers from being exposed to sickness or injuries. They help employers and employees understand the risks and improve working conditions and working practices. For example, they might observe that the noise level in a factory is likely to cause short-term and long-term harm to workers and recommend ways to reduce the noise level through changes to the building or by having workers wear strong headphones.
Health and safety engineering is a broad field covering many activities. The following are specific types of health and safety engineers:
Aerospace safety engineers work on missiles, radars, and satellites to make sure that they function safely as designed.
Fire prevention and protection engineers design fire prevention systems for all kinds of buildings. They often work for architects during the design phase of new buildings or renovations. They must be licensed, and they must keep up with changes in fire codes and regulations.
Product safety engineers investigate the causes of accidents or injuries that might have resulted from the use or misuse of a product. They propose solutions to reduce or eliminate any safety issues associated with products. They also participate in the design phase of new products to prevent injuries, illnesses, or property damage that could occur with the use of the product.
Systems safety engineers work in many fields, including aerospace, and are moving into new fields, such as software safety, medical safety, and environmental safety. These engineers take a systemic approach to identify hazards in these new fields so that accidents and injuries can be avoided.
For information on health and safety engineers who work in mines, see the profile on mining and geological engineers.