I was reading an article on the “Construction Enquirer” website last week, regarding problems being encountered on a large construction project currently underway for the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Social Sciences site off Northumberland Road.

The new faculty building at Sheffield University (Source)

According to the article, the main contractor BAM is to pull down and rebuild about half of the structural frame of the new building after they identified that there was settlement occurring in excess of that which would normally be expected in a structure of this nature.  A statement from BAM confirmed that their detailed investigations into the cause of the settlement had confirmed “…a problem with the piling of the structure, which are unusually complicated…”.

Dealing with these issues will, apparently, delay completion of the project by 10-15 months, and no doubt the financial cost implications arising from this problem will be very painful indeed (for someone) on this £65 million project.

The timing of the article made me smile (no, I’m not a complete sadist – please read on) because only last week we were chatting away at the end of our weekly team meeting and – I forget how – the subject of piling beneath structures came up.  I was, in my usual “old fart” style, reminiscing about a story told to me when I was doing the Advanced Structures Course at the Sheffield Polytechnic, now of course known as Hallam University (yes, I am that old).

This particular week were to be lectured on the matter of piling.  One of the lecturers – I forget his name – was a Geologist and started his section of the talk with the opening: “Piles are unfortunate things that occupy the undersides of buildings and people”, so we knew it was going to be one of those lectures before we had hardly started.

Let’s get this out in the open right away – I have been banned outright from making any further references in this article to haemorrhoids, ‘Farmer Giles’ or the use of certain proprietary ointments to cure the University’s building problems…

Anyway, back to the plot…

The rest of the lecture that evening was presented by the late Jim Ducker, who always tried to brighten his lectures with the odd anecdote.  This particular evening, Jim was telling us the story how – through his “side line” business as J Ducker and Partners Consulting Engineers, he had been instructed to carry out a peer review of another company’s design for a building in the South Yorkshire area.  The project was for a building of four or five storeys, on a site where it was known the ground conditions would require some form of piled solution.

I forget all the details of the ground conditions that were gone through in detail for the benefit of a room full of young engineers, but suffice it to say that the original design using twenty concrete piles was deemed unlikely to satisfy the client’s requirement that the building should experience a maximum settlement of no more than 12.5mm in the first three years.

So, the designers set about the problem and came up with a revised design, this time using about forty 600mm diameter reinforced concrete bored piles going down about 20 metres into the ground.

Unfortunately, only six months after work had finished, the building had already settled by 75mm!

N.B. This might not be the building Jim was telling us about…

Dear old Jim went through all the technical arguments that he presented in his peer review, but the punchline of his lecture was that:

“It was the weight of all those extra piles that had dragged it down!”

Now, I’m not saying that BAM and their consulting engineers should have listened to Jim Ducker… but, well, there is a well known phrase about being doomed to repeat history.

 

All practising professional engineers, surveyors and architectural designers are required to undertake a certain amount of what is referred to as “Continuing Professional Development” or “CPD” for short.  For example, as a Chartered Building Engineer and Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE), I am required to undertake a minimum of 35 hours per year of CPD.

 

Similar requirements are placed upon professionals in other disciplines / industries and the whole point is that one is expected to strive to maintain one’s knowledge of the latest developments and current thinking in the working environment.  We would all hope that our Family Doctor will be up to speed on the latest methods of diagnosis and treatment of whatever ailments we may suffer from and the same applies in the construction industry.

 

CPD can take many forms.  The importance of keeping abreast of the latest techniques for design and analysis are obvious, along with being aware of any recent legal cases – the judgements applied to which can impact particularly on how as an appointed Surveyor, one deals with for example, disputes under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.

 

CPD can also include “horizon broadening activities” and the list here is as long as one cares to make it.  As an example, our newest recruit Amy has been shadowing me on several site inspections lately.  Although Amy is primarily a Geotechnical Engineer (translation – “a Geologist who has been drawn to the ‘dark side’ of Engineering”) the experience of seeing how others deal with boundary disputes, structural inspections and measurement surveys of buildings will be invaluable in improving not only her usefulness to the company but also, the breadth of her understanding of other elements of Building Engineering as they interface with her own, specialised areas of work.

 

I have the honour and pleasure to regularly sit on a panel of experienced professionals, interviewing prospective members of the CABE to determine that they have met the required standards of experience, knowledge and professionalism to be accepted as chartered members of the Association.  One of the topics raised and discussed in the interview process is the candidate’s record of CPD attendance – not just in terms of the hours spent undergoing CPD, but also the quality of that CPD and its relevance to their work.

 

But, I honestly cannot remember ever being asked by a Client for details of my own CPD record at any stage during a project, let alone before they engage my services.  Now, one might argue that the Client is entitled to take it for granted that, as a practising member of a professional organisation they will be on top of their obligations regarding CPD.  It has been my experience that not all professionals take this as seriously as we would wish to believe.

 

For our Clients’ comfort and peace of mind, I can confirm that all of the technical staff at Taylor Tuxford Associates either meet or comfortably exceed the requirements of their professional bodies in terms of the hours of CPD they carry out each year.

 

I have just completed and submitted my CPD “return” for 2017 for 50 hours of CPD completed.  Over the past three calendar years, my personal cumulative CPD attendances have been in excess of 190 hours in total.  This includes some community work – for example, assisting local charitable organisations and groups with their construction-related issues and projects, including Bold Adventures in Bolsterstone and the Maltby Miners Memorial Trust, for whom we have been providing architectural and structural design assistance.  We have also previously assisted on three projects locally for the BBCTV DIY SOS programme – it all helps.

 

Significantly, however, the CPD Hours that we register do not include time spent on other community work for non-construction related causes – primarily in our case, this would be the time that Michelle, Amy, Anne and me spend on fund raising activities for local and national charities through the entertainments group BluCrew – for details see elsewhere on our website on visit www.facebook.com/BluCrew/

 

Rhys Taylor
Feburary 2018