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Q&A | A week in the life of a diving engineer

Steve Richings is a civil engineer and the contracts manager at Edwards Diving Services, talks about getting into those difficult to reach places.

What do you most look forward to on a Monday morning?

The industry is very dynamic, it is not uncommon for a customer to call in a morning and want a team on site the same day. In the two and a half years I have been doing this, I can’t recall a single week that ended up being anything like what we’d planned for the Friday before. That keeps things exciting.

How is the role of diving engineer changed over the years? 

Nowadays our dive teams are equipped with head-mounted cameras, two way communications with the diver, remotely operated underwater video cameras, allowing me to direct from the surface level and discuss findings in real time with the client. The scope of projects we get involved in is growing all of the time as customers see the value in minimising downtime on their assets which we are able to offer as opposed to traditional maintenance or inspection methods. The Approved Code of Practice was also updated in December 2014, which has had some impact on the way we approach our tasks – most notably the requirement for a minimum of five men in a surface supplied diving team now.

Edwards Diving Services

What’s the most exciting part of your week?

The most exciting jobs are the bespoke challenges, that neither we, nor often the client, have done before. Understanding what they need, then determining a safe, efficient and effective solution is what I enjoy the most.

Why does your job matter so much?

A lot of critical infrastructure is in difficult to reach places – underwater bridge piers, reservoir dams, watercourse culverts, power station cooling systems. The nature of these environments can mean that these structures need regular inspection and maintenance to keep them safe and operational so that roads stay open, power gets produced and water gets to people’s homes.

What specific skills have you learned through the job?

Where to start? The most challenging skill to develop has been how to understand the unique requirements of diving jobs, determining how they can be undertaken safely and efficiently and then being able to produce a sensible budget and programme for executing them – this has been a steep learning curve. We have to innovate so much to undertake unique tasks in all kinds of environments; that’s all part of the fun.

What stands out as the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

The most interesting job was a reservoir infrastructure renewal project which we got involved in with Bam Nuttall for Welsh Water. We were brought in to assist with a small portion of the works but we ended up solving so many challenges, the most personally satisfying of which was how to design, fabricate and install (under water) a very large debris screen in a channel which was changing geometry in three dimensions. Of course, it’s nice when it all goes in with a snug fit, first time. We were very proud of that.

Edwards Diving Services

A large debris screen being installed for EDS’ reservoir infrastructure renewal project with BAM Nuttall for Welsh Water. Steve Richings is pictured

The most challenging project so far was the strengthening works we undertook to 105 steel piles under Brighton Pier. The conditions under the pier were extremely difficult to work in and it took us four years to complete due to bad weather.

How far removed from the traditional role of the civil engineer do you think your job is?

It depends what I’m doing. When I’m in my dry suit, stood in a river or in a confined space culvert for example, then it can seem a world away from my old desk job. However, there are many common elements – customers still want an engineering judgement on works, just perhaps in an unusual environment. I still prepare reports, drawings, project programmes, Health and safety plans, method statements, tenders and run the commercial aspects of projects in much the same way as any other engineer or project manager out there, but the execution and delivery of my work is perhaps a little less traditional.

Do you need to be a diver to perform the job?

We are fortunate now to have excellent technology such as diver mounted cameras, two way communications, Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) cameras, which mean that you do not personally need to get wet in order to lead an inspection. Certainly at EDS, the role has become more professionalised, with a focus on the project, commercial and customer relationship management aspects as customers demand that of us more and more.

Edwards Diving Services

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a diving engineer?

Be prepared to be adaptable and respond to change constantly. It isn’t just reacting to new urgent jobs – even well planned jobs are liable to change dramatically; being able to react quickly and effectively will ensure you can keep your customers happy and deliver commercial returns while, most importantly, keeping your teams safe.

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