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Liability fears and over-reliance on standards are 'stifling geotechnics'


FEAR OF LITIGATION is stifling innovation in geotechnics and pushing engineers towards overreliance on British Standards, City University's Professor John Atkinson claimed last month.

Lack of basic competence among engineers responsible for mentoring those entering the industry, combined with the present skills shortages, are also of concern, he said.

'Fear of litigation restricts innovation. As with construction there is also a tendency to do things as we've always done, ' Atkinson warned at the East Midlands Geotechnical Group meeting 'What is the matter with geotechnical engineering?'

'We have a reliance on standards and codes, ' he said. 'Often an expert can be experienced but not knowledgeable.'

As a result they were not able to analyse problems and come up with innovative solutions, he argued.

Two-thirds of ground engineering was carried out by non-geotechnical engineers, Atkinson believed. Ground engineering was the largest claims sector in construction, he said, which meant geotechnical engineers spent most of their time on claims.

Atkinson blamed the way geotechnical engineers are trained for the frequent failure to combine common sense, gained through experience, with academic training.

'As children, we understand what makes sand castles topple over. As graduates we forget that and understand the stresses of the ground. And as engineers we forget both and only understand British Standards.

'We have to look at geotechnical leaders and trainers to understand why this happens.'

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