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Letters: How can a designer work without site experience?

David Cummins considers that there is no need for young engineers to spend a “significant” portion of their training on site, or for design engineers to visit site regularly, pointing out that the ICE had long ago abandoned such a requirement, quite rightly in his opinion (NCE 23 April).

I don’t think that the ICE ever had a requirement for designers to visit sites regularly, and if I remember correctly, the then requirement, preparatory to becoming chartered was a minimum time of 18 months on site, and a minimum time of 18 months spent on the design of civil engineering works. I didn’t agree with the removal of these requirements at the time, and I still don’t. Compliance with this ensured that candidates for MICE had a reasonable balance in their experience, whether their future career was going to be design or construction.

Cummins asks if a year in a junior role on site would have made any difference. The answer is, yes, very probably. My first two years on site (having already spent two years on design work) were an amazing learning curve, and certainly altered my outlook, making me realise in particular that a lot of stuff I had designed was really not very good from the buildability point of view.

Site engineers

On site: Where design buildability is tested

Indeed, I formed the view then that the best way was to spend time on site first, then go and do the design work.

He asks how his consultant employer could have given him such experience. Assuming that his then employer had no site supervision roles available, my first employer (Freeman Fox & Partners) in the early 1970s had an arrangement with at least one major contractor to swap junior staff for just this purpose.

I have, in a career spanning over 45 years, suffered many times trying to construct civil engineering works designed by people who had no knowledge of practical construction, and who had never seen the site, indeed purposely avoided visiting it (though they still expected an invitation to the opening party)!

  • Richard Wilson (F) 17 Roman Way, Alcester, Warwickshire B49 5HB

Basically “yes” to Scott Sumner and “no” to David Cummins on their attitudes to site experience (NCE 30 April and 23 April respectively).

I consider that adequate site experience is essential in order to produce rounded engineers, whether their future careers are in administration, project management, feasibility planning, design, procurement, execution, supervision or maintenance of works.
I would contest that it is not possible to visualise/investigate a potential project area, its environment, ground conditions, hazards, etcetera without having some equivalent site experience for comparison.

  • Richard Tomkins, 27 Denmark Road, London, SW19 4PG

My blood is still boiling at the sheer arrogance of the views expressed by David Cummins (NCE 23 April). During my 37 years in contracting with one company in a very specialist area of civil engineering, I was eternally grateful for the attitudes of successive chief designers and their team, all homegrown in the company’s ethos of getting it right on site.

All had spent time on site and all of them were committed to designs which could be installed safely and effectively, and regarded themselves as part of the site installation team, always willing and indeed keen to visit site to give advice and guidance, and to take note of wherever designs could be modified to help with site installation. Conversely I and other young site engineers did our stint in the design office completing designs as was required by the ICE.

Cummins proudly boasts of having visited a construction site only a handful of times in 25 years of transport planning. He should be ashamed of himself. What kind of engineer is it that can proudly make such a claim and then go on to bemoan the image of the civil engineer?

  • David Grahame (M retd), 37 Haugh Lane Sheffield, S11 9SB

I find it difficult to believe that David Cummins endorses what he claims is the ICE’s abandonment of the principle that young engineers should spend a significant portion of their training on site and that all design engineers should visit sites on a regular basis. Surely the ICE has not abandoned such a sensible requirement?

It cannot be over emphasised that time spent on site, as described above, is absolutely paramount to enable young engineers to gain an insight into practical issues which are not always apparent sitting at a desk. The concept of a “modern engineer (clean, warm & working close to home)” not having had significant training on site is not the kind of engineer to whom one would wish to entrust design work.

  • Anthony Franks(M) apfranks1@gmail.com

Demountable structures for cyclones

I recently read about the Vanuatu Cyclone (NCE 26 March). Many years ago I visited Tahiti after it had been devastated by a cyclone. It was noticeable that in many cases the one thing that survived was the brick/concrete toilet block. The rest of the houses were largely blown away.

When rebuilding in these storm ravaged locations, I wonder whether anyone has considered using a demountable housing system. I am contemplating a house consisting of a securely built toilet/shelter but the main part of the house at least partially demountable. When an impending storm is identified, the demountable part of the house would be dismantled, valuable possessions put into storage - perhaps in a buried or ground level container- and the inhabitants either take shelter in a nearby storm shelter or perhaps in the toilet.

After the storm has passed the house can be reassembled.

With severe weather becoming more prevalent, would this approach be a more practical solution than continually building house to try and resists severe storms?

  • Steve Orchard (M) steve@charador.co.uk

Forget HS2, give us self driving cars

In the discussions in NCE about road and rail transport and in particular about the wisdom, or otherwise, of High Speed 2 (HS2), I have not noticed any mention of autonomous vehicles. Several companies including Google, Volvo, Tesla and Daimler are developing these.

Of course they may never come to fruition. But if they do, it seems to me that they will have profound effects on personal and commercial travel. The pattern of demand for transport could change radically.

No doubt the timescale for widespread adoption of such vehicles will be long, but then so is the timescale for building HS2 and other transport projects.

My personal hope is that by the time that I am so doddery that my children gang together and stop me driving, I will be able to buy a car that will take me anywhere that I ask it to.

  • Peter Bettess (F) pete@bettess.co.uk

Democracy led to scrapped project

I write to say how fundamentally I disagree with your Comment in last week’s NCE.

The fact that a local politician in Australia, who appears to have campaigned for election stating that he wished to scrap a particular road scheme; was then elected and scrapped the scheme; should be applauded as a triumph for local democracy, not derided.

There is plenty of research to show that urban highway schemes do not work, they encourage yet more traffic, generate pollution, increase CO2 emissions and often destroy neighbourhoods.

In urban areas, money is much better spent on improving public transport.

I am not surprised that the civil engineering profession is regarded in low esteem by the public, if we continue to consider our own vested interests in building schemes that are expensive, environmentally damaging and often not popular with the public.

As a profession we need to take a much longer term view of proposed developments.

We should lead from the front and be willing to make bold, courageous decisions to not support schemes, if they are potentially unnecessary, undemocratic and environmentally damaging.

  • Deryk Simpson (M) 6 Upper Broom Way, Westhoughton, Bolton BL5 3YG

 

Who takes temporary works risk?

Your round table discussion about the effect of the new CDM 2015 Regulations on temporary works design captured some of the issues but also the air of unreality about the new regulations (NCE 30 April).

It seems that the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has decided that the consultants who design permanent works are also best placed to manage the design of temporary works during construction and the regulations are based on this assumption.

Temporary works design is important and can have much greater influence on safety than permanent works design.

However, the merit of transferring responsibility for this to the permanent works designer is debatable.

Under current contractual arrangements, temporary works are the responsibility of the contractor and their design depends on his chosen method of construction.

Also, architects and permanent works engineers generally have little expertise in temporary works design.

Even if it was a good idea to transfer responsibility for temporary works design from the contractor to the project architect or civil engineer, this would require a complete reorganisation of the construction industry and rewriting of standard contracts.

How long did the HSE allow for this process?

The final text of the CDM 2015 Regulations was published on 2 April and they became law… on 6 April.

What do we do now? Under the 2015 regulations, the principal designer must be the person in control of the design but there cannot be two principal designers on the project at the same time.

Therefore the only logical solution appears to be for the project architect or engineer to stand down as principal designer before the construction phase begins so that the role can be taken over by the person who actually controls the temporary works design - the principal contractor.

  • Alasdair Beal (F) a.beal@btinternet.com

Trusts provide vital student help

It was a pleasant surprise to read the letter from Bernard Butler (NCE 23 April). As programme leader for civil engineering at the University of the West of England, I have received requests each year to confirm the progression and attendance of individual students supported by Bernard Butler Trust fund.

These students have been studying part-time, combining permanent employment in the industry with day-release attendance to complete their degree.

Work based projects provide a window on their employment, so we observe them developing academically and professionally.

It has been a great pleasure to teach such conscientious students and to see them develop into confident graduates.

I can vouch for the difference these grants have made and would like to extend my sincere thanks to Bernard Butler for his initiative. I echo his hope that long may the fund continue.

  • Fiona Gleed, fiona.gleed@uwe.ac.uk

 

Infrastructure needs balance

It was disturbing to read an editorial in a supposedly balanced journal which appeared to be politically biased while claiming otherwise.

I refer to the Comment regarding the Labour Party reconsidering the Arundel bypass and A358 link with the trite remark that there is “no chance of a Labour MP in either so they are safe places for Labour to find savings to balance its manifesto books”. It is naive to think that if an infrastructure proposal clashes with a political ideology it would not be reviewed by that party if it came to power.

In the case of Arundel I would expect any socially responsible party to be circumspect about a new road in a National Park and as for the A358 link, well mostly everyone on the wrong side of the great log jam agrees that it is the wrong solution and we should be improving the A303/A30 to Honiton instead. As this is an unassailable Conservative area it would seem that the Labour Party are in fact promoting an issue that the Conservatives would support.

Let’s face it, if the Green Party gained power it is probable all 127 road schemes would bite the dust irrespective of the Infrastructure Act or Highways England strategy.

  • Michael Helliwell (M) 12 Forcefield Road, Cullompton, Devon EX15 1QB

 

Too hot to handle

I enjoyed the article on warm mix asphalt being used on the Aberdeen Airport job but am surprised that nobody appears to have drawn your attention to the incorrect mix temperatures reported. These are 10 times too high so the 300°C should be 30°C.

Nothing destroys the durability of bitumen - and hence the asphalt made with it - more than being overheated and the maximum temperatures in BS594987 are the utmost limit for durable asphalts.

It would be to NCE’s credit if a small erratum note could be inserted in the next issue.

  • Jeff Farrington (M) 644farrington@gmail.com

Editor’s note: Apologies Jeff and all, the mix temperatures were indeed 30°C and not 300°C. Erratum duly inserted.
infrastructure

Political argument

I, and I suspect of the majority of NCE readers, haven’t the slightest idea whether a Tidal Lagoon in the Severn would silt up or not. But if it doesn’t, we shall have a huge fuel-free source of energy. And if it does, a vast area of new land will have been created. Either way, it seems to me we are onto a winner. So let’s get on with it.

  • David Webb (M) david.webb28@btinternet.com

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Site experience is key to build ability and build ability is key to health and safety on site. It therefore stands to reason that the designer needs site experience so as to receive an understanding of the fact that what they design can make the difference to a site worker going home at night.
    Michael Woods(M)

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