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Talking Point with Chris Milne

The recently revised Specification for Ground Investigation introduces the term ground practitioner.

Like many of us I have been grappling with the recently revised Specification for Ground Investigation. Clearly the old ‘Yellow Book’ was well overdue for a revamp, and there is much to commend the new document.

What is immediately noticeable is the change in terminology; gone is “the engineer” and in comes the “investigation supervisor”. This is doubtless intended to be a move to the NEC-type of terminology, however one cannot help but feel it’s a telling change. While “the engineer” need not of course implied to a non-specialist that maybe they should be.

The new specification makes reference to “ground practitioners” and helpfully states that “the involvement of one or more ground practitioners of suitable experience, relevant to the work required, is essential in the planning procurement and supervision of the ground investigation work”.

“A template has been provided for those with little understanding to specify a fundamental part of most civil engineering designs.”

At one level of course this is an improvement in setting out the legal requirement for competent people to undertake specialist work as required by law, but unfortunately the document does not go beyond this to explain what this competency might require. Section 2.3 advises less helpfully that “ground
practitioners include but are not necessarily limited to geotechnical engineers, geologists, engineering geologists, environmental engineers, environmental scientists, geochemists and geophysicists”.

Why this qualification is given to the exhaustive list of specialists provided is unclear - it is hard to see who could be considered a competent ‘groundpractitioner’ who was not within the broad range provided. The same section also says these individuals may be categorised over a range of experience from technician to registered ground engineering adviser. It does not however make clear reference to the UK Register of Ground Engineering Professionals (RoGEP), despite the fact that the introduction of this standard was required under European law to provide a strict recognition ofcompetency in the field. This seems an obvious omission - we are all aware of poorly designed ground investigations specified by those with little or no geotechnical engineering experience.

Overall, despite acknowledged improvement, there is a real missed opportunity in this new specification. The establishment of RoGEP was contentious among many who felt that this was a potentially expensive and unnecessary requirement which was not being implemented in the same way in other European countries. However it at least provides a simple benchmark for geotechnical specialisms to prevent those with very limited knowledge passing themselves off as competent practitioners.

The new specification could have made it clear that those undertaking the design and interpretation of ground investigations should be registered as competent. Instead a template has been provided for those with little understanding to specify a fundamental part of most civil engineering designs.

The days of window samples in rock and undrained shear strength tests in sand may not be behind us yet.

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