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Litigation fears stifle geotechnical innovation

ICE news

FEAR OF litigation is stifling innovation in geotechnics and pushing engineers towards overreliance on building standards, a leading UK academic claimed last week.

Lack of basic competence among engineers responsible for mentoring those entering the industry, combined with the present skills shortages, is also of concern, said City University Professor John Atkinson.

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

'We have an over-reliance on standards and codes, ' he said.

Often a purported expert can have little formal knowledge despite long experience in the industry.

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

Two thirds of ground engineering is carried out by non-geotechnical engineers according to Atkinson, leading to ground engineering being the largest source of claims in construction.

He added that as a result most geotechnical engineers were more involved in dealing with claims than designing.

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

'As children, we understand what makes sandcastles topple over. As graduates we forget that and understand ground stresses, and as engineers we forget both and only understand British Standards, ' he said.

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

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