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TALKING POINT

The site investigation industry is launching a series of initiatives to improve client awareness, says Jim Cook.

'The problem below' is the name of a film produced in the late 1950s by Foundation Engineering about the benefits of carrying out site investigations.

A project in Boness in Scotland was chosen for filming.

I recently saw this film again for the first time in about 20 years.

Although the aircraft at Glasgow Airport was a Viscount turbo prop and the drilling rig a Conrad 'slip rope' rig (with square boring rods and tools), the requirements for quality, sufficiency, client understanding and 'buy-in' were well portrayed and appeared to be well understood.

Today's clients are more likely to develop a project and move on as fast as possible, with many (if not all) the responsibilities and liabilities devolved down the supply chain to architects, consultants and builders.

With these clients, the ground is generally taken for granted. In projects involving brownfield sites, however, issues of contamination seem to become more evident.

Local authority requirements for such sites usually ensure geoenvironmental issues are considered at pre-planning submission stage. The client's desire to obtain planning permission and the need to tackle contamination risk act as drivers for undertaking geoenvironmental investigations.

In many instances, however, the initial site investigation ignores some of the main geotechnical issues. How often is a geoenvironmental site investigation - which usually does not even include the most basic insitu geotechnical tests such as a standard penetration test - offered to a piling contractor for them to design, price and carry out foundation work?

When clients are in the early stages of conceiving a project the consultants called upon are generally architects and structural engineers, who usually only see the above-ground structure.

The introduction of the geotechnical adviser into a project team at an early stage has been strongly advocated over the past 10 years by the Institution of Civil Engineers and Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS), but in many cases this is not happening.

Structural engineers sometimes see themselves as capable of undertaking this geotechnical role or are unaware of the good practice guidelines laid down by AGS and others.

To address the situation and develop more client awareness, the industry needs access to the commercial team. AGS will soon complete its project benchmarking scheme, which will provide a score for each project where there is ground engineering site investigation input.

The scoring system is based on key performance indicators (KPIs) for geotechnical activities undertaken within 10 selected groupings, including one for client satisfaction.

This initiative is likely to eventually provide a substantial database of assessed projects, which can set the norm for good, moderate and poor site investigation input.

Information from project benchmarking and KPI scoring can also be developed to provide the client's commercial team with a simple 'traffic light' risk assessment.

It will then be easy to show the benefits of a full ground engineering site investigation service - desk study, phased intrusive ground study, associated supervision, laboratory testing and ground engineering advice.

The AGS and Federation of Piling Specialists recently had discussions about the quality and sufficiency of site investigation reports provided to foundation contractors, and agreed to consider a joint advisory paper, likely to be called 'Guide to foundations', published as part of the AGS Clients Guides.

AGS members recognise the need for the Site Investigation Steering Group (SISG) series of publications to be redrafted as soon as possible, as the 1993 editions are well out of date.

There are plans to arrange for the SISG Specification (Yellow book) to be redrafted within the next year or so.

Jim Cook is chairman of the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists and director of Buro Happold's Ground Engineering group.

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