Last month Dr Jan Hellings of Dames & Moore took over as chairman of AGS, the UK's Association of Geotechnical & Geoenvironmental Specialists. His turn at the helm comes during a critical transition period for the organisation, which over the last couple of years has set in place initiatives which look likely to culminate in the launch of a members charter.
Hellings' aim will be to build upon the excellent progress AGS has achieved over the last few years, particularly under outgoing chairman Bill Rankin of Mott MacDonald.
Hellings' first task for his two year term will be to review AGS's achievements and set out the plan for his period of office. While he says this will not bring about a radical change in direction, it may well mark a change in the emphasis on how AGS goes about achieving its objectives.
'The way forward is to forge closer relationships with the trade associations of client groups,' he says. 'AGS can help its members' relationships with clients, by opening up dialogue.'
Hellings believes AGS should set itself up as, and be easily identified as, the focus for client bodies, so that the issues can be aired and disseminated. Clearly he believes that conflicts arise from a failure to understand the position of other parties.
Hellings feels 'the aim of the AGS should be to promote a prof- essional environment in which all parties have knowledge of the interests and concerns of those they interact with'.
By getting close to clients, 'we can demonstrate that spending money on proper ground invest- igation has benefits to the overall construction project. There is a need to continue to impress the enormous cost savings that good engineering can bring.'
Some progress has already been made, for example with the Soil & Groundwater Technology Assoc- iation. This body represents large industrial organisations such as ICI, British Gas and British Steel, whose interest is in the technology for assessing and cleaning up contaminated land.
SAGTA wanted to establish whether association members worked to the high standards advocated by AGS - in effect to establish if AGS was any thing more than a talking shop.
This, says Hellings, prompted AGS to look closely at what it could do to drive good practice. The result is that in the last six months AGS has launched a code of conduct and guidelines for good practice in site invest- igation. Now SAGTA members, and any client of site invest- igation services, can be much better informed about what they should expect and demand.
While AGS believes this will help maintain high standards, it also realises the limitations of voluntary codes. The natural route, down which AGS is already moving, is to incorporate these documents into a charter which member firms will sign up to.
This is a big step and introduces the issue of policing. 'It is in our professional interest to be working to these standards and to be seen to be adhering to them,' says Hellings. Nevertheless it raises concerns over the concept of professional peer review, which is effectively opening your books to competitors, even when working to set procedures.
In an attempt to steer this process, AGS is setting up a business practice working group to provide a point of focus. Part of this will involve looking at how peer review systems in other countries operate.
Ultimately Hellings is mindful that AGS is there to serve its members, 'so if members don't want it we won't have it'. While the committee and its working groups operate on the basis that 'it is the membership', Hellings is conscious that members should feel they have a say. For this reason, another of Hellings' key aims is to see more active participation from a wider section of the membership.
Hellings anticipates that by autumn AGS will have a code of conduct up and running. 'It is fairly fundamental to the work we do and shows clients that we are committed to good practice.'