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Talking Point

Industry and market developments mean that it is now time to revisit the Managing Geotechnical Risk document, according to Barry Clarke

The need to improve our understanding of the needs and difficulties of other sectors and stakeholders was outlined by GE editor Claire Symes in her editorial comment in the November issue of the magazine.

A number of leading ground engineers have also reached the same conclusion and are undertaking a review of risk in geotechnical engineering as a result.

It was 10 years ago that the seminal document Managing Geotechnical Risk was written by Professor Chris Clayton.

Since then we have entered a recession, are under pressure to reduce construction costs and adapt to a low-carbon economy.

These changes on their own introduce a level of risk, but there is a view that geotechnical risk continues to be an underlying issue despite the evidence that shows ground is hazardous and does impact on the cost and delivery of projects.

Conceptual ground models, numerical ground models and geotechnical risk registers produced by competent professionals are all aimed at reducing geotechnical risk and therefore cost.

Yet there is still a concern that these are not at the heart of the decision-making process.

These two concerns were shared by a group of leading ground engineers who took the view that action was needed now, not only to address the understanding and impact of geotechnical risk, but also, to place this risk in context.

This brings a need to create a dialogue with other construction professionals and is the purpose of a seminar scheduled to take place in February 2012.

The event is intended to act as a platform for those professionals to present their view of risk and help place geotechnical risk in context.

“The seminar will be the first of a number of planned activities to integrate geotechnical risk in the decision-making process.”

Tim Chapman’s article, also in the November issue of GE, raises the issue of communicating the importance of ground investigation so that clients save money and avoid risk.

This message has been in existence for many years, most notably with the document Without Site Investigations Ground is a Hazard, published in 1993 and aimed at clients.

The review group led by myself and Halcrow’s Paul Malliphant, who is also vice president of the geological society, includes representatives from the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, CIRIA, the British Tunnelling Society and the British Geotechnical Association, covering all areas of the industry.

The aim of this group is to raise awareness of geotechnical risk by communicating with other construction professionals and placing it in the context of the low-carbon economy and wider project risks to generate sustainable value through innovation and collaboration.

The seminar will be the first of a number of planned activities to integrate geotechnical risk in the decision-making process.

“Yet there is still concern that these messages are not being heard and acted upon.”

It will help construction professionals understand the relative importance of geotechnical risk and how the value of ground investigation, design and construction can be realised by others.

The geotechnical community has, for many years, argued the case for improved ground investigations, development of ground models and the use of engineers and geologists demonstrably competent in ground engineering.

Yet there is still concern that these messages are not being heard and acted upon.

The case in the 1993 publication for improvement was supported by evidence of cost overrun, contract delays, failure to perform as expected and even catastrophic failure. Since that time the construction industry has changed.

There is need to gather new evidence to demonstrate the continuing importance of ground engineering to reduce risk.

This is the second aim of the review group.

Barry Clarke is senior vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and professor of Civil Engineering Geotechnics at the University of Leeds

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