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Geotechnical failure needs to be taught to undergrads

Details of geotechnical failure, as well as design methods, need to be taught to undergraduates in a bid to ensure better perception of ground risk, according to GDG senior consultant Neil Smith.

Speaking at a GDG-organised event on “perception and control of ground risk” at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London yesterday, Smith deliver a presentation on the industry’s failure to perceive risk.

Smith cited Sean Brady’s research into bridge failures and that a 30 year cycle exists between major failures. “This leads me to ask is there a generational communications gap,” asked Smith.

“The development of ground engineering means that there is now a larger body of knowledge than ever before. When I first started in this industry, in the 1960s I was viewed as a generalist but now the development of the industry means I am a specialist.

“This great body of knowledge means that we now know more and more about less and less. There are also more and more people to communicate with but there are still persistent failures in communications and we are not learning from these mistakes.

“We need to talk more about failures and that needs to start at undergraduate level and failures should be taught to students, alongside design.”

Another speaker at the event, Griffiths and Armour director Stephen Hargreaves, said that engineers do not always communicate risks well and are not always clear on assumptions made when discussing risk. Hargreaves used a number of legal cases he’s worked on to outline the implications of not communicating risks clearly.

“There is always some inherent risk when working in the ground and some clients do not understand this,” said Hargreaves. “Also assumptions have to be made and most of the time there are not problems.”

Hargreaves urged geotechnical engineers to ensure their clients understood the implications on not investing properly to address and understand risks. In one case he cited, a geotechnical engineer was found at fault in court after the scope of their services was reduced but the engineer had not adequately warned of the consequences for risk on the project.

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