The main point:
Brian Maddison’s letter (NCE 10-17 December) is, sadly, reminiscent of one I had published in this column in the early 1990s. Then, I was vilified by a respondent who commissioned bridge surveys for doing my profession down by asserting that corners were being cut.
Well, they were then and still are if the practice of “forgetting” the need for a chartered engineer to supervise/carry out underwater inspections on major structures is still occurring.
We would never send a bricklayer, plasterer or labourer to inspect a major structure above ground, so why do this, or worse, underwater when well qualified people like Maddison exist?
Unfortunately I no longer dive, and haven’t done so for a long time, as I wasn’t prepared to be undercut by unqualified individuals being employed to do what should be a professional’s job.
- Mike Hann (M), email@example.com
Having like others been disturbed by the recent damage to homes and infrastructure in Cumbria, it was still a joy to applaud the success of the Sappers on the completion of the Barker bridge at Workington.
How similar it looked to that which so many of us had built as both regulars and National Servicemen while training in The Royal Engineers at Farnborough, Chatham and the like.
Having built one with about 100 others in basic training in 1959, I then helped to build another on pre-prepared bank seats with 30 others on a Cadre at the double, interspersed with relevant instructions.
It was noticeable that the transoms, in the photograph, did not contain the relevant holes to take the pick helves for the eight man carrying team.
When we finished this, in one day including instructions, we all had to walk across the top of the twin panels. One wild member, during the lunch break and before the decking was laid, ran across the centre of the bridge from transom to transom never pausing and not once looking down. He graduated to the Paras.
- Allan J Chambers (F), Allan@achambers.wanadoo.co.uk
It was informative and rewarding to read Jackie Whitelaw’s history of the 100 years of enterprise by Balfour Beatty, whom I joined in 1948 after graduating.
I had the choice between a static job with a local river authority, and one of post war refurbishment of the 132kV electric transmission grid. I chose the latter on the advice of the husband of the district nurse attending my wife after our daughter’s birth, who had worked for the firm.
After mastering my fear ofheights when working on 30m high steel towers, I found that there were few parts of mainland UK that I did not know.Later I was dispatched to Iran, Hong Kong and Bangladesh, meeting countless dynamic and inspiring colleagues.
I welcomed and enjoyed the many challenges arising and was happy to have been kept on beyond official retirement age by an employer who tolerated my minor eccentricities. I am convinced I made a wise choice
- Richard Harvey (M), 6 Folkestone Rd, Salisbury, SP2 8JP
Eurostar (which operates the trains) and Eurotunnel (which operates the Channel Tunnel) were clearly ill-prepared to handle the breakdown witnessed before Christmas. But their fire safety strategy is in question too.
After the last major fire in 2008 Eurotunnel is developing a new fire safety strategy based on moving freight train carriages to an “extinguishing area” where sprinklers will douse the fire and passengers and crew are evacuated into a (probably) smoke-and-flame filled tunnel.
If the trains can’t move - for up to 16 hours - this strategy is a nonsense - and a very dangerous one at that. Fires can start and spread rapidly, even in sub-zero temperatures.
The Passive Fire Protection Federation challenged Eurotunnel on the BBC 1’s Politics Show earlier in 2009 on its fire safety strategy. Despite repeated chasing, we have received no response on this matter - vital to passengers and crew.
There are likely to be more breakdowns and more fires in the tunnel. The question is when, and at what cost?
- David Sugden, chairman, Passive Fire Protection Federation, Kingsley House, Ganders Business Park, Kingsley, Bordon, Hampshire GU35 9LU
John Gill (NCE 19 November) raises a valid point about the way compost was once produced in the UK - and he will be pleased to hear that the industry has moved on significantly since the 1960s.
Compost producers UK-wide now manufacture a high quality material to meet the stringent requirements of the BSI PAS 100 which provides a quality baseline for compost that is safe, reliable and consistent.
Ultimately this means that any end-user, be they farmer, landscaper or civil engineer, can use BSI PAS 100 compost safe in the knowledge it comes with widely-recognised quality assurance. And as it can be sourced locally, it can also be a cost effective alternative to peat or virgin topsoil.
In 2007/08, 47% of compost was used in agriculture by farmers wanting a widely-available source of slow-release nutrients that also improve overall soil condition
- Paul Mathers, programme manager, Landscape & Regeneration, WRAP, The Old Academy, 21 Horse Fair, Banbury OX16 0AH
I welcome the positive approach to drill rig guarding demonstrated by Geotechnical Engineering in the article “Be on your guard” (NCE 10-17 December). I also acknowledge the comments from the author about the helpfulness of my colleagues who met with him.
One matter of concern to a number of contractors has been the impression they are drawing from the article, that The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has “approved” the guards being fitted by Geotechnical Engineering.
We frequently discuss guarding matters with contractors and rig suppliers but I stress that the HSE does not formally “approve” guards for drilling or piling rigs nor is there a statutory requirement for such guards to be “approved”.
- Donald Lamont (F), head of tunnel and ground engineering, The Health & Safety Executive, firstname.lastname@example.org
High speed blast from the past
Concerning Lord Adonis’ enthusiasm for a high speed rail line to Scotland, can anyone else sense a re-run of Concorde?
If the line ever gets built it will be a magnificent engineering achievement, completely uneconomic and would, furthermore, wreak untold damage on the environment. Just the combination of factors that are needed to combat climate change and make the world fit to live in for the next few centuries.
- JFF Clark, 7, High Street, Biddenden, Kent TN27 8AL
Are the biggest always the best?
Further to David Hayward’s article “The Future is Here” (NCE 10-17 December) I would like to congratulate the finalists on their achievements but also state how surprised and disappointed that all six are currently employed by the leading firms.
I would hope that we are not being naive in taking a view that only graduates from the leading, high profile firms are going to be of a standard suitable for awards.
I speak truthfully when saying I wish to take nothing away from the finalists noted, on paper their achievements justify their award, but let us not assume that the top of the pile is the only place to look for such talent.
Most young engineers are not offered the benefits of working with the leading companies but this does not for one minute suggest that they lack the talent or enthusiasm to become successful.
I understand that only candidates who apply for awards can be judged but let us not assume that only the applicants are worthy of merit. The majority of graduate engineers will, for a number of reasons, not apply for award but this does not mean they are without winning potential.
There are many more talented engineers out there than only those working for the top firms on the top jobs.
Hidden talent is after all just that. Hidden.
- Benjamin Daykin, Derby, email@example.com
Editor’s note: The NCE Graduate Awards is designed to reward the best new talent and our rigorous independent judging process ensures that we take a broad and fair view of all entries. This year we had 120 entries and the more we get the better - you cannot, after all, win unless you enter. I would therefore encourage all employers, big and small, to make sure that your best graduate talent is put forward for next year’s awards and not left hidden!
Too cool to ride a bike?
The reason that the British do not use cycles has more to do with sociology than engineering (NCE 10-17 December).
It’s simply not cool to be on a bike and a youth will certainly not attract a girl from one. I’ve just come back from Ghent in Belgium where, outside the main railway station, a space the size of a decent car park was entirely full of bikes. There, clearly, it is cool, and also practical, to use a cycle.
- Andrew Cross, 17 Cressingham Rd, Ashill, Norfolk IP25 7DG