In the engineering culture in New Zealand we tend to try and hide our mistakes. There are various reasons, ranging from professional and personal pride through to a fear of exposing ourselves to liability. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t provide learning opportunities for others.

We are looking for the human factors as well as the technical details of failures and mistakes so we can learn lessons. In most cases, human error in one form or another was the root of the problem in most cases. The most common issues were:

  • Poor communication between parties
  • Constraints around resources – time/money
  • Incomplete understanding of the issues being solved
  • Ethical issues

Engineering New Zealand and the technical groups are collaborating to bring to life the common causes of mistakes across the different disciplines. We will be doing this by exploring case-studies of large mistakes as well as examples of smaller, common errors


Lessons to be learnt 1: Engineering failures

To open our series, Glen Koorey and Gordon Hughes discussed some key points on learning from failures. What is failure? Why should we investigate failures? Why did these mistakes occur? Also touching on the aspects of failure with in-depth breakdowns and examples and much more.


Lessons to be learnt 2: Cave Creek platform collapse

The Cave Creek disaster occurred on 28 April 1995 when a scenic viewing platform in Paparoa National Park, New Zealand collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 14 people. Gordon presents the facts of the tragedy and looks at some of the technical factors and the human factors behind the tragedy.

Gordon Hughes is a senior structural engineer based in Auckland. He was a SESOC committee member for many years and has been instrumental in setting up the Special Interest Group for Engineering General Practitioners Group. He is passionate about continuing learning and improving practice.

Cave Creek case study   |  1.2 MB


Lessons to be learnt 3: Transportation Engineering Failures

The Transportation Group presented for our third session of the series, looking at road safety and how we currently measure that (eg objectives of fewer deaths/injuries/crashes), the potential issues with what we measure vs other possible objectives (eg health, environment, economic “efficiency”), and the associated “systemic” industry processes/constraints we have for making safety improvements happen (or not).

Transportation Engineering Failures Summary   |  2.4 MB


Lessons to be learnt 4: Temporary Works Failures

Session 4, presented by Brendan Attewell - Chartered Civil Engineer (CPEng CMEngNZ CEng MICE), is based on lessons learnt from a recent temporary works failure in New Zealand. He discussed how the review of internal procedures against international best practice has resulted in better controls on these high risk activities, the root cause of common temporary works failures, how the NZ construction and engineering community has come together to try to address these failures (establishment of the Temporary Works forum) with the development of NZ Good Practice, as well as how further initiatives that are led by the TWF and NZSSE are helping to drive safer workplaces.


Lessons to be learnt 5: Engineering Disasters: How they happen

Failures can happen for many reasons. In the latest webinar of the series, Brian Leyland (DistFEngNZ, FIMechE) discusses the impact of hubris on engineering failures such as the Whaeo Dam, the Boeing 737 Max and the Columbia Space shuttle disasters.