Roger Thompson reports on progress towards establishing a register of ground engineering professionals.
Some ground professionals will recall the Geotechnical Directory of the United Kingdom, first produced in 1987 with the final edition published about 10 years ago.
It was of value to clients because they could readily identify and select a suitably qualified specialist. It was of benefit to those named in the directory because it demonstrated the professional and technical standard they had reached. Younger engineers, less experienced and not yet professionally qualified, could aspire to achieving this standard.
So where are we now- Sadly, the directory could not be continued and maintained. However the need for a similar kind of document is even more relevant today. Clients are increasingly aware of the importance of correctly understanding the ground conditions associated with their projects and of the fact that if this is not achieved, defects arise, followed inevitably by claims.
Corrective action causes programme delays and unnecessary costs and, if an early and mutually acceptable resolution between the various parties is not reached, there will be the expense of litigation.
In 2002 preliminary discussions by senior ground engineering professionals with various client organisations confirmed that industry requires, or at least would greatly appreciate, some form of register or approved list.
Ground Forum, which represents both learned societies and trade organisations and is in turn represented on the Construction Industry Council, mandated the British Geotechnical Association (BGA) to develop a scheme for a register.
A range of possible approaches were considered and the outline presented at the fist BGA annual conference in June 2003. Most of those attending expressed enthusiasm for some form of registration.
A preferred scheme was developed by a team within the BGA committee and discussed at the next annual conference in June 2004. The audience made various comments, some supportive and others indicating hesitation.
Registration will have an impact on industry, individuals and professional institutions; some aspects will be of benefit while others are potentially disadvantageous (see boxes).
To be included on the register, an individual will have to hold an appropriate degree and have to demonstrate sufficient experience and competence after becoming chartered (CEng or CGeol).
The overall relevant experience necessary since grad ion is expected to be at least eight years.
For those not chartered, more extensive experience will be expected. Once the scheme has become established, it may develop slightly more rigorous requirements for applicants, including an interview.
The scheme will be managed jointly by the BGA (Institution of Civil Engineers), the Geological Society (Engineering Group) and the Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining, all acting under the Ground Forum.
The scheme's documentation has now been submitted to the ICE for formal approval. Similar approaches have been made to the other two professional bodies.
Subject to joint approval, it is hoped the scheme will be launched by the end of this year.
Comments or enquiries about the scheme should be addressed to the BGA administrator, Janice Leung, at the ICE, 1 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA, email: bga@ice. org. uk.
Benefits to industry
The register will help raise standards in ground engineering, noting the increasing emphasis of health and safety.
It will include skilled individuals from consulting and contracting backgrounds as well as from academia.
Clients will be able to select appropriate and competent specialists more readily.
The register will facilitate pre-qualification procedures.
The insurance and legal industry will more easily be able to identify those with the relevant technical expertise.
Registration would help reduce unprofessional and less competent input to projects.
Companies employing registered individuals could expect lower professional indemnity insurance premiums.
Benefits to individuals
Registration will enable ground engineering professionals to readily demonstrate their competence to clients.
It will help raise their status.
Having a UK-originated scheme will reduce the likelihood of a possibly unacceptable scheme drawn up by other European countries being imposed on UK professionals.
Other countries have experienced the benefits of registration, such as raising standards.
Registration will be seen as a milestone achievement demonstrating ground engineering professionals' competence and enhancing their careers.
Benefits to professional institutions
The registration scheme is planned to be supported by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Geological Society and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; a successful scheme will draw together the ground engineering discipline within these professional bodies.
The registration scheme will assist institutions in demonstrating their enthusiasm towards raising the status of their individual chartered members.
It will be seen as an outward-looking approach forming a link between professional bodies, client organisations and individual professionals.
It will enable the institutions to bring more emphatic influence on both industry and government.
With any scheme there are disadvantages and the register is no exception.
Some of the criticisms are:
It is unnecessary and will increase subscription costs and bureaucracy.
There will be no nomenclature to identify those who have an acknowledged specialist competence and expertise.
It would be difficult to police effectively (although maintaining continuing professional development records and abiding by the relevant code of conduct would largely overcome this criticism).
Industry would not adopt the scheme on a wide enough basis, so it would not be meaningful.
Registration could lead to statutory licensing and increased risk of being sued for negligence.
While recognising these points, those from industry that have been approached, together with the majority of individuals and the professional bodies concerned, all lean towards establishing a register of ground engineering professionals.
Roger Thompson is chairman of the BGA subcommittee for professional matters (registration) and a director of Edge Consultants UK.