Engineers designing and building roads in the EBRD regions are, through exposure to EBRD projects, finding out more about both how to incorporate international best practice in road safety into their work and, most recently, in climate resilience too.
“Talking about climate resilience in our training is quite new, because road engineers are not environmental people and don’t usually consider climate resilience at all,” said Derran Williams, Senior Health and Safety Adviser and the EBRD’s Road Safety Champion.
He is behind a new 15-module EBRD e-learning course being launched this month for engineers working on EBRD road projects, as well as for engineering students and professors at universities around eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
In it, for the first time, an entire module of a course on incorporating safety considerations into road-building is devoted to teaching about climate resilience. The team worked with Sarah Duff, one of the EBRD’s climate resilience experts, to develop the material for the module.
Climate resilience – designing infrastructure so it can both cope with the changing weather patterns we are already seeing with climate change, and respond flexibly to other changes in future – is a hot topic as the world prepares for warmer, more unpredictable weather and more freak climate events.
“Many road-related infrastructure assets have useful lives of over 50 years when properly maintained. These long timescales require the integration of climate resilience into the design of road infrastructure now. Moreover, the risks to road networks from damage disruption and delays from extreme weather pose significant risks to global supply chains, with potential damage to international trade and development,” the e-learning module's video explains.
The need for climate-resilient designs was cast into sharp local focus in southeastern Europe in 2014, when severe flooding caused extensive damage to road networks in several Western Balkans countries, notably Serbia.
“All this climate-related damage to roads can cause safety problems to people driving on them: potholes, or people swerving on the road because of the damage which has been caused by the weather. If you don’t get the climate aspects right, potentially it’s going to increase road traffic collisions due to the break-up of the road. For me it was a no-brainer to add this climate resilience module into the training,” said Mr Williams.
Ms Duff added: “We’ve seen the importance of this topic in many of our recent road investments, from snowdrifts causing visibility issues in Mongolia, to rockfalls and avalanches closing roads for days at a time in Georgia. The earlier we address these issues the better. By including climate resilience as part of the road safety e-learning training, engineers will have the knowledge to design safe and resilient roads from the outset.”
The floods were a turning-point for the Western Balkan region, bringing both more work rebuilding and improving roads and more thought about how to design them more safely.
Yet training for engineers at local colleges, who learn to build roads to local standards, does not yet incorporate the latest international best practice on safety, and certainly not thinking about climate resilience.
Hence the e-learning course on engineering road safety, which aims to plug both gaps and equip the next generation to build roads to the safest international standards.
"In the Balkans we'e doing so many road projects we know there's a great benefit. We know the quality of training of road engineers, in terms of safety is poor, in the universities as well. But we've now got the universities taking on board what we've done here and potentially new engineers at the universities can actually sit this course while they're doing their studies," said Mr Wiliams.
And many more engineering experts all over the EBRD regions – whether working engineers, students or professors - can access the latest course in their own time and gain the required expertise from home, with six months to complete its modules.
The new course came about as a result of thinking about the EBRD’s road safety audits on new roads that had been developed in the Balkans.
“What we found was that the audits were finding many issues that could be made safer," Mr Williams said. "We are working to solve that, it would be great to think in the future when we carry out a road safety audit on a road that no road safety recommendations are identified - because the engineers have identified the need and applied best practices into their designs from the start.”