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Seeding a revolution

All together now - Y-M-C-A...

Paul Maliphant CGeol* thinks that revolting geologists could add more value to the construction industry.

Geoscientist 21.08 September 2011

Managing Geotechnical Risk, improving productivity in UK building and construction1 is regarded as a seminal work. But has it been as influential as it should have been? It reported that: ‘building and construction case records show that ground conditions are often the cause of very large cost and time overruns’ and that: ‘ground-related problems can adversely affect project cost, completion times, profitability, health and safety, quality and fitness for purpose, and can lead to environmental damage’.

Another recent report2 has said: ‘perhaps the greatest challenge is [to] deliver a built environment that supports … a low carbon economy’. It concluded that ‘for the last decade, the industry has been sheltered by a healthy economy. This has enabled construction to prosper without having to strive for innovation. The current economic crisis is a perfect opportunity for us to think again.’

Meanwhile, the 2010 Infrastructure Cost Review3 opined that ‘the UK is more expensive that its European peer group … there are significant opportunities to reduce costs in [delivering] infrastructure’.

Surely then it is timely for geologists working in ground engineering to take a lead in rising to the carbon/cost challenges in construction through more effective geotechnical risk management.

A recent step forward was the launch (8 June 2011) of the UK Register of Ground Engineering Professionals (UKRoGEP) ( UKRoGEP will serve to enhance the competence of ground engineering practitioners, so that they can drive additional value into this segment of the construction industry. Most geologists working in construction recognise that they have expertise that sets us apart from our engineering colleagues. We are uniquely qualified to study the nature of the ground beneath our feet, manage the uncertainties presented by the incomplete datasets we routinely work with, and create and develop the conceptual ground models on which all geotechnical risk assessments and construction projects are founded.

Without our work engineers simply cannot create the robust numerical models required to undertake detailed design work and ensure compliance with appropriate standards. Indeed, fully articulated ground models, and associated geotechnical risk registers, should be put routinely at the core of all decision-making. The consequential increased confidence in ground engineering solutions would reduce outturn financial and carbon costs and perhaps challenge the inbuilt conservatism and engineering bias of some of our beloved Standards themselves. Furthermore, in these financially austere times when private financing of construction projects is a globally competitive business, the need to demonstrate that our projects provide the greatest opportunity for good returns on investment is of key importance. With ‘unforeseen’ (but rarely unforeseeable) ground conditions giving rise to significant financial risk, a more effective approach to geotechnical risk management will enhance the confidence of investors in construction cost estimates - which will greatly benefit the economy.

A ground engineering revolution to raise the profile of what we can achieve for society, enlighten fellow construction professionals and create a motivational environment that inspires us all to seek enhanced value be that fiscal, environmental or other - worth a thought, isn’t it?

* Vice President; Chair, Chartership Committee and Associate Director, Earth Engineering and Sciences, Halcrow.


  1. C R I Clayton, 2001.
  2. Never Waste a good Crisis: a review of progress since Rethinking Construction Constructing Excellence, 2009
  3. H M Treasury and Infrastructure UK