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John Mitchell Medal Lecture: Call for the profession to shout louder

John Mitchell Medal winner Len Threadgold has encouraged the geotechnic profession to become ambassadors in the industry, in his lecture earlier this week.

Under the headline of Re-Thinking Site Investigation Design, practice and procurement, Threadgold urged the profession to promote its capabilities and importance within the industry.

“Much has been written about site investigation over decades and the theme of each of these publications has consistently been about the vital importance of good quality, well-funded, well-resourced, structured and timely site investigation to efficient, sustainable and safe design.

“However, what is blindingly obvious to the geotechnical and engineering geology communities is not recognised or accepted by many of its clients, structural engineers and quantity surveyors.

“Site Investigation is a process not a product. The very justification for it implies uncertainty about what is in the ground. No investigation will provide absolute certainty but having a quality driven agenda, to minimise risk, rather than achieve the lowest price to minimise short-term cost, is much more likely to lead to cost savings in the medium and long term” he argued.

It is the confidence in the design and the programme for projects, Threadgold argued, that will help the profession be better recognised by investors, insurers and clients.

“Without a good knowledge of ground conditions, designers who are understandably cautious, would be tempted to be conservative. This can have a significant effect on cost and programme.

“Cases where the use of piling ‘to be safe’ has given rise to major problems of differential settlement and failure under lateral loadings from landslip. Greater certainty would be expected to be much more valuable to a funder rather than lowest price” he argued.

“Those who think that gaining knowledge is expensive should reflect on the cost of ignorance” he added. 

Threadgold also urged the profession to become a united front. 

“Recent squabbles within the industry have done its external image a disservice and have resulted in a loss of focus on the most important issue of understanding and investment.

“Our industry bodies are supposed to promote our capabilities and importance, not unilaterally declare our sector to be ‘broken’.”

Threadgold said that he did not believe the industry to be broken, but did believe that it should continuously improve and promote it’s importance.

Read GE’s interview with Len Threadgold here and a video recording of Len Threadgold’s John Mitchell Medal Lecture will be here in due course. 

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