Senior consultants and engineers should stop putting their names to documents that they have not reviewed, said Dr Barry New of Geotechnical Consulting Group at this year’s British Tunnelling Society Harding Memorial Lecture.Presenting on Thursday 19th January, New called on managing engineers to “value your signature”, explaining that many of the reports he received on behalf of utility clients had clearly been written by junior engineers and were not up to scratch. “Those people acting as checkers and approvers cannot possibly have read the reports they have signed,” said New. “It’s something I understand, but I don’t like it.”
New’s characteristically direct approach had already been applauded by Professor Lord Robert Mair who introduced New to a packed audience at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster, with some attendees watching via a screen in a second room. Mair, who has known New for over 40 years, praised “his willingness to cut to the chase and call a spade a spade”, as well as his contributions to our understanding of how tunnelling projects impact on existing tunnels and pipelines.
The subject of the lecture was ‘Tunnelling Impact Assessment for Utility Pipelines and Tunnels’, which New addressed through a combination of dry observations, photos and anecdotes. Along the way, he called into question commercial awards ceremonies that are focussed on revenue rather than excellence and conferences which accept too many papers of insufficient quality, again for financial gain.
At the heart of the lecture, which will be followed by a more technical paper, is New’s proposal that we need a new approach to risk assessment for utilities. The current practice of assuming a number of between 1 and 5 for the likelihood of something happening and the consequence of it happening and then multiplying the two numbers, is meaningless, he suggested. Photographs of a confusion of services, propped off each other and build round each other illustrated his point.
New’s alternative approach is a risk-based analysis which he outlined in four steps. First, look at the maintenance and report history of a section of tunnel or pipeline to get an understanding of its condition; second, determine its strategic importance; then design protection measures, diversions or replacement depending on the significance of the asset; and finally formulate a rescue and repair plan and ensure that the resources to do it are on site and ready to go.