Craig Martin, a University of Kansas alumnus, and his wife, Diane, recently made a gift of $3.5 million to establish the Center for Construction Safety at KU’s  School of Engineering.

Martin, of Pasadena, Calif., retired from Dallas-based Jacobs in 2015 after a 44-year career. He spent the last 20 years at Jacobs, and his last eight as the firm’s chief executive officer.

“My wife and I got to talking about how could we give back and getting a building named after you, something like that … that doesn’t do much, does it?” Martin says “So, we really felt like we needed to find something where we could make a lasting contribution to the industry itself and the people who work in it, and we came up with this idea, working with KU.”

“This is not ivory tower stuff.... It’s about finding things that can and will be moved to the field and used to help reduce accidents and injuries.”

– Craig Martin, Former CEO, Jacobs

The Martins say that while researching construction and engineering safety programs, they had real difficulty finding any universities that emphasized research into safety and making construction projects safer for the people building them.

“There were schools that taught safety, there were schools that had degree programs, but safety emphasis in their degree programs—we couldn’t find that in the university context,” he says. “It just seemed like a real opportunity to make a difference and over time, save some lives.”

The center’s objectives involve incorporating perspectives from civil engineering, psychology and cognitive science, construction engineering and management, computer science and engineering, mechanical engineering, sociology, program management, information technology, architectural engineering, architecture and design and related disciplines. The center’s program will demand that critical thinking be multidisciplinary in nature and not confined to traditional avenues for improving safety performance.

It will also operate with a reduction-to-practice philosophy, which will guide research approaches in a way that maximizes value to the construction industry and focuses on discoveries that are directly translatable to professional practice. Anticipated areas of emphasis are planned to include fostering safety cultures and intentions, enhancing constant awareness, design for safety and constructibility, identifying improved tools and equipment, automation for safety, cooperation with industry and a clearing house for safety ideas and innovations that come from the center.

“We’re setting out to find out where the problems are, then find creative ways to address them,” Martin says. “It will be multidisciplinary in the sense that it’s not just an engineering problem, it’s also a psychology and sociology problem.”

Even though the center will be managed out of the civil engineering department, it will take that multidisciplinary approach to everything it does and try to help not only figure out technology solutions to risk and injury, but also look at the kinds of behaviors as well as the psychology of how people behave when they are in situations where they might be at risk. Understanding how people react to risk is one of the first steps to devising solutions, he says.

The center will also study how safety standards have evolved over the years and how acceptable norms of safety change.

“It is staggering,” Martin says. “Several-hundred-thousand people get injured here in the U.S. to various degrees in a single year because of jobsite related safety issues. This is not ivory tower stuff. It’s not funding for giant research projects and long scholarly papers that nobody reads. It’s about finding things that can and will be moved to the field and used to help reduce accidents and injuries.”