Core samples.

+ Is the UK attitude to geologists in the engineering industry the wrong way round?

A significant proportion of construction disasters in the last few years have been attributed to differing or unforeseen site conditions to those anticipated from the ground investigation, subsequent testing and interpretation. How did this happen? Doubtlessly insufficient ground investigation, but also poor logging and interpretation of drill cores may have played a part.

David Norbury, an engineering geologist, says that the UK attitude to geologists in the engineering industry is the wrong way round. We send young, inexperienced geologists out into the field to make technically and financially crucial decisions and when they have a few years experience we bring them back into the office.

I agree with David. In the US, you are a field geologist for life. On a recent project I was logging core with a geologist who was nearly 60 years old, and his 40 year old ‘apprentice’! Can you imagine what a difference it would make in the UK if we had our ‘grey haired’ geologists in the field? How good would borehole logs be if David Norbury was your onsite logging geologist?

On most projects the geology isn’t the determining factor of the design and residual geological issues can be ‘engineered out’. Where this hasn’t happened, the consequences have been disastrous.

Check logging is the process where a suitably experienced person makes an independent check of the core descriptions using the original engineer’s records to ensure the logs are accurate and prepared to the relevant industry standard. I’m aware of countless projects where check logging by experienced personnel has paid dividends resulting in some, if not all, the cores on a project being re-logged.

While there is a financial argument that delegating check logging responsibility to experienced staff is more expensive, in the grand scheme of construction costs the extra fees would be small beans. I also accept there is a ‘willingness’ argument: not everyone wants to be out in the field all their lives, but I believe this is only true for a proportion of people. Given the opportunity, I would happily be a grey-haired field geologist.