Structural integrity is a component of the field of engineering, specifically in a field of civil engineering known as structural engineering. Structural engineering encompasses the building of large structures or pieces of equipment, and structural integrity largely refers to those objects' soundness of design and construction, including safety and workability. Structural integrity is an essential component of all structural engineering projects, as these projects can include bridges, buildings, dams and other structures that play an important role in the daily grind of society, as well as the safety of sometimes large populations of both humans and wildlife.
The principle of structural integrity began to evolve after the failures of weaponry, machinery, and structures after World War II. In order to ensure that structures and objects of the future would stand up better to catastrophes such as war, engineers tested them to determine how much they could withstand when constructed according to the highest standards. Since that time, these standards have continued to evolve and expand among industrialized nations around the world.
Structural integrity is a crucial component of the engineering field, and is considered essential for engineers to learn and apply to their work. Further, most structures that are constructed for societal use, such as bridges, public buildings and dams, must be evaluated by objective government agencies to ensure that they do, indeed, possess structural integrity. Because it holds such importance in structures erected around the world, structural integrity has become a significant part of our every day lives as society has evolved.
The benefits of structural integrity include the obvious (that structures in our society are held up to a standard of safety and function that benefits the human population) and the perhaps not-so-obvious (that through structural integrity, industries are held up to a higher ethical standard that leads to greater accountability and reliability). As engineering firms want to make money, they will likely do their best to maintain a reputation for structural integrity among the public, leading to safer structures and objects in society.
There are many nations around the world where structural integrity is not a guiding principle in building projects, due to both legal and financial considerations. Some countries simply do not have the legal checks in place to ensure that projects are designed and completed with top-level functionality and safety in mind, and many simply do not have the money to do so.
Dr. Steve Roberts of the University of Oxford has defined structural integrity as, "the science and technology of the margin between safety and disaster," lending a huge amount of importance to structural integrity and responsibility upon the engineers who pursue it.