Posts by Katie Kennedy


AGS Magazine: November/December 2018

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The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists are pleased to announce the November/December issue of their bi-monthly publication; AGS Magazine. To view the magazine click HERE.

This free, bimonthly publication focuses on geotechnics, engineering geology and geoenvironmental engineering as well as the work and achievements of the AGS.

There are a number of excellent articles in this month’s issue including;

The Importance of AGS Data Format – Page 10
Environmental Liability Insurance – Page 14
AGS Marketing & Business Plan – Page 18
Emerging Contaminants – Page 20
Duty of Care: Third-Party Reliance on Geotechnical Reports – Page 24

Advertising opportunities are available within future issues of the publication. To view rates and opportunities please view our media pack by clicking HERE.

If you have a news story, article, case study or event which you’d like to tell our editorial team about please email Articles should act as opinion pieces and not directly advertise a company. Please note that the publication of editorial and advertising content is subject to the discretion of the editorial board.

Article Loss Prevention

Duty of Care: Third-Party Reliance on Geotechnical Reports

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A summary of Loss Prevention Alert (68), published September 2018

On 25 July 2018 the Technology and Construction Court (“TCC”) handed down judgment in a case which will be of great interest to AGS members: BDW Trading Ltd v Integral Geotechnique (Wales) Ltd [2018] EWHC 1915 (TCC). In the judgment, the TCC provided useful guidance regarding where the duty of care sits when a geotechnical engineer’s report prepared for the seller of land is relied on by the purchaser and what constitutes negligence when considering the content of such reports.


Bridgend County Borough Council (“the Council”) owned the site in question (“the Site”) and intended to sell it for housing development after obtaining planning permission. The Council commissioned a geotechnical report from Integral Geotechnique (Wales) Ltd (“IGL”) which was included in the package of information sent out to potential purchasers.

IGL’s appointment was governed by its standard conditions of engagement which incorporated the ACE Conditions. IGL’s standard conditions included the following clauses, excluding third party rights and limiting liability for contamination:

  • Clause 5: “Nothing in [this contract] confers or purports to confer any third party benefit or any rights to enforce any terms of this contract.”
  • Clause 10: “For any matter arising out of or in connection with pollution or environmental contamination the total liability under or in connection with this agreement at any time shall be limited to the lesser of: the direct costs incurred by the Client [i.e. the Council] in cleaning up the site of the works or any part thereof: and the amount if any recoverable by [IGL] in respect of such claims under any professional indemnity insurance taken out by [IGL].”
  • Clause 11: “Subject to a limit of £300,000 for all such claims.”

It was clear to IGL from the outset that the report it produced following its site investigation would be used for marketing the site to residential developers. With that knowledge, IGL sent the report to the Council under cover of a letter which stated: “We confirm that the attached may be assigned to the site purchaser and onto two further parties.”

Following the completion of the works, the Council put out a tender for the development of the land investigated by IGL. The tender package (containing the IGL report) was received by residential developer BDW Trading Ltd in June 2012. Almost two years later, BDW purchased the site but did not at any point request or receive an assignment of the benefit of IGL’s report from the Council, nor did they seek any legal document from IGL to permit their reliance on it. They did, however, put queries to IGL regarding some aspects of their report.

Groundworks began in 2014 to develop the land and as work progressed extensive asbestos contamination was discovered beneath the grassed-over areas of the Site. Accusing IGL of negligent reporting, BDW sought damages for the cost of asbestos remediation. This claim was based on a perceived failure of IGL to acknowledge the possibility of asbestos contamination in that area of the Site. BDW claimed that had IGL’s investigations and report been non-negligent, the asbestos would have been discovered prior to sale of the site and BDW would have negotiated a reduction in the purchase price accordingly.

Duty of Care in Tort

Once the case was taken to court, it became apparent that BDW had not taken an assignment of the report and therefore had no contractual claim against IGL. However, BDW argued that IGL owed a duty of care in tort on the basis that IGL knew that BDW had received a copy of their report, had read it and relied on it when purchasing the site.

The Judge in the case, Stephen Davies QC concluded that, “… if BDW wanted to place legal reliance on the report it would have to obtain an assignment or other legal document from IGL to do so …”

The judge also drew a clear distinction between a purchaser “using” the report, in the sense of reading it, asking questions and making decisions based on it, and “relying” on it in the sense of having a legal right to do so. IGL’s knowledge that a third party was “using” the report did not necessarily give rise to a duty of care and did not do so where IGL had provided the report on the understanding that a third party could not rely on the report without taking an assignment.


As BDW had no cause of action, it was not strictly necessary for the court to consider the issue of negligence but it did so on an ‘obiter’ basis. The court stressed the importance of reading the report as a whole against the purpose for which the report had been obtained.

The judge agreed some parts of the report may be open to criticism: the preliminary conceptual site model failed to identify the risk of ACMs originating from the former structures on site being present within made ground and the contamination section of the report also failed to refer to this risk. However, the Judge also made clear that it was important not to cherry pick sections of the report in isolation and that BDW had a responsibility to appreciate the report only provided provisional conclusions based on the scope of the ground investigation and could not be relied upon as definitive.

The judge also highlighted the need to acknowledge the purpose for which the report had been obtained. It was not necessary for IGL’s report to emphasise hypothetical and unquantifiable risks, particularly where it had not been instructed to advise prospective purchasers whether or not to buy the site and, if so, on what terms. Given that they were instructed by the vendor of the site, they would certainly not be expected to “elevate hypothetical risks above the results of site investigations.”


This is a reassuring judgment for geotechnical engineers and one which will greatly assist in the defence of such claims (which are commonplace) in future. Common sense has prevailed in respect of the court’s warning against “cherry-picking” parts of reports, its endorsement of standard disclaimers as to undiscovered hotspots of contamination, and its acknowledgment that reports prepared for vendors are not expected to protect the commercial interests of purchasers.

This judgment also serves as a useful reminder of the significant commercial value of formal assignments of reports (or collateral warranties or letters of reliance) to potential purchasers and other third parties. By agreeing to such mechanisms, consultants are creating entirely new liabilities that they would not otherwise have. Assignments and the like should therefore not be under-sold by AGS members. Further guidance on the assignment of reports can be found in AGS LPA 45.

The full judgment can be found at:

Readers are encouraged to read the full Loss Prevention Alert 68, which can be found here.

This article, an edited version of Loss Prevention Alert 68 is, of necessity, generic and is not intended to be a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal or specialist advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to AGS members. Neither the writer, nor AGS, assumes any responsibility for any loss which may arise from accessing, or reliance on the material and all liability is disclaimed accordingly. Professional advice should be taken before applying the content of the Alert to particular circumstances.

The LPA, of which this article is an edited version, was prepared by Zita Mansi of BLM in August 2018. Further information and advice is available through the AGS Legal Helpline.

Article Loss Prevention

Environmental Liability Insurance

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Most UK contracts that AGS members enter into will require them to hold various types of insurance – usually including as a minimum, employer’s liability and public liability Insurance. Where work involves interpretative reporting or design then normally the client will seek to ensure the contracting party carries adequate professional indemnity insurance. For any physical contracting work clients will often require the contractor to hold contractor’s all risk (‘CAR’) Insurance.

What aspects of environmental liability are covered by other insurances?

Environmental liability resulting from spills or emissions of contaminants will have limited cover provided by public/third party liability insurance.
Such policies cover occurrences which happen during the period of insurance; they provide “indemnity against legal liability for damages”; but the occurrences or incidents have to be “sudden, identifiable and unforeseen” otherwise they are excluded. Any ‘gradual’ pollution would therefore not be covered by such insurance, nor would costs that do not fall within the definition of “damages

Back in 2000 (AGS Loss Prevention Alert No 7) the AGS warned its members about the potential pitfalls of having inadequate environmental insurance following the introduction of Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act on 1 April of that year. The AGS advised that members’ activities can cause or exacerbate a contaminated land condition and furthermore the Environment Agency reminded the industry that disturbance caused by site investigation boreholes, site demolition, site stripping and the construction of foundations can all cause contaminants to be released into underground aquifers.

Following the introduction of the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations in 2009 the AGS published LPA 48 which warned that the scope of cover provided by general liability policies (such as public liability (“PL”) and professional indemnity (“PI”) policies) in respect of environmental risks may be narrower than many people may anticipate.
Currently there are broadly two types of claims which result from incidents involving environmental damage. The first are private-law civil claims (usually nuisance claims) brought by neighbours. When it is a one-off event, these are usually claims for compensation for the harm that has already occurred. The second are statutory claims brought by regulators such as the Environment Agency which has powers to clean up and charge those who caused the pollution.

The civil claims by neighbours may be covered by a public liability policy, whereas the claims arising out of regulatory action are not covered as the courts have decided that such statutory claims do not give rise to “liability for damages”, within the meaning of the typical insuring clause (Bartoline v. RSA [2006] EWHC 3598, [2008] Env LR 1). Similarly, works that the insured may be required to carry out to its own land in order to prevent further harm to the environment or third party land are not “damages” and therefore not covered by standard public liability policies (Yorkshire Water v Sun Alliance [1997] 2 Lloyds Rep. 21).

Consequently, if a party pollutes a river that is privately owned, its owner may clean up, and sue that party, who can claim on his PL policy. But if the EA steps in and carries out urgent decontamination works to the river, and claims the costs of this under statute, the policyholder must bear those losses himself.
Even if the claims qualify as liability for “damages”, the PL policy may still not provide an indemnity because of the pollution exclusion clause that is standard in most PL policies which requires the pollution to be a result of a “sudden identifiable…incident.” It is often evidentially difficult to establish this, for example an escape from an underground fuel tank or pipe where one can only speculate as to how and over what period the escape occurred.

Loss Covered by PI/PL? Covered by EIL?
Statutory environmental damage remediation costs No Yes
Preventative works to prevent further spread of contamination No Yes
Environment Agency costs (emergency response works, investigation and prosecution) No Yes
Fines No No
Damage to Third Party Property Only if “sudden etc.” escape Yes
Third Party Loss of Profits Only if “sudden etc.” escape Yes
Third Party Costs Only if “sudden etc.” escape Yes

Uptake of Environmental Liability Insurance in UK

Despite this, in the 18 years or so since the publication of LPA 7 warning of the risks, there has been no significant change in the insurance held by UK contractors and consultants and specific environmental liability insurance is not routinely held by the majority of the site investigation industry contractors and consultants. The reasons for this may be threefold;(1) clients do not require that contractors carry this insurance; (2) a lack of understanding by project teams of how the risk is insured (or not insured);and(3) the premiums have, historically, been relatively high.  The latter point is of concern as it would indicate that insurers believe that this is an area of high risk whereas the industry apparently does not, albeit market appetite and capacity is increasing which is having a downward effect on premium levels.

The exception to this appears to be the oil and gas industry where environmental liability insurance is called for as routine, principally because many of the oil and gas clients are based in the USA where such insurance is more widely held – perhaps in response to a more litigious regime in this area of work.

In the UK brokers report that demand for ‘gradual’ pollution insurance is concentrated in certain sectors and cover is not purchased widely at present.  This is despite the fact that the EU Environmental Liability Directive came into effect in March 2009 and the directive introduced a no fault liability on a “polluter pays” principle. In theory it should have increased demand for environmental liability cover, but to what extent is not clear, as awareness amongst those likely to be most affected is low.

Should AGS members be concerned?

The Environment Agency reports that a significant proportion of aquifer pollution can be attributed to boreholes allowing contaminants to migrate vertically. Typically this will occur where holes are drilled through landfills which are often underlain by an engineered clay liner or naturally-occurring clay which prevents, or at least attenuates, the vertical migration of contaminants. In an effort to determine the thickness of this basal layer and investigate the geological and hydrogeological conditions below, these investigation boreholes often puncture the basal low permeability layers, thereby creating a new pathway which previously did not exist, and inadvertently allowing gradual vertical downward migration of contaminants.  An informed client and contractor may seek to avoid drilling through clay liners but this may be less than straightforward when the landfill contents are themselves primarily clay based materials.

The practical challenge to regulators such as the Environment Agency in such cases is proving that a specific borehole or series of boreholes resulted in a specific pollution event.  More often pollution from boreholes results in dispersed contamination of the aquifer and it becomes very difficult to prove how and when the observed pollution occurred. Even if it were possible to pinpoint the source of the contamination, it might be argued that the negligence was on the part of the engineer who ‘designed’ the borehole and the engineer’s PI insurance should respond to any claim, although the contractor drilling the borehole might be deemed to be the ‘knowing permitter’ of the contamination.  Nevertheless infiltration of contaminants from point sources can have serious consequences. This was the case when a number of shallow soakaways were installed on the M25 threatening the Bricket Wood abstraction borehole in Hertfordshire (see Price et al. 1989). In aquifers the contamination may spread a long way downstream from the point of entry and the bromate contamination traced to its source in Sandridge near St Albans was found to have  migrated some 20km, affecting  a water abstraction point some 10km away  and to have spread across an area of over 40km2 (see Fitzpatrick 2010).

As was the case in 2000 it is perhaps a good time for AGS members to review their environmental insurance policies to ensure that they have adequate and appropriate cover for these risks. Those procuring ground investigation may wish to consider what insurances are called for in their contracts.


AGS (2011). Insurance cover for Environmental ‘Cleanup Costs’. Loss Prevention Alert LPA 48, May 2011.

Fitzpatrick CM (2010). The hydrogeology of bromate contamination in the Hertfordshire Chalk: double-porosity effects on catchment-scale evolution. Unpublished EngD thesis, University College London.

Price M, Atkinson TC, Wheeler D., Barker JA. & Monkhouse RA. (1989) Highway drainage to the Chalk aquifer near Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire. British Geological Survey, Technical Report WD/89/3.

Article contributed by Peter Boyd, Operations Director, Ground Engineering, AECOM

Article Business Practice

AGS Business and Marketing Plans – Delivering the Vision

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The September/October issue of the AGS Magazine had an interesting article from industry stalwart Len Threadgold who looked back at the vision and aims of the AGS at conception and in its early days. This has changed little over time and explains why the AGS is still such a vibrant and active association. However, the Executive team recognise that a lot of the good work, publications and guidance produced by AGS members often does not reach further than the committee members and Nominated Representatives.

In order to deliver the vision and aims, it was agreed by the Executive that a clear plan, set of objectives and mechanisms for delivery had to be developed. So, for the first time since inception the AGS has developed a Business Plan and Marketing Plan to assist the association to document for the members its strategic goals and supporting objectives to achieve its aims and this article provides a brief overview.

The AGS has been the UK’s only Trade Association for geotechnical and geoenvironmental businesses since 1988 and is represented by specialist consultants, contractors, suppliers and clients. It is a non-profit trade association which, through its working groups and activities, works to enhance this specialist sector by promoting good practice, standards and encouraging innovation.  Its members are committed to safety and quality and it is important that members feel that they have a real benefit from being part of the Association and these benefits are highlighted within the Business Plan and on the AGS website.

The Business Plan sets out the already well-established aims of the Association which are:

(a) to promote and enhance quality and safe practice within the geotechnical and geoenvironmental industry;

(b) to provide opportunities for participation in its activities to all those in the wider geotechnical and geoenvironmental industry;

(c) to give benefit to all of its participants

In order for the AGS to maintain and improve the effectiveness to deliver its aims and objectives to the industry and benefits to its members, the Marketing Plan has been developed around five key areas:

  1. Maintain the effectiveness and focus of the advice and guidance from the Association through its Working Parties
  2. Organise and promote industry related conferences and events
  3. Sell and promote AGS publications
  4. Produce an industry focussed magazine
  5. Manage and promote the AGS Data Format

In endeavouring to achieve its aims the AGS Business Plan states that it is committed to the growth of its membership from companies who are recognised for the quality of practice they bring. It is recognised that a larger membership base provides a level of influence within the industry and revenues which will enable it to underpin the association aims and objectives as set out in the Business Plan and Marketing Plan.

The principle initiatives to grow the membership are to create value of membership and tangible benefits, build awareness of the AGS value of membership through improved marketing and presence and engage with students and graduates.

The AGS is already well supported by a wide variety of stakeholders from the industry but the aims and objectives within the Business and Marketing Plans can only be delivered with this continued support and through more individuals becoming involved. Through tangible benefits such as the FREE* AGS Annual Conference (Member’s Day), high quality seminars, AGS data format, guidance and publications, there is a real value to membership and the AGS is in a unique position to be able to lead and influence the industry.

During the production of the Business Plan an analysis of the current membership and market was carried out and it became clear that in order to meet the aims and adapt to the changing shape of the members such as those created by mergers and acquisitions a simplified fee structure was required. It was also clear that the viability of the Association heavily rests with recovering these fees in a timely manner and as benefits such as our free* Annual Conference had to be maintained a slight increase was proposed and the new structure is provided below.

The 2019 plans are already in place and so we can already look forward to the Annual Conference on 3rd April, the first Loss Prevention Seminar on 3rd July, a Health, Safety and Environmental Seminar in November and continual updates on Standards, guidance and legislation within the AGS Magazine. If you think you want to be part of the team to deliver the vision and support the growth of the industry then please let us know .

*T&C apply


Emerging Contaminants

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The subject of emerging contaminants is floated on a regular basis – as being a regulatory challenge, a headache for industrial landowners, and an alarm bell for NGOs who watch for damage to the environment which might emerge unexpectedly from what might previously have been considered benign substances. Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, brought the DDT issue out in the open. Regulators and Industry Bodies have tackled the subject of emerging contaminants, and found it very difficult to spot the  ”next DDT” or the “new asbestos”. Perhaps this is not surprising, as it is not so much the substances which emerge, as our understanding of the toxicology and other properties of substances, or their behaviour in the environment – such as persistence or potential for bioaccumulation. In addition, what might be viewed as an acceptable concentration this year might become unacceptable next year as bodies such as the World Health Organisation bring in new Drinking Water Standards which reflect our changing understanding of the effects of chemicals on health and the environment.

Much publicity has been given to PFAS (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), phthalates and microplastics of late. It is worth considering these in turn.

PFAS is a group of substances which include Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctane Acid (PFOA). These  have been used extensively in the last 30 years to provide food packaging, non-stick surfaces in kitchen ware, and improved fire suppression characteristics in foam used to douse fires. The reasons for its effectiveness relate to its persistence – it’s very hard to breakdown, and hence in the environment, there is very little biodegradation, and it only changes concentration by dilution. The group of substances are linked to several forms of cancer and effects on liver, gastrointestinal system and thyroid hormones.  In 2016, the USEPA  announced increasing concern about the group of substances, and reduced the Health Advisory Value to 70 nanograms/litre. This resulted in Water Companies reviewing their abstraction sources on a precautionary basis, with some discovering that their main source of drinking water supply could no longer be used with confidence. In the state of Michigan, widespread impacts on surface and groundwater have caused the State to declare localised states of emergency while they find alternative water supplies. Finding alternative sources and setting up appropriate infrastructure to deliver potable water to a State comes with a multi-million dollar bill, and the precautionary approach will be under scrutiny when it comes to deciding who pays the bill. The only  company in the US which manufactured PFAS is being pursued in the courts. Who knows what the outcome will be. Extensive investigation and clean-up is also being pursued at sites where fire training takes place – particularly airports and military sites, where mock aircraft or buildings have  regularly been dosed with fuel and the fire extinguished with PFAS in the foam.  The added effectiveness of fire foam using PFAS may have saved lives over the years, but it is difficult to balance the benefits (possible lives saved in fires) with the disbenefits (environmental accumulation and health impacts through drinking water). It often takes tens of years to establish the true impacts of bioaccumulation of a chemical in the food chain, and the application of the Precautionary Principle in the meantime is often justified by such uncertainty.

Phthalates first came to the attention of Regulators in the US in 2003, and since then, this group of chemicals have been studied in detail and shown to include some substances which have negative health effects. An over-arching report produced by the  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel on phthalates and alternatives  formed the basis for current concerns in relation to a wide range of possible health effects including damage to liver, kidney, lungs and reproductive system. There are moves afoot in the US to ban or reduce the use of a number of phthalates such as  Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP).  However, it can be seen that action is slow to happen with a truly new emerging contaminant, and now 15 years on from the first concerns being expressed, there is still only patchy State and Federal regulations in the US to eliminate the chemicals from some products, but the list is likely to grow.

Microplastics are also in the news currently. There is confusion around the terminology, with some commentators meaning finely shredded strands of plastics which are becoming entrained in fish in the ocean, against a backdrop of macro-sized plastics which float across the ocean and are cast up on beaches. Industry also produces deliberately fine-sized microplastics such as microsilicones, which are used in products such as wash-off personal products to improve abrasion and washing power. Micro silicones are relatively new, and some are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. It is an EU requirement that D4 (Cyclotetrasiloxane) and D5 (Cyclopentasiloxane) shall not be placed on the market in wash-off cosmetic products in a concentration equal to or greater than 0,1 % by weight of either substance, after 31 January 2020. This constraint is expected to be effective in controlling the appearance of microsilicones in waste waters. Some retailers have voted with their feet and will not accept inclusion of microplastics in consumer products. The balance of self-control and regulation can be an effective way to manage this emerging contaminant. However, dealing with the already massive presence of plastics in the environment presents rather greater challenges. Should we give up plastics altogether? This may be a step too far as they now form an intrinsic part of the fabric of society, but action is need to avoid adding to the existing problem.

But enough of “new” contaminants. What about some of the old chestnuts? Asbestos and its effect on health is well understood, but the relationship between asbestos in soil and asbestos in air is not. As the main pathway of casual exposure is inhalation of asbestos fibres usually liberated from soil in dry weather, we might consider this to require a high level of effort to research, but funds for such work are hard to come by in the UK. In some European countries, the only concern is for exposure to asbestos in the workplace as a result of building fabric degradation and accidental exposure when buildings are being renovated or maintained. Levels of asbestos in soil are not considered a problem. So the whole health risk picture associated with asbestos in the environment is patchy at best, and dangerously lacking at worst. So our approach to dealing effectively with asbestos is still emerging.

Mercury is likewise well known and relatively well understood, but it has taken a long time to produce a UN Convention on phasing out the use of mercury. The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.  Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata city in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. The Convention was signed in 2013, and came into effect in 2017. That’s 61 years after the effects of mercury on the people  of Minimata was first identified.

In conclusion, the subject of emerging contaminants should perhaps rightly include emerging knowledge of toxicology, biaccumulativity and persistence and emerging policy attitudes and interpretation of the Precautionary Principle. To be able to predict what will be the next big issue requires a high quality crystal ball, or a good knowledge of where we have gone wrong in the past to so we can learn from such events, and spot new problems earlier, allowing more timely action.

The SiLC Register is aimed at practitioners from a diverse range of professional bodies working in the assessment and management of land condition and brownfield regeneration who demonstrate a high degree of experience, competence and skill during their career. For more information about SiLC, please visit

Article contributed by Phil Crowcroft, Technical Fellow at ERM





Article Senate

Q&A with Katherine Jones

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Full Name: Katherine Jones BSc MSc CGeol. FGS RoGEP Professional
Job Title: Senior Geoenvironmental Engineer
Company: Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental Ltd

After graduating from Durham University with a 2:1 Honours degree in Geophysics with Geology, I went on to gain a Masters degree in Geotechnical Engineering from Newcastle University.
After initial years based on site, I am now a senior engineer and project manager at Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental, specialising in geotechnical design. I work on a wide range of project across the country, providing geotechnical support and interpretation.
I was the winner of the Cooling Prize in 2014 for a paper I wrote on Lindisfarne Castle; a Rock Mass Stability Assessment.

What or who inspired you to join the geotechnical industry?
At school I was always interested in Geography and Physics/Engineering, so my undergraduate degree in Geophysics with Geology seemed the natural choice. I wanted to combine my love of fieldwork and the outdoors with numerical skills, and as I learnt about geotechnical engineering as a possible career choice, it was a perfect fit for me. My Masters degree further fuelled my enthusiasm, and I embarked on a career as a geotechnical engineer!

What does a typical day entail?
Every project is different, so every day is different; that’s the best part about being a geotechnical engineer. Much of my day to day time is spent planning and managing geotechnical investigations and undertaking geotechnical designs, including shallow and deep foundation design, mining risk assessments, settlement calculations and slope stability assessments.

I also mentor junior members of staff progressing towards chartership via our accredited CGeol chartership scheme. Encouraging junior members of staff to progress their careers in our industry is rewarding, and I enjoy discussing with them the different avenues down which they could go.

I also visit schools and universities to talk to the students about the career opportunities within the geology sector, and promote how it can be a challenging, interesting and rewarding career choice. We need keen, motivated students interested in geology to take an interest in our industry, as without them, we would face a skills shortage in the future.

Are there any projects which you’re particularly proud to have been a part of?
I was awarded the Cooling Prize in 2014 for a paper I wrote on Lindisfarne Castle; a Rock Mass Stability Assessment. Lindisfarne Castle is a National Trust Property in Northumberland, and an important tourist attraction for the region. This historic landmark was under threat from instability, caused by the degradation of the Whinn Sill dolorite rock outcrop on which it is built.

I was involved in collecting field data on the orientation of the joint sets within the outcrop, which plotted onto stereographic projections. Rock mass failure mechanisms were identified for each side of the outcrop, showing how the outcrop may degrade over time. The joint structure was concluded to be resulting in wedge failure or toppling failure occurring, potentially leading to instability in the castle if untreated, as well as potential health and safety risks for the public using the paths below. Our Rock Mass Stability Assessment was invaluable in planning the remediation and preservation of the rock mass, and therefore the castle, and I am proud to be involved in the conservation of such a prestigious landmark.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
No matter how much desk top research has been undertaken, you can never be sure what to expect from the ground conditions on a site until the site investigation has started. There could be an unrecorded backfilled opencast coal mine with no records, or unexpected artesian water. These are the reasons we do ground investigations in the first place, as the developer needs to know about unforeseen ground difficulties before finalising designs, however, they can make management of projects difficult, as they affect time scales and equipment needed for a job. The job would not be as interesting if every site investigation found exactly what was anticipated!

What AGS Working Group(s) are you a Member of and what are your current focuses?
I am currently a member of the AGS Senate, planning the overall running of the AGS, and discussing the findings of each specific Working Group. We also discuss how the industry as a whole needs to progress, and what standards or guidelines would be useful to develop. The AGS also hosts a number of conferences throughout the year, and we focus these to cover the topics and issues the Working Groups have highlighted to be at the forefront of the industry.

What do you enjoy most about being an AGS Member?
I enjoy having an input into the progression of the industry as a whole, and giving back to the profession. We need to ensure the industry moves forward, and the AGS provides a platform from where this can happen. The Senate and Working Groups cover the topics at the forefront of the industry, and I enjoy the opportunity to discuss industry wide concerns with peers from other companies.

What do you find beneficial about being an AGS Member?
The AGS offers a great range of guidance documents, which are concise and up to date with current standards. The AGS guidance documents are accessible to read, and useful for engineers at all levels within our industry.

AGS data is an invaluable tool for sharing and analysing results in an accurate and time efficient manner, and has helped bring the industry into the 21st Century.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?
The AGS provides a platform from which professionals within the industry can share ideas and develop best practice. We can learn from common mistakes and successes. The AGS provides a united front acting for the whole industry, providing advice and guidance on the topics members feel are most important.

The AGS membership directory is also a valuable tool for potential clients to find suitable geotechnical and geoenvironmental specialists.

What changes would you like to see implemented in the geotechnical industry?
The importance of a comprehensive site investigation is sometimes undervalued by clients, with limited budgets allocated compared to overall project value. This can make it difficult to undertake an investigation to best practice current guidance. A general appreciation of the industry as a whole would result in better site investigations, and would allow projects to run more smoothly, and potentially more cost effective overall. The AGS’ work in promoting the industry will hopefully see the imbalance corrected for the future.


The Importance of AGS Data Format

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In an age when BIM, cloud computing and artificial intelligence constantly make the headlines, the AGS Data Format has become more relevant than anytime in its 25 year history. Keynetix Managing Director and AGS Data Management working group member, Roger Chandler, outlines the format and why its adoption continues to make AGS member organisations more competitive.

To better understand what the AGS Data Format can do for an organisation, consider these two scenarios.

A colleague provides a printed spreadsheet of 1,000 numbers, in two columns, and asks for a graph of the data. The immediate response would be to ask for the spreadsheet with the data in it. After all, re-typing 1,000 numbers already in a spreadsheet would be wasting time and would probably introduce errors.

Now imagine a client supplies borehole logs printed out from its borehole logging software. The logs have 1,000 items of data on them and the client wants a graph of SPT vs depth.

Those unaware of the AGS Data Format may not realise that the first and second scenarios are exactly the same and have probably re-typed 1,000s of numbers, thinking it was the only option. Their competitors have probably asked for the information in an AGS file and completed a job that could take all morning in about five minutes; without typing anything or introducing any new errors.

AGS Data Format: transforming data handling

HTML is a good example of how a widely-used format can transform an industry. This is the file transfer format that runs the internet.

When a web browser asks a server for a webpage it is sent in an HTML format, which is then read by the browser and the webpage is displayed. The server does not need to write a file specifically for the browser software – it gives it exactly the same file to any software asking for the webpage.

In the same way, the AGS Data Format is a text file set out in an agreed standardised format supported by about 20 commercial software packages, giving a wide range of options for the collection, reporting and visualisation of geotechnical data.

Both these files are ‘data transfer files’. The rules on how to read and write these files are often called the ‘file format’. The AGS data management committee maintains the rules for the AGS Data Format.

Two Golden rules

To highlight the power of this basic concept, I came up with two ‘Golden rules’ at a 1999 Keynetix user conference, which have been adopted by the AGS:

Rule 1: Only enter data once

Rule 2: Get someone else to do it.

In the first scenario above, the immediate response would be to get the data from the person who already had it (Rule 2). If, however, if no data was available, then it would have to be entered (Rule 1) and then no one else should ever need to enter the data again (Rule 2).

Take a sample data audit

A sample data audit is a very useful, and often enlightening, exercise to complete.

First, write down every stage of the project where any of the sample details were written or typed in. Consider:

  • Sample labels
  • Drillers’ logs
  • Engineers’ notes
  • Chain of custody
  • Schedule sheets
  • Laboratory worksheets
  • Testing reports
  • Borehole logs
  • Section diagrams
  • Design plots.

Typically, around six of the these will have been written or typed in, sometimes all of them.

Second, take away one from the answer (information will have to be entered once to create the sample) and multiply the remainder by the number of samples the organisation handles in a year.

This number could be more than 10,000 or even more than 100,000 – that is the number of times a company carries out an unnecessary operation and, worse, could increase its project risk due to errors being introduced by its inefficiencies. This is only for sample data – the number is far bigger when the audit is carried out on all the data gathered during a site investigation.

In the first ten years of the AGS Data Format, it was used primarily as an inter-company data transfer as part of final project deliverables. However, it is now used just as much, if not more, to help companies adopt more efficient data practices within their internal and external supply chains.

If implemented correctly, AGS Data Format can significantly reduce inefficiencies and therefore increase the quality assurance of client deliverables, enabling teams to spend less time typing and more time thinking and considering the geotechnical problems and solutions for the site.

To find out more visit

About the author

Roger Chandler Joined the AGS committee in 1997 and co-founded Keynetix the following year. He is a member of the AGS Data Management working group. For the last 20 years he has grown Keynetix into an international geotechnical data management software company and regularly speaks at geotechnical conferences on the power of the AGS Data Format.

Roger is offering to hold a free lunchtime webinar for AGS member companies to help them learn more about the AGS Data Format and how the two Golden rules can improve data efficiency. For more information contact

Event Loss Prevention

AGS Loss Prevention Seminar – Save the Date

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AGS Loss Prevention Seminar – Save the Date
2019-07-0303rd Jul 2019
One Moorgate Place, London

The AGS are pleased to announce that a conference, based purely on loss prevention industry updates, will take place on Wednesday 3rd July 2019.

This half day afternoon event will focus on legal aspects and updates within the geotechnical and geoenvironmental sector, in particular the Loss Prevention guidance document which was published earlier this year on the AGS website.

The conference will take place within the auditorium in One Moorgate Place in London, and tickets will include lunch and refreshments.

Full details including speakers and ticket prices will be released in due course. For information on the limited sponsorship packages available, please contact the AGS on


CL:AIRE Launches Introduction to Brownfield Site Investigation eLearning Course

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The Introduction to Brownfield Site Investigation eLearning course has been designed to be consistent with the National Brownfield Skills Framework (NBSF), a nationally recognised learning framework.
The NBSF states that site investigation covers the preparation, implementation, testing and presentation of information detailing the extent of contamination on a site and the impact of this on human health and the environment.
Such information should be relevant, sufficient, reliable and transparent to aid decision-making. Set at an introductory level, the course content aligns with Level 2 of the NBSF, is aimed at those in the early stages of their careers or those new to the industry and provides a comprehensive introduction to the investigation of brownfield sites.
The course consists of 10 modules and two assessments. The first assessment is set after module 1 and the second on completion of all the modules. Each module consists of a 15-30 minute video, pdf slides and recommended reading list. The modules are:
• Module 1 – An Introduction to Brownfield Site Investigation
• Module 2 – Documentary Research
• Module 3 – Site Reconnaissance
• Module 4 – Design of the Investigation
• Module 5 – Surveying
• Module 6 – Service Avoidance
• Module 7 – Monitoring and Sampling
• Module 8 – In‐situ Testing
• Module 9 – Laboratory Testing
• Module 10 – Site Safety
The eLearning has been developed by RSK – global provider of environmental consultancy with one of the largest site investigation contracting capabilities in the UK. The course has been reviewed by the CL:AIRE Technology and Research Group.
To purchase, visit
Course Costs = £95 + VAT. CL:AIRE membership discounts apply (25% Principal & 15% Supporter)
All enquiries visit the Help Desk:

Article Loss Prevention

Problems with getting paid

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Cash is the lifeblood of any business and without it employees, suppliers and even the tax man cannot be paid. Delayed payments have long been an issue in the construction industry and businesses have failed in the past for this very reason. The introduction of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act in 1996 (often referred to as ‘The Construction Act’) sought to address some of these issues and encourage prompt payment – especially for smaller and medium sized enterprises. For more details see LPA 66 – Overview and Review of the Construction Act Payment Provisions. Specifically Part 2 of the Act sets out several principles for construction contracts; the right to staged payments, determining when payments are due; the requirement to state the amount due and how it was determined; the need to serve notice of intention to withhold payment; the right to suspend work in the case of non-payment. The Act also makes provision for disputes to be taken to adjudication. This has recently proved to be a means of rapidly resolving disputed debts especially where the withholding party has failed to abide by the contract conditions in relation to payment and the requirements of the Construction Act.
Nevertheless many debts are not paid in a timely manner and there are a number of actions AGS members can take to minimise delays to payment.

Actions AGS Members should take to minimise delays to payments

Know who the client is
The most critical factor is making absolutely sure who the client is and who therefore has responsibility for payment. It is not uncommon for initial enquiries to come from what turns out to be a third party with the result that the quotation is sent to them and provided a suitable set of terms and conditions is attached to the offer letter, then arguably a contract exists. However when the work is completed the supposed client then requests that the invoice is addressed to another company who will then pay the invoice. This then leaves the debtor with a dilemma as to whether to pursue the party he agreed the contract with, or readdress his invoice to another party who is apparently willing to settle the debt.
A similar dilemma may exist where a contract has been set up with a client who then, at the point of invoicing, requests that the invoice be re-addressed to another entity within the client organisation. The same problem may also arise when the client provides a purchase order which on closer inspection has not been issued by the original client entity.
In all these scenarios the debtor runs the risk of trying to recover a debt from an entity with whom he has no contract. By doing so the debtor effectively gives up his right to pursue the debt through legal means as clearly there is not a contract between the parties.
In such situations the logical course of action would be to pursue the debt with the body with whom the debtor is contracted. Whilst re-addressing the invoice may seem to be expedient, it should be borne in mind that, as well as the legal issues with trying to pursue a debt this way, the protective clauses in the contract may not be enforceable with this new entity

Financial stability of the client
AGS members should also be wary of contracting with clients with a weak balance sheet who may have an impaired ability to pay (also see AGS publication ‘Risk Issues for Independent Geo-professionals’, Section 4 Contractual and Financial Issues). Information on UK registered companies can be found on the Companies House website. This will usually include a copy of the client’s published accounts, as well as details of the company structure and names of the directors. However please be aware that accounts may only be published up to 9 months after the end of the company’s financial year, so the accounts may relate to a trading period that ended up to 1 year and 9 months ago. Even when dealing with large organisations it is worth checking the accounts of the specific entity which the holding/parent company may or may not have chosen to capitalise. The dangers of contracting with a financially robust company, only then to pursue a debt with a company that is not so, are obvious. Where there are doubts over the ability of the client to pay then it may be appropriate to request an advance payment for part or all of the fee. Where clients impose extended payment terms then the consideration should be given to including finance costs in the fee based on a suitable weighted average cost of capital (WACC).

Problems with purchase orders
Another pitfall in debt recovery is the lack of a purchase order. Many companies’ accounts payable systems are increasingly automated and a lack of relevant information on the invoice can result in invoices being rejected. Even when the correct client entity has been identified and a binding contract agreed between the two parties, payment can be delayed due to the lack of a purchase order. Whilst it may be contractually superfluous, the absence of a purchase order may simply mean that payment will not be processed until such a purchase order is issued. It is recommended therefore that AGS members communicate with the client’s finance team at an early stage to check whether a PO is required in order avoid delays and problems later. Also remember that purchase orders may have a monetary cap and where there are variations to the scope of work then this can result in the cap being exceeded at some point. Again AGS members can avoid payment delays by checking that the cumulative invoiced amount is within the capped amount on the PO.
On the other hand clients may inadvertently issue a PO to the incorrect contracting entity. This can easily happen when companies merge, are taken over or rename/restructure. This can result in clients accounting systems having an incorrect VAT number and incorrect bank details leading to further delays in payment.

In summary the Construction Act provides protection against unjustified withholding of payment and allows debtors to recover debts through adjudication if necessary. However a number of actions can be taken to minimise payment delays:
1. Check that the contracting entity is correct and is the body who will make payment.
2. Check the financial strength of the contracting entity.
3. Where possible check the payment history of the client and consider requesting advance payment and, where there are extended payment terms, consider including finance costs in the price.
4. Check whether a purchase order is required in order to facilitate payment.
5. Check that the PO has been issued to the correct entity.
6. Check that the PO value has not been exhausted from previous invoices.
7. Resist requests by clients to re-address invoices to another company.

AGS (2011). Risk Issues for Independent Geo-professionals. May 2011.
AGS (2018). LPA 66 – Overview and Review of the Construction Act Payment Provisions – February 2018.

Article contributed by Peter Boyd, Operations Director, Ground Engineering, AECOM

This article was featured in the September/October issue of the AGS Magazine.


AGS Photography Competition

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The AGS are holding their first official photography competition for the geotechnical and geoenvironmental industry.

We’re on the look out for your most creative working images, whether it be a landscape project shot, a close-up laboratory testing image or simply you and your colleague’s problem solving in the office.

If you’re a budding photographer or have a great engineering image which you’d like to enter, then we’d like to see it.

Entry into the competition is free and the winner of the competition will win a Piccadilly wicker hamper basket from luxury retailer, Fortnum and Mason, worth £75. The hamper includes Pistachio and Clotted Cream Biscuits, Marc de Champagne Truffles, Breakfast blend Coffee, Breakfast blend tea, Strawberry Preserve, Fortum’s Piccadilly Piccalilli, Burlington Breakfast Marmalade and Fortnum’s Dao Tino.

There are no restrictions on the photography equipment used, so feel free to use a phone, computer, tablet or a traditional hand-held camera to capture your image.

All entries will be reviewed by the AGS Magazine Editorial Board, who will decide on a shortlist and overall winner. Full details will be announced in the January/February 2019 issue of AGS Magazine.


The AGS are looking for high resolution jpeg images (no less than 300 dpi / over 1mb image file size) of a geotechnical and geoenvironmental nature. Images can include project imagery, laboratory testing, collaborative working and more. Photographs featuring staff should demonstrate health and safety procedures are in place, if appropriate.

• Please email your image with;

o A short description of what it showcases and where it was taken (up to 50 words)
o Credit information (if applicable)
o Your full name
o Company name
o Postal address

to with the subject ‘AGS Magazine: Photography Competition 2018’ in the email.

• There is no limit to the number of images you enter.
• The deadline for entries is Friday 21st December 2018.
• Entry into the competition is free

• Applicants must be aged 18 or over.
• All images must be high resolution and 300 DPI (dots per inch) / over 1mb image file size.
• Applicants must be based in the UK.
• The photographer must have full copyright of all entered images.
• All images entered may be reproduced by the AGS and used in future AGS event and marketing literature without prior notice. This may include usage across the AGS’ social media channels, inclusion in the AGS Magazine and on the AGS website.


Ground Risk: Why Take the Chance? A Lessons Learnt Conference Overview

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The conference was held at the excellent Cavendish Conference Centre near Oxford Circus, London, well located for those travelling by rail. Delegates were greeted by the venue vividly lit up in bespoke AGS green (apparently – for those who are interested – provided by an amBX lighting control system) which gave a stunning backdrop to the proceedings. There was a very good turnout and the location was well set up for networking.

Speakers for the event included Stephen Tromans, recognised as one of the leading practitioners in Environmental Law in the UK, award-winning geologist, Dr Jacqueline Skipper, Dr Andrew Smith, Coffey and Brownfield Briefing and GE Award winner, George Flower of Arcadis.

The programme was split into two, with geotechnical issues in the morning and geoenvironmental/contaminated land risks covered after lunch. Although each presentation highlighted widely different types and scales of problem and risk, the overriding conclusion on the lessons learnt was that spending time, effort and money at the start of a project to understand the ground conditions leads to a more successful outcome. Simply put “getting the ground model right”.

Feedback on the speaker’s presentations was either excellent or good, with one delegate saying it was “one of the best technical conferences I have attended in recent times”. We still feel that we can improve and plan to take all of the suggestions and comments into account when we run a number of similar events in the future, trying different venues and other AGS related content. Our aim is to make our conferences as enjoyable and informative as possible, giving attendees the best opportunity to learn and meet others.

Article contributed by Neil Parry, Geotechnical Engineer, AGS Chair

This article was featured in the September/October issue of the AGS Magazine.