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AGS Diversity Statement

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The AGS is a non-profit trade association that is managed by elected individuals from member organisations, none of whom are paid by the AGS. The trade association was established to promote the industry and address the commercial, safety and quality aspects of the members’ activities. We recognise that equality, diversity and inclusion are an important aspect of those activities.

We are actively seeking to improve representation of people from diverse backgrounds within the industry and make the industry a welcoming place for all genders and those with BAME heritage. To this end we are supporting a graduate mentoring scheme with our partners in the Ground Forum. We are also wish to support academia to innovate in its teaching methods and content in order to widen participation.

We ask all our members to challenge themselves to be proactive in ensuring the industry becomes representative of the wider population and to give everyone the best opportunity to realise their potential and contribute to the value of the industry.

Article Safety

AGS Safety WG – Update

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Roseanna Bloxham, AGS Safety Working Group Leader, has provided an update from the Groups most recent meeting, which was held virtually on 20th May. Here is an overview on the top topics which are currently in discussion:

Version 1 of our guidance document on safe working practices was released in May 2020. This is an active working document and will be updated and re-released as government guidelines change and new industry processes are developed.

The group have worked hard to produce this guidance quickly in light of the COVID-19 crisis with the outside assistance of Paul Nathanial. I am extremely grateful for all the hard work they have put in, but we understand it is work in progress.

COVID-19 was a new risk to the industry meaning there was little guidance on how we should continue to work. The AGS Safety Working Group felt it was important to aid their members at this time by producing an outline document that shares ideas for measures which could be introduced.

COVID-19 is likely to have an ongoing impact to the industry as a whole. At present it is unclear how large this impact will be and how long it will last. The main focus of the Safety Working Group is to provide our members with guidance and information to help keep them working and safe during this time.

If any readers of AGS Magazine have any comments or thoughts for future versions of this guide, please do send comments across to for consideration.

Trial pitting is currently an ongoing discussion for the group. There are a number of guidance documents associated with trial pitting within the industry with conflicting views. In addition, the questionnaire sent out by Steve Everton in October 2019 highlighted that there are discrepancies within companies regarding safety when trial pitting, and no obvious quick and easy solutions. Given the scale of the topic a separate sub-group has been formed to tackle the issues in greater detail. The initial aim of the group is to review existing AGS guidance associated with trial pitting.

Safety surrounding trial pitting is complex, whilst this process of investigation has been around for decades with little evidence of falls into pits, there is a big ‘what if’ hanging over the process. The AGS Safety Working Group feel it is important to investigate potential ways to target this ‘what if’ to pre-empt and prevent harm to their members.

It has been noticed by the group that a number of guidance documents on the AGS website are over 6 years old and may have been overlooked. The group has decided to put a focus on reviewing these older documents and either bring them up to date in line with current guidance or re-write them and withdraw as necessary.

In addition to the topics mentioned above, the Safety Working Group hold regular, ongoing discussions related to mental health and undergraduate involvement and training.


Q&A with Steve Hadley

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Name: Steve Hadley

Job title: Managing Director and Chair of the Federation of Piling Specialists

Company: Central Piling and the Federation of Piling Specialists

At university I had an industrial placement year working in both a contracting and consulting role. Post-graduation, I settled on an amalgamation of the two with a design and build geotechnical contractor, Rock and Alluvium. I managed to gain a lot of experience in quite a short space of time due to the rapid expansion of the business at that time. Fortunately, the company placed a great deal of faith in my burgeoning ability and I was able to increase my management responsibilities along with my technical skills. I spent seven years there in a large variety of roles and became a Chartered Engineer at the earliest opportunity.

My big break came when an opportunity came up to take over the business at Central Piling and I negotiated the purchase of the business. Since then my responsibilities have leaned more towards business improvement and commercial areas, but obviously as Managing Director, I oversee all aspects of our work.

Who or what inspired you to join the piling industry? 
My personal tutor at Loughborough University was a geotechnics lecturer called Paul Fleming. I really connected with him and that helped me understand the subject, which in turn encouraged me to pursue it as a career. I’m still great friends with him.

What does a typical day entail? 
I wake up at 6am and start the day with yoga, followed by a big breakfast. I start work at 8am and first plan my day and respond to any urgent emails. I then generally spend a couple of hours with  more creative work such as writing blogs or marketing plans. I’ll then get out for a run and have a quick bite to eat before sitting down with my Estimating Director and Technical Manager to review high value and complex schemes. I’ll then join the contracts team to review production and any HSQE or HR issues that have arisen during the day.

Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud to be a part of? 
We completed a scheme for Galliard Homes called Harbour Central a few years ago. This was a complex deep basement and 45 storey tower. We used some sophisticated design techniques to understand the soil and structure interaction. We delivered the job significantly under budget and ahead of programme. Everyone pulled together and we had a great relationship with the client and consultant teams from Meinhardt and CGL.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role? 
There are times when I have to have difficult conversations with people about performance. This is a crucial part of the role so they understand the expectations that I and the company has. Similarly, I can get feedback if there’s something that the business can do to assist them. Ultimately it does make the process of severing the relationship easier if you’ve done everything to engage along the way.

When did you join the FPS and why? 
I’ve been involved with the FPS since my early days at Rock & Alluvium where I sat on the Technical Committee. Central Piling joined around eight years ago. At the time, I saw it as an opportunity to help improve the business and provide a benchmark against other contractors. Since then as the company has matured and I see our participation more about playing a part in improving the lives of people working in the industry.

As Chair of the FPS, what does your role involve? 
As well as the administrative side of the role, I’m the figurehead and responsible along with the rest of the Executive Committee for agreeing lots of the initiatives that the FPS undertakes. I’ll stay closely involved with many of those through their evolution.

What are your ambitions for the Federation of Piling Specialists over the next two year? 
I’m particularly keen to ensure that the FPS messages resonate with more people, so I’m working hard to ensure that we look at alternative methods of outreach such as the blogs, podcasts and the webinar series that we’ve launched. My passion for wellbeing and equality is quite well established so they will be very prominent themes during my tenure. Nevertheless, the traditional FPS priorities such as site safety and commercial good practice will still be an integral part of FPS activity.

Why do you feel the FPS is important to the industry? 
As a collective representing approximately 80% of the industry by turnover, we have a very strong influence when producing statements on sector issues. The various committees also contain the best minds within the industry in their respective fields and the FPS provides a forum in which they can work together to produce best practice guidance.

What changes would you like to see implemented within the geotechnical industry? 
We need to make the industry more inclusive. There are practical ways to do this which the FPS is actively pursuing such as the mentoring scheme, internships and networking opportunities. Improving occupational health will also be beneficial in addressing the lack of gender and BAME diversity but it is important to everyone.

How do you feel COVID-19 has affected the construction industry and what can be done so the industry can make a full recovery? 
It’s been a challenging period in many different ways. Friends of mine have struggled with the isolation and the uncertainty that has developed. The industry has adapted well and ultimately the work will return to normal levels. The financial support from the government and ultimately the guidance via Build UK have also been welcomed. Changes to some of our working practices have additionally provided an indicator of how we can work more sustainably in the future.

Article Loss Prevention

Ground Investigation – Scottish Law Variations

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Note provided by Beale & Co

The case of Midlothian Council v Raeburn Drilling and Geotechnical Ltd, RPS Planning & Developments Ltd, Blyth & Blyth Consulting Engineers Ltd  & Bracewell Stirling Architects [2019] CSOH 29  is a useful reminder that Scotland is a different legal jurisdiction from England & Wales.  Whilst there are areas where Scottish substantive law is very similar to English law, there are also areas of divergence, as well as a different Court system and procedure for claims north of the border.  AGS members should bear this in mind when signing up to contracts governed by Scottish law and when considering bringing or when facing claims in Scotland that will be pursued through the Scottish Courts.

The above-mentioned case concerns the important topic of when claims become time-barred.  In England & Wales, this is called the law of limitation. The law of limitation is covered in LPG 8 of the AGS Loss Prevention Guidance.  In Scotland, it is largely covered by what is called the law of prescription.   There are significant differences between prescription (in Scotland) and limitation (in England & Wales).

In terms of claims for breach of contract, the most obvious difference concerns time periods.  In Scotland, the starting point is that the obligation to make payment for a loss caused by a breach of contract “prescribes” i.e. expires after five years.  In England & Wales, the starting point is that a claim for breach of contract becomes time-barred six years after the breach (if the contract is under hand) or 12 years (if the contract is executed as a deed).

The question of when (under Scottish law) the five year prescription period commences was considered in the above-mentioned case.  In this widely reported decision, the Outer House of the Scottish Court of Session held that the prescription period started on a very early date, thus resulting in a tough decision for the claimant (and a very favourable outcome for the defendant consultant).

The case will be of wider interest to AGS members as it concerns an alleged escape of gas from former mine works beneath a residential housing development at Gorebridge near Edinburgh.  The owner of the site, Midlothian Council, brought a claim against (amongst others) its consulting engineers on the project, Blyth & Blyth, alleging negligence in relation to their site investigation services and advice.

In a decision concerned solely with the issue of prescription, the Scottish Court held that the Council’s prescription period against Blyth & Blyth commenced as soon as the Council incurred expenditure on the construction of the development in reliance on Blyth & Blyth’s advice.  This was despite the fact that, at that stage, the Council had no inkling of either any issues with the development or with Blyth & Blyth’s advice.  However, the Court decided that the expenditure was wasted and thus constituted a loss, and that (as it knew of the expenditure) the Council had the requisite knowledge of the loss for the purposes of starting the prescription period.  The result being that more than five years had passed between the Council’s expenditure and it commencing Court proceedings against Blyth & Blyth.  Therefore, the claim had prescribed and was out of time.  (For the avoidance of any doubt, no fault was attributed to any of the defendants.)

It is important to note that this case may well not be the last word on prescription issues in Scotland in the context of construction disputes, as other cases work their way through the Courts.  There is also the prospect of legislative reform as a new Prescription Act is pending.  However, for now, AGS members should note this case, especially if you face the prospect of a claim in Scotland arising from your professional services, as the Midlothian decision is clearly favourable for consultants.

The information in this article 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 article to particular circumstances.

Article Contaminated Land

The Importance of Field Filtering and Preservation for Dissolved Metals to Prevent Significant Bias in Sampling and Analysis

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Article contributed by Geraint Williams (ALS Global) and Claire Stone (i2 Analytical UK)

Member of the Contaminated Land Working Group


Most practitioners understand that field filtration and preservation is considered as a minimum standard when collecting water samples for dissolved metals analysis. However, many people may be unaware of the causes and potential magnitude of negative consequences associated with delayed filtering.

The need for field filtering and preservation

Dissolved metals in water exist in complex equilibria, which can be impacted by many physical and chemical factors, particularly redox conditions, pH or temperature which can trigger changes due to precipitation, co-precipitation, sorption or dissolution of particulate matter.  These factors can cause significant positive or negative bias to dissolved metal concentrations.  The only way to ensure that water samples collected for dissolved metals will accurately represent conditions at the time of sampling is to conduct filtration in the field immediately after sample collection.  The filtered sample should be placed in a dedicated preservative bottle.  The type of preservative bottle depends on the specific metal contaminants of concern.

Co-Precipitation of metals

Perhaps the most common pitfall from delayed filtration of dissolved metals is caused by the precipitation of iron oxides and associated co-precipitation of other metals.  This happens because ferrous iron is relatively water soluble (up to 100 mg/l), whereas ferric iron is practically insoluble in water under normal environmental conditions (generally <10 µg/l).   Ferrous iron exists and is stable in anaerobic waters but when a groundwater sample is exposed to air, oxidation of ferrous iron to ferric iron can occur rapidly, as in Figure 1, sometimes in less than an hour (oxidation rates increase substantially with higher pH).

Figure 1

09:42                              10:14                                  10:29                            10:46

Pictures published with the permission of Peter Hewitt, Laing O’Rourke

When iron precipitation occurs in a sample, other metals can co-precipitate, causing substantial changes to the overall dissolved composition of metals in the sample.  This is a well-known phenomenon, and precipitation of iron under these circumstances is expected but co-precipitation of other metals is generally less understood.

Case Study on Co-Precipitation

ALS studied the impact of iron precipitation on the co-precipitation of other metals from groundwater samples and found substantial losses of most dissolved metals (in comparison to field filtered metal concentrations), with losses up to 100% in several cases where filtration was delayed (by 6-days in these worst-case examples).  Arsenic, lead and cadmium were particularly impacted by co-precipitation, in addition to the expected loss of iron.  A summary of the results for arsenic, lead, cadmium and iron are shown in Figure 2.

For these five samples, arsenic losses averaged over 80%, lead losses averaged over 95% and cadmium losses varied significantly by sample, ranging from zero to 97% loss.  The impact on sample results can be clearly seen, with many of the samples potentially having key metal concentrations underestimated by a factor of 10 to 100 times if correct filtration techniques were not employed.

Figure 2


There has long been an awareness of the negative impacts of delayed filtering and preservation, however, the magnitude of the effects of co-precipitation of a range of key metal contaminants, not just iron, needs to be taken into account when reviewing results from a laboratory.

Care needs to be taken to ensure the filtration is carried out correctly and effectively. It is not uncommon for filters to block due to high amounts of particulates in solution and in such cases the filtration may become impossible, or there may be filter “bleed through” whereby the particulates bypass the filter and end up in the final laboratory sample. Where this happens, the sample is compromised as the sample is not fully filtered to produce a dissolved sample; it is also additionally compromised in that it is not a “total” metals sample either.

In order to prevent these issues, samples should always be correctly filtered and preserved to ensure they are representative of field conditions and the subsequent analysis of dissolved metals is reliable and valid.  Such data is frequently used to inform controlled waters risk assessment or remediation.


  • AGS Guide to Environmental Sampling, Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists, 2019
  • BS EN ISO 5667-3: 2018 Water quality: Sampling – Part 3: Guidance on the preservation and handling of samples
  • BS ISO 5667-11: 2009 Water quality. Sampling. Guidance on sampling groundwaters

Should we get excited about the Mining Waste Directive and DoWCoP?

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Article contributed by Peter Witherington, Professional and Technical Panel Member of SiLC

I hesitate to suggest it is ever possible to become excited about waste. However, since that memorable day in 1994 when friendly Auntie CoPA left us, my children have called me a ‘sad dad’. This is probably because I loved telling them the fairy tale about how, because of an evil spell from a wicked witch who lived in lands across the sea, the sand from their sandpit underwent a magical transformation into that dreaded Monster Waste when they dropped it on my lawn.

The twists and turns in this tale over the last 16 years have left us breathless with the grandest lawyers in the land knitting together a web of intrigue to the design of the wicked witch. But fear not, in the nick of time, fairy godmother CL:AIRE brought us Princess DoWCop who, wielding her magic wand, gave the cleverest servants superpowers to fight that dreaded Monster returning him back to sand. And they all lived happily ever after . . .

Well, unfortunately, Prince DoWCoP’s powers were limited and unable to give superpowers to turn the Waste Monsters carelessly spilled onto the beach the beach, back to sand.

I am sorry but that is exciting as I can make the story but maybe someone else could pick it up and make it into a children’s best seller.

So, what is the reality? Article 2.4 of the Mining Waste Directive (MWD) is quite specific in stating that waste falling within its scope (extractive waste) is not subject to the Landfill Directive. As DoWCoP only deals with waste covered by the Landfill Directive, paragraph 11.1 was introduced, which expressly excludes its application to wastes that fall under the scope of the MWD. The directive defines extractive waste as: “waste resulting from the prospecting, extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources and the working of quarries”. Even though the material may have been deposited decades ago, it would still qualify as waste unless the ‘end of waste’ test has been satisfied (and I think we can assume that if the material has just been left in situ and not recovered in any way, it will still be waste). It would therefore appear that in redeveloping former extractive sites, the construction industry could be dealing with wastes that are not covered by the Landfill Directive and the process of applying DoWCoP to define materials as ‘non waste’ would not be appropriate.

Under the MWD a “Waste facility” is defined as any area designated for the accumulation or deposit of extractive waste for given periods of time. Where the waste has been designated as such for 3 years, or more, the area will qualify as a “waste facility” regardless of the type of waste. Colliery spoil on most sites will have been in place for more than 3 years and hence it seems likely that the site becomes a waste facility regulated under the MWD.

However, as with all things to do with waste, nothing is simple and the MWD provides a couple of exclusions that could potentially apply:

Firstly, when wastes derived by the extractive industries is transported away from the mining waste facility it ceases to fall within its scope and as such falls under the regulation of the landfill directive. The location of the mining waste facility involving operations that took place before the mining waste directive was introduced might be difficult to define.

Secondly, the directive excludes areas that have been used for deposition of both mining waste and other wastes; in these circumstances both the mining waste and the other waste would be regulated by the Landfill Directive.

So, when dealing with a site such as a former colliery where wastes from the mining operations have been deposited, the poor qualified person is left with the dilemma of deciding whether she is dealing with a Mining Waste Facility or not. If the former, she cannot use the provisions of DoWCoP to re-use the site arisings if they comprise mining waste. So, what would the MWD require?

There are thirteen articles within the MWD defining the regulatory requirements, one of which is an Environmental Permit. However, an Environmental Permit is not required for those facilities that have been closed by 1 May 2008, those that stopped accepting wastes and those that will be completed by 21 December 2010. Many former extractive sites will have ceased operations before the stipulated dates but what are the implications when the materials are moved around as part of the construction project? The wastes remain extractive wastes and presumably still fall within the scope of the MWD. Should this be the case the beleaguered qualified person can look to the directive once more and see an important exception to the requirement of an Environmental Permit:

Inert Waste and Unpolluted Soil. Article 7 of the MWD (i.e. the obligation to hold a permit for a waste facility) do not apply to inert waste and unpolluted soil resulting from the prospecting, extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources and the working of quarries, and waste resulting from the extraction, treatment and storage of peat.

• “Inert waste” is defined as “waste that does not undergo any significant physical, chemical or biological transformations. Inert waste will not dissolve, burn or otherwise physically or chemically react, biodegrade or adversely affect other matter with which it comes into contact in a way likely to give rise to environmental pollution or harm human health. The total leachability and pollutant content of the waste and the ecotoxicity of the leachate must be insignificant, and in particular not endanger the quality of surface water and/or groundwater.”

• “Unpolluted soil” is defined as “soil that is removed from the upper layer of the ground during extractive activities and that is not deemed to be polluted under the national law of the Member State where the site is located or under [EU] law”.

I think it can be argued that colliery spoil that is re-used during development comes under this definition of inert waste as it must have demonstrated that the material is suitable for use and checked whether it could burn, biodegrade or adversely affect matter it comes into contact with. It will also have been necessary to check leachability and undertaken a groundwater/surface water risk assessment.

Inert waste still comes under certain requirements of the MWD as shown in Table 1 below that I have extracted from the EA Guidance on the WMD.

Table 1

MWD Directive Requirements for Inert Wastes and Unpolluted Soil*

Environmental Permitting Guidance. The Mining Waste Directive For the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 Updated May 2010 Version 1.1. Paragraph 2.24

Article Description Requirement for inert Waste Y/N
4 General Requirements Y
5 Waste Management Plan Y
6 Major accident prevention and information N
7 Directive requirement for a permit N
8 Public participation N
9 Deposit in excavation voids Y
11(1) Management, technical development and training N
11(2) Requirements on location, construction, management, maintenance, monitoring, inspection, restoration, aftercare and record keeping For waste facilities only
11(3) Notification of events and environmental effects, implementation of emergency plans and reporting of monitoring results N
12(1-4) Closure and aftercare procedures Not required
12(5-6) Following closure, measures to control stability and minimise negative effects. Notification of events and effects, implementation of emergency plans and reporting monitoring results N
13(1-5) Requirements to prevent the deterioration of water status, soil pollution, prevent or reduce dust and gas emissions Y
13(6) Reduction of cyanide in ponds N
14 Financial Guarantees N
16 Informing other Member States N
17 Inspection prior to waste deposit N

The important conclusion from the EA Guidance is that Article 7 (The requirement for an Environmental Permit) does not apply to inert wastes and hence should the qualified person conclude that the materials fall within the scope of the MWD, they can breathe again as an Environmental Permit is not required to regulate the work.

The Articles which, nevertheless, must be complied with are:

  • Article 4: This simply states the general requirements of the directive in terms of preventing harm to human health and the Environment and the planning conditions and WMP will ensure this is complied with.
  • Article 9: This deals with the infilling of mine (surface or underground) voids.  In any event the requirements are all around ensuring stability and hence if ever voids have been infilled voids this requirement should have been complied with.
  • Article 11(2): These paragraphs deal with location, construction, management, maintenance, monitoring, inspection, restoration, aftercare and record keeping even when dealing with inert waste if it is in a waste facility.  According to the directive if waste has been stored for more than 3 years, it automatically becomes a waste facility.  That said the location, construction and management have already been dealt with.  Monitoring and inspection if required would be part of the planning permission for the new development and I presume that restoration and aftercare are all part of the development.  Record keeping could become an issue but see comments on Article 5 below.
  • Article 5: This article is the most significant for redevelopment work in that it requires preparation of a Waste Management Plan. However, looking through the requirements of the Article, all the items required in a WMP are provided in an MMP (apart of course from the name). The added advantage of the MMP is the requirement to maintain records that would fulfil the obligations under Article 11(2).


I suspect that many construction projects on former colliery sites may have inadvertently applied DoWCoP to materials that are excluded through paragraph 11.1. However, I do not see that these operations have been flouting the law since it is likely they have been dealing with inert waste that does not require implementation of an Environmental Permit.  Following the requirements of DoWCoP and with the onus under planning to protect Health and Safety and the Environment operations are fulfilling the obligations of the MWD albeit not directly in line with its provisions. By following DoWCoP, practitioners are providing regulators with all the information and more that could be required under the MWD.

I am sorry for not providing the excitement that my title might have offered but it seems to me that we are in the land of fairy tales.  I wonder how many more twists and turns there will be and whether “Great King Boris” can provide any easier route through this labyrinth than the “wicked witch” he thinks he is endeavouring to protect us from. Maybe this is a tale to be picked up by my children who now have children of their own . . . but probably not as fortunately the ‘sad dad’, now grandpa, has failed to pass on his enthusiasm for the subject.


AGS Magazine: August 2020

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The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists are pleased to announce the August 2020 issue of their publication; AGS Magazine. To view the magazine click here.

This free, 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 issue including;

  • AGS Webinar Programme – Page 4
  • Updated Standards: July 2020 – Page 5
  • Ground investigation – Scottish Law variations – Page 6
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion within the Geosciences – Page 8
  • The Importance of Field Filtering and Preservation For Dissolved Metals to Prevent Significant Bias in Sampling and Analysis – Page 10
  • Should we get excited about the Mining Waste Directive and DoWCoP? – Page 14
  • Q&A with Steve Hadley of Central Piling – Page 18

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 Event News

2020 Webinar Programme

2020 Webinar Programme

Following the success of the AGS’ inaugural webinar, Urban Geoscience: opening up the industry to a more inclusive and diverse community, we’re pleased to announce a full webinar programme for 2020. Registration details for the following four events will be announced in due course, but initial details are listed below for your diaries:

The Standard Penetration Test: It’s origin, evolution and future
o Time: 11am
o Date: Tuesday 15th September
o Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
o Cost: Free of charge
o Confirmed speakers: Julian Lovell (AGS Chair and Managing Director at Equipe Group), Stuart Wagstaff (Director at Soil Consultants), Peter Reading (Managing Director at PRGC and Senior Teaching Fellow at Portsmouth University) and Stephen West (Director, Ground Engineering at Ramboll UK and AGS Geotechnical Engineering Working Group Leader).
o Sponsorship: Gold packages available

Critical Links in Ground Engineering
o Time: 10am
o Date: Wednesday 4th November
o Duration: 4 hours
o Confirmed speakers: Julian Lovell (AGS Chair and Managing Director at Equipe), Jonathan Gammon (AGS Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group Leader and Advisor/Non-Executive Director at Geotechnical Observations) and Roger Chandler (Director Geotechnical Information Management at Bentley Systems)
o Cost: £60 for AGS members or £90 for non-members
o Sponsorship: Gold packages available

o Time: 11am
o Date: Wednesday 25th November
o Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
o Cost: Free of charge
o Sponsorship: Diamond and Gold packages available

AGS 4.1
o Time: 11am
o Date: Tuesday 8th December
o Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
o Cost: TBC
o Sponsorship: Gold packages available

Sponsorship opportunities are available for all webinars. Please see package details below:

*one package available per webinar
Price: £800 (members) or £1,100 (non-members)

• Company website link or pop-up promotion to feature during the webinar
• Company mention during webinar opening & closing address
• Logo and overview in the event program
• Board level Q&A in AGS Magazine
• Full page advert in AGS Magazine (worth £400)
• Two complementary event registrations (applicable for paid for events)
• Large logo on sponsor slide during the webinar
• Logo on registration page
• Logo on marketing emails
• Company logo and overview on the AGS’ social media channels (Twitter and LinkedIn)
• Company overview on the AGS website

*10 packages available per webinar
Price: £350 (members) or £650 (non-members)

• Logo and overview in the event program
• Logo on sponsor slide during the webinar
• Company directory insert in AGS Magazine (worth £50)
• One complementary event registration (applicable for paid for events)
• Company logo and overview on the AGS’ social media channels (Twitter and LinkedIn)
• Company overview on the AGS website

If your company would like to support any AGS webinars or if you’d like any further information on the events, please contact Caroline Kratz on


AGS Magazine: June/July 2020

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Tags: Featured

The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists are pleased to announce the June/July 2020 issue of their publication; AGS Magazine. To view the magazine click here.

This free, 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 issue including;
AGS Video Competition – The Results – Page 4
On-Demand Geotechnical Training – GEO Academy – Page 5
AGS Awards 2020 – Page 6
Ground investigation – Is it time for change? – Page 8
Introduction to AGS’s Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group – Page 16
Working at Height During Trial Pitting – Page 22
Q&A with Jo Strange of CGL – Page 32

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 Safety

Working at Height During Trial Pitting: How Far is So Far as Reasonably Practicable?

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Tags: Featured

This paper was the subject of a presentation at the AGS Safety in Mind conference in November 2019, and started by asking “why this subject, and why now?”.  During a prior AGS Safety Working Group meeting, we had debated whether the Health & Safety Executive approve or agree with the AGS guidance notes?  In particular we debated whether common UK trial pitting methodologies complied with the Work at Height regulations 2005; and specifically, we were interested whether the common practice of standing or kneeling close to the edge of an unprotected trial pit, 2,3,4m+ deep might be deemed in hindsight to not comply with the law. The purpose of the presentation was to raise awareness of the issue to younger practitioners, remind senior practitioners and managers of their duties, to promote debate about the sufficiency of current industry practice, and debate whether current practice meets the legal benchmark of good practice.

There are a number of hazards associated with trial pits, although used generally safely for many decades.  The Work at Height Regulations 2005 clearly apply to this work, and place legal duties on employers.  Very few practitioners have ever experienced an incident involving a fall into a pit.  Nevertheless, we have the opportunity to consider whether we should or could do more to manage the risk from working at height adjacent to unprotected trial pit edges.  The time to have this debate clearly is not when a HSE inspector is questioning you following a serious accident, but preferably by industry collectively and in advance of such an incident ever occurring.

I have been involved in trial pitting since the 1980s, and have learned much about the ground from being up close, which a trial pit allows. My experience of trial pits is that it can be dirty, tiring, and potentially hazardous work. However, they are often fun, provide good information and experience, and sometimes are even a fabulous day out. They are economical, quick to organise, undertake and report.

Conventional machine dug trial pits expose the logging engineer to an unprotected edge of potentially 3 to 4 m depth in order to undertake at least part of their task. This Introduces a risk of becoming unbalanced or tripping at the edge whilst observing, taking measurements, sampling or photography. In my 30 years’ experience I am not aware of a logging engineer falling into a trial pit. A questionnaire survey sent out to AGS members in summer 2019 also concluded that there is no knowledge within the membership of falling into trial pits, although we subsequently became aware of anecdotal experience of 1 non-injury fall into a pit filled with groundwater!  Whilst we know that trial pit faces can collapse and whilst it is theoretically possible for such a collapse to involve the logging engineer, experience over a substantial period of time shows us that logging engineers don’t fall into trial pits, and therefore the proven probability is extremely low to negligible.

However, probability is not the only component of risk, severity of consequence also has to be considered. The consequence of falling two, three or 4 m into a trial pit is likely to be severe, it is likely to involve broken bones, a broken neck or worse. Using typical industry risk assessments, a combination of low or very low probability along with medium to high, to very high consequence generates a medium to high, to very high risk. The risk is significant, such that measures need to be considered to mitigate it.

“SFARP” and the Work at Height Regulations

Regulation 6 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is titled “avoidance of risks from work at height”. It describes a hierarchy which employers are required to work through and give consideration to when planning work at height, requiring at each level a consideration as to whether the available controls reduce the risk “so far as reasonably practicable” before discounting a control and using a lesser control.

But what is the required level of the duty of “so far as is reasonably practicable” – how does an employer know how far they need to go? The HSE guide “Working at height: a brief guide” states that “low risk relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort.” They go on to say that “there will also be situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary “.  Whilst this does not provide any specific guidance in relation to trial pits, it does acknowledge low risk situations (albeit not necessarily low probability situations). By extension, higher risk situations require greater controls.

Case law in respect of SFARP leads us to Edwards v National Coal Board 1949, which established the principle that the quantum of risk is placed on one side and the sacrifice whether in money, time or trouble involved on the other. If it can be shown that there is gross disproportion between them, the duty has been discharged.

So where is trial pitting practice in the 21st-century in relation to SFARP – does it pass “the gross disproportion” test? HSE suggest in their report “Reducing Risk Protecting People” (“R2P2”) 2001 that they regard a risk as not significant if past experience shows the risk to be extremely low (note “risk” not probability). HSE also state that they would consider sources of good practice, standards or guidance agreed by bodies representing industry. They would consider an assessment of the extent to which the practices have achieved general acceptance, and they will decide whether adoption of any authoritative good practice precautions is an adequate response to the hazards. HSE then say that “in most cases adopting good practice ensures that risks are effectively controlled”.

However, HSE go on to say that a universal practice in industry may not necessarily be good practice or reduce the risk sufficiently; they make it clear that duty holders should not assume that it is. They state that there will be times when existing practice is found to result in inadequate control of risks. So, we come to the question which opened this presentation:  is current industry guidance, including AGS guidance on trial pitting and working at height, representative of good practice such that the HSE would consider it as an adequate control of the risks?

The AGS Trial Pitting Survey 2019

In order to get a better understanding of modern common practice, the AGS Safety Working Group circulated a questionnaire to the membership in summer 2019. The main outcomes were summarised at the 2019 conference, and key headlines repeated hereafter.

Guidance used when planning trial pitting Most respondents stated they use the current AGS trial pitting guidance, and a number stated they have in-house / company guidance of some kind.
Several respondents suggested that they refer to BS5930 although there is only limited safety guidance there.  A number of respondents refer to HSE “working at height a brief guide” and HSE CIS614 Excavations, although neither of these provide much useful guidance in relation to trial pits.
No respondents identified the existing AGS guidance on Working at Height as informing their working arrangements.
Competence to work near an unprotected trial pit edge Almost all respondents had some form of assessment of competency and a period of supervised handholding typically 3 to 6 months.
Some have in-house trial pitting and work at height awareness elements of training
Many use CITB SMSTS or similar.
Most use CSCS, however usually not on its own.
How duty holders address the hierarchy of controls in Regulation 6. Many respondents prevent access anywhere near the trial pit by other workers
The vast majority do not make use of protection such as barriers or fall prevention/protection using harnesses, mostly on the grounds of perceived or experienced impracticability.
Some practitioners have tried to use mobile barriers, staging boards, fall protection harnesses
Some practitioners try not to use trial pits.
Some practitioners leave the JCB bucket in the hole to reduce height of fall.
Demonstration of SFARP at each level of the hierarchy, for example by considering risk against cost and benefit. No respondent stated that they undertook such a specific assessment
Some respondents believe that SFARP was embedded in their company work procedures and training of staff, the use of risk assessments, method statements and CDM design risk assessments, and through following AGS and HSE guidance documents.

Reasons why control measures are considered to be SFARP

Some respondents suggested that they do not provide fall protection for walking down a flight of stairs, where there is clearly a fall hazard of a highly frequent nature, and potentially just as severe as a fall into a trial pit perhaps.
Respondents said that the staff are aware of the risk of falls into trial pits, and they have the ability to stop work if they consider it unsafe.
Some respondents referred to the HSE guidance which flags up that there are some low risk solutions which suggests precautions may be unnecessary.

It would appear that a specific consideration of SFARP / gross disproportion is not an adopted basis of decision-making within the industry. Note however that it is not a legal duty to demonstrate SFARP, it’s just a legal requirement to be SFARP.  Many respondents referred to the very low probability of an incident. Comments included “ … falls from height incidents in company history were zero …”;  that “… there is not a great deal of empirical evidence to say there is a recognised pattern or trend of significant danger of falls…”;  and a number of respondents stated that in circa 20 to 30+ years, they have never encountered nor heard of any injury from falling into a trial pit. Finally, many respondents reiterated that trial pitting is an essential method of investigating the ground.

The questionnaire responses presented a widespread belief throughout industry that other potential methods such as barriers and harnesses, even remote tools, were impracticable on the basis of cost, the introduction of other more prevalent hazards and risks, and the maintenance and inspection requirements and training. Many respondents believe that such measures are not necessary nor appropriate, given the very short duration of a trial pit.

Finally, respondents were asked what additional controls they would consider adopting if it could be achieved practicably.  Responses included “… a safe excavation cover…” ; “… a barrier that was lightweight, affordable and practicable, which could be used to protect up to the edge or even over the excavation …” ; “… extendable trial pit covers …”; “… purpose designed lightweight edge protection barrier system …”; “… an open lattice to prevent a fall to no more than ground level …”; “ … a standard type of barrier system, aluminium, easily folded up and deployed”.

Tolerability of Risk

We’ve noted the potential and the risk of a fall, looked at the law and guidance, and at a subset of industry views on trial pitting. Does it help us determine whether current practice is good practice, and whether we need to be doing more?

Perhaps instead we can ask ourselves: “Can we tolerate the consequence of a fall?” HSE state (“R2P2”) that “tolerability does not mean acceptability. It refers to the willingness to live with a risk to secure benefits, in the confidence that it is being properly controlled. This means that we do not regard it is negligible or something we might ignore rather as something we need to keep under review and reduced to further if and as when we can”.  And that is the point of this initiative from AGS: to keep our measures under review.

Were one to examine the adopted common controls against the levels of the Regulation 6 hierarchy, we see the majority of our current controls sit very close to the bottom of the hierarchy, and particularly in the “others” category. There is a noticeable gap the within the “prevention of falls” and also the “Minimising the distance and consequence of falls” levels, conventionally those areas where other industries focus their controls.

Over the past decade at least, various practitioners have experimented with the use of harnesses to some fixed point, and staging boards with fixed scaffold barriers to view trial pits from, and encountered impracticability’s, not least the consequent and guaranteed introduction of a number of other risks which are more likely to cause an injury.

However, using the benefits of modern innovations that are now available to the market, there are products which are beginning to be used in the construction industry to minimise fall distances in particular, and whose prime benefit is that they are lightweight and portable.  AGS would be very interested to gain feedback of the use of such equipment for trial pitting.

In conclusion, trial pits are immensely valuable to good ground engineering. Much of that only comes from seeing first hand into the pit from close up; that involves approaching the edge and crouching down; it allows the taking of well composed photographs of features that you only see because you can look inside. The time of exposure to risk, and the probability of falling into a trial pit when logging is low to very low and possibly unheard-of. However, the consequence of a fall is probably serious injury or even fatality, certainly life changing.  If we wish to continue to use trial pits:

  1. ethically we should only specify them when we are really going to make proper use of them
  2. we should continue to look to use modern technology to improve our protection from falls from height.
  3. we should think more about emergency arrangements (including a rescue plan), in advance of when we need them.

AGS are establishing a trial pitting subgroup of the Safety Working Group and would be interested to hear your experiences, viewpoints or potential involvement.


  2. The Work at Height Regulations 2005
  3. HSE 2014 Working at Height :a Brief Guide. INDG401 Rev 2
  8. Reducing Risk, Protecting People (R2P2) HSE Books
  9. Edwards v National Coal Board [1949] 1 KB 704; CA [1949] 1 All ER 743

Photo Acknowledgements

Oxford Safety Components Ltd; Structural Soils Ltd; Jacobs; BAMRitchies;

Article provided by Steve Everton, Jacobs, CEng MICE, Construction Health & Safety Registered (Advanced)

Article Geotechnical

Ground Investigation – Is it time for change?

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The article entitled “are traditional sampling techniques really that bad” published in April’s AGS Magazine has provoked much discussion and debate amongst AGS members and within the industry.  The Geotechnical Working Group has been exploring how the UK geotechnical industry can respond to the demands of our clients and updates to Eurocodes and other standards to deliver investigations that enable project design of appropriate quality.  This article is intended to put the views expressed in the April article into context and propose how the full range of investigation options can be better used to deliver projects that meet the challenges of delivering our client’s needs now and in the future.

Whilst design, analysis, and construction techniques have evolved and benefited from market innovation and new techniques, many of the ‘traditional’ investigation methods have not changed in the past 100 years.  For example, the process of driving piles now benefits from instrumentation and automatic logging of construction conditions and the driving process. This enables the piling specialist to feed this data back to designers and contractors to allow rapid verification of pile capacity, design modification, and communication to the supply chain.  In contrast, the humble SPT, which forms the basis of much of the foundation design delivered in the UK, has not benefited from any significant improvement in the way information is gathered about the in-situ state of the ground.

It is true to say that there is often a conflict between cost and perceived benefit and for the uninitiated the decisions which determine the methodology used to investigate the ground conditions and the determination of design parameters is often, if not invariably, determined by cost rather than technical requirement or necessity.

This conflict has in the past been minimised by using large factors of safety. Historically, geotechnical engineers have used this factor of safety and combined it with engineering judgement to allow for variations and uncertainties within the ground, however, it is now far too often just used as a margin for error or in many cases poor quality control. This latter approach provided the comfort of knowing that even if the results were not that accurate, it really did not not matter, because failure was very unlikely. It is important to note that whilst there have been few foundation failures as a result of bearing capacity, the same is not true of structural distress due to differential settlement. This fact reflects more about our inability to accurately determine soil stiffness rather than determine the undrained shear strength. The advent of Eurocode and more precisely the use of limit state design and partial factors has removed the comfort which for many years has disguised poor practice or inappropriate investigation methods.

It is true that many clients and design teams have not fully embraced Eurocodes, however, there is a misconception that there is a choice to design either using the old methods or Eurocodes. This is a dangerous path to tread, because the old standards are no longer supported by BSi and effectively are now obsolete. The UK has always been fully committed to using Eurocodes or perhaps more correctly the new British Standards and Codes of Practice which are fully complimentary with Eurocode. The decision to follow this route was made many years ago and was embraced by our governing bodies and Institutes and indeed the UK, through AGS and other bodies, has and still does play a significant role in their content.

It is interesting to read the views given on the use of the SPT and the premise that these tests are often adopted rather than rotary coring. This is a misconception which has no technical foundation, perhaps we forget that the SPT was originally developed as a sampling tool and not an in-situ test. It was configured as a split spoon with an open shoe and in this form is a thick walled sampler in current terminology. The number of blows to drive the sample was originally something which was added to provide a bit more information on ease of penetration.  More importantly under Eurocode 7 the SPT is classified as a secondary investigation method which should be used to complement soil strength measurements derived from laboratory testing of Class 1 soil samples.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the SPT is still presented as the primary source of data to interpret in-situ soil strength.

The SPT, as we know it today, was first described by Karl Terzaghi and Ralph Peck in their book published in 1947.  At that time, the equipment had been in use for more than 30 years as a sampling tool, albeit rather crude. The sample is invariably highly disturbed and of limited value. The original equipment was modelled around similar equipment used in the USA and attributed to Colonel Charles R Gow in 1902. The original sampler, which was 1 inch in diameter, was driven at the bottom of the borehole using a 110lb hammer. Around 1927, part of the Raymond Piling Group, the Gow Company began using a split spoon sampler of 2 inch diameter. Around the same time, a similar system was being used by Sprague and Henwood. In both systems the weight was winched by hand and released at a fixed height. The split spoon sampling tool which comprised a thick walled tube with a cutting shoe on one end was driven into the bottom of a borehole with blows from the hammer. The use of powered winches was not reported until 1937. The equipment was not standardised and it is recorded that the drop weight ranged from 110lb to 140lb whilst the height the weight was dropped was related to that which men could comfortably lift, usually 30 inches. It was not until Terzaghi and Peck (1947), when describing the sampling system, suggested that the number of blows be recorded as those required to drive the sampler 1 foot following seating the sampler 6 inches beyond the base of the borehole. Terzaghi suggested that by recording the number of blows valuable information might be obtained at little cost and that the information may be of some use in soils where little other information could be obtained such as granular (coarse) soils. Up to this point there were no other tests which might indicate the potential competence of granular (coarse) soils. Terzaghi proposed to use a 60 degree cone rather than an open shoe and then count the number of blows taken to drive the cone a given distance. This has been standardised into the test form we use today. It should also be noted that the test has only recently been standardised around the world and in some countries the test still does not follow a unified method.

The open shoe often blocked off on gravel and would then produce erratic results.  For much of the next 70 years or more, the SPT was used to give something to assist engineers to determine the nature of granular (coarse) soils. Various authors have attempted to derive more useful parameters from these basic results. Many of these relationships are based on sound research but most are only relevant to the original site the work was carried out on and are not readily transposable to other sites.

It was in the 1980s that the now common use of taking an SPT in fine soils began to gain acceptance, again, several authors attempted to develop relationships which are at best tentative.

The SPT test is at best crude and often a blunt tool used to provide information of debatable value. In practice the cone is driven dynamically over a distance which far exceeds any strains the ground will be subjected to by loadings from foundations. The SPT is certainly not a replacement for laboratory testing of good quality soil samples no matter how cheap.

It is interesting to see the energy ratio (calibration) test results for the five hammers used by Soils Consultants. It is true that the introduction of an annual inspection and test has undoubtedly improved the maintenance of the equipment. However, the variation in the obtained energy ratio values reflects the inherent uncertainty of the test and probably also points towards the variation in the different equipment used to measure energy ratio by different test houses.  It also highlights how the test can be affected by numerous other factors which were described by Clayton, 1982 as ‘parasitic effects’. The suggested energy ratio calculation can create some inconsistencies between individual calibration tests and test houses as it only requires the energy ratio to be reported as the mean value of at least five measurements (blows). Extensive testing and analysis by the Equipe Group has proven that by recording at least ten blows can provide a more representative mean value and can also eliminate the effect of spurious results. Some test units simply take the average of the five blows no matter how wide the range of individual determinations might be. It is clear the test should be more rigorous, limiting the range not to exceed values of say no more than 10% of the mean. Note that BS EN ISO 22476-2 suggests that measured energy for dynamic probing equipment should not deviate more than 3% of the theoretical energy. Hammers testing outside this range should be considered as defective as any results obtained from this equipment are unlikely to be reliable, consistent or representative. The uptake of such testing has improved in recent times but it is interesting to note that BS EN ISO 22476 – 3 was published in 2005. However, it was not until 2008 when Equipe introduced an independent testing service were we in the UK, able to even measure the energy ratio.

The previous article, published in the May edition of the AGS Magazine, has presented data showing a wide scatter of test results from various methods (Graph 1). This graph provides evidence that the London Clay is far from homogeneous, with values of Cu and SPT varying considerably through the formation. This is not surprising when considering the work of King et al, 1981 which identified some four divisions and 12 subdivisions in the formation. Indeed, a visit to the classic exposure at Whitecliff Bay, IOW will demonstrate how much variability is contained within the sequence.

The data in Graph 1 reinforces the need to investigate each site as an individual location and to use the best possible methods to obtain reliable data to ensure that the parameters sourced are as representative as possible for the specific design requirement of any particular site. Indeed, the data presented demonstrates how difficult it is to try to over simplify the data and analyse amalgamated results. Designers all too frequently seek to draw straight lines which are used as design lines or even give an upper and lower bound. This design approach often ignores the natural variability of the materials. This variability is further demonstrated by Standing, 2018 who used water content to determine the boundaries between the divisions identified by King. His work clearly identifies the variability of water content in the various divisions and geotechnical practitioners are very aware that water content will directly affect the measured undrained shear strength.

Whilst not wanting to disregard all of the current investigation methods used to obtain geotechnical parameters for design purposes, it is important to bear in mind that sampling methods which use driven thick walled sampling tubes will produce disturbance of both structure and water content distribution through the sample. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that much of the London Clay is laminated but it is very rare that these laminae are seen in driven tube samples whilst they are seen to be present in high quality rotary cores. Tube samples usually exhibit a softer outer skin which is developed by pore water suctions being developed as the tube is driven, causing water to migrate from the centre of the core to the outer edge. This moisture migration will affect the undrained shear strength when tested in the triaxial apparatus.

U100 sample taken in a stiff laminated clay showing acute sample disturbance (The lump at the base is wax.)

The variability of the London Clay is also clearly exhibited by CPT tests carried out within the sequence. These demonstrate the variability over short distances and reinforce the argument that the formation does not conform to straight lines. Therefore, designs which result from straight line analyses are likely to be prone to simplifying the in-situ ground conditions which could lead to errors in interpretation..

For many years the geotechnical community have chosen to ignore the obvious and often stated limitations of both the SPT test and driven samples. Of the SPT, Clayton et al stated that in granular (coarse) soils, the SPT results can only be correlated in a general way with physical properties whilst in cohesive (fine) soils the results can be regarded as generally unreliable. This was further reiterated in 1995 by Clayton and again in 2001 by Prof. Paul Mayne. Simons, 2001 cite sound research to support these opinions.

The evidence produced by many authors shows that both thick walled sample tubes and SPT testing provides very poor results and cannot be recommended for the reliable determination of design parameters.  Eurocode clearly labels these samples as Class 3 or 2 and as such unsuitable for strength or deformation testing. The UK’s recommended design methods using codes which have been decades in their production and compiled by respected members of our engineering community require that good practice must be followed to ensure a safe and economic design. The essence of Eurocode is one of a complete document which serves to ensure the design method is supported by good practice and not a document where specific parts can be lifted as one feels fit, whilst other parts are ignored.

Surely it is time that we embrace the technology at our disposal to ensure ground investigation is conducted properly and to the standards we would expect in almost any other walk of life. Relying on the results of a steel rod or tube knocked into the ground does not constitute best design practice in the 21st century.

We are not advocating that the SPT is going to be consigned to the museum, however, as a start point we must surely be able to take out some of the errors which are sadly still apparent, this might include electronic measurement of the depth of penetration along with the number and energy of blows delivered to the rods.

There is still much to do if we are to move on from the SPT and driven sampling methods, however, we do need to put our faith in our ability to find solutions. It is time to invest in research to develop reliable methods to determine water content, density and stiffness. It is only by doing this, that we will be able to provide workable economic designs and alternatives to outmoded and scientifically unsuitable methods.

There is little point in appeasing the client by keeping costs as low as possible and then providing the wrong answer which can tarnish professional reputations and test the strength of your PI insurance..


King C. 1981. The stratigraphy of the London Basin and associated deposits. Tertiary Research Special Paper, 6 Bachuys Rotterdam.

Standing J. R. 2018. Identification and implications of the London Clay Formation divisions from an engineering perspective. Proceedings of the geologists association 2018.

Clayton C.R.I, Simons N.E. and Mathews M.C. 1982. Site Investigation. Granada

Clayton C.R.I. 1995. The Standard Penetration Test (SPT): Methods and Use. CIRIA Report 143. London: CIRIA 143.

Simons N. E. and Menzies B. K. 2001. A short course in foundation engineering. (2nd edition) Thomas Telford Publishing London.

Mayne P. W. 2001. Ground property characterisation by Insitu tests. Proc.15th ICSMGE Istanbul.

British Standards Institute. 2015. BS 5930 Code of Practice for Site Investigation.

Article provided by Peter Reading (Geotechnical Consulting) and Stephen Lawrence West (Ramboll)

Article Instrumentation & Monitoring

Introduction to the AGS Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group (I&MWG)

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In March last year an international Instrumentation and Monitoring (I&M) Conference in London concluded with a Ground Engineering Round Table debate intended to identify matters within the I&M sector that needed attention.

It became apparent that there were key areas of concern about the need for education, training, and qualifications.

Taking an active part in the Round Table debate was Jonathan Gammon, Non-Executive Director and Advisor at I&M specialists Geotechnical Observations Limited and a Past-Chairman of AGS.

Jonathan believed that AGS was well-placed to take forward the matters discussed and subsequently submitted to AGS a proposal for the formation of an Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group (I&MWG). AGS’s Executive approved the proposal towards the end of 2019 and invited Jonathan to be its Leader.

The role of I&M
“It’s easy for those of us directly involved in I&M to understand the importance of I&M” Jonathan recognises “but I hope the following diagram – my “GeoWheel©” – illustrates just how important it is:

The GeoWheel© is a means of:
• showing how ground engineering can be divided into distinct activities and how these activities interact,
• introducing Clients to the scope and range of services available to them,
• showing the nature, ownership, and progression of reports that are generated during a project’s lifecycle, and
• identifying key areas of “know-how” required of staff seeking professional qualifications such as Incorporated Engineer (IEng), Chartered Engineer (CEng), and Chartered Geologist (CGeol)

The four activities beyond the rim of the GeoWheel© (e.g. Project Management), hold steady the dynamics of the GeoWheel©.

The “R&D” activity that features at the hub of the GeoWheel© is short-hand for a range of activities such as Advanced Numerical Modelling Physical Modelling, Innovation, and the like … as well as Research & Development.

I&M lies at the hub of the GeoWheel© – indeed, forms its axle – and is therefore critical to both the rotation and the stability of the diverse activities around the GeoWheel© and those neighbouring activities at the hub itself.

I&M relates not only to geotechnical engineering and engineering geology but also to tunnelling, environmental engineering (including contaminated land and environmental monitoring), and structural engineering.”
It is important to note that the GeoWheel© does not identify the necessity to consider I&M on a Whole-Life basis, taking in long-term as well as baseline requirements. These may extend well beyond construction or implementation and include asset management, decommissioning, and demolition, as appropriate.

The Aims of the I&MWG
The importance of I&M, the need for it to be placed on the education curriculum, the need for formal programmes of training, and for there to be recognised qualifications for all those involved in I&M are the key drivers of the Aims of the I&MWG:
• To promote geotechnical, structural, and environmental instrumentation and monitoring (I&M) to the geotechnical, geoenvironmental, and wider ground engineering community.
• To raise awareness to clients, asset owners, their professional advisors, and related parties, of the need for baseline (i.e. pre-implementation/construction), project implementation, and post-implementation I&M for all types of projects and asset management.
• To be a focal point for the education and training of those engaged, or seeking to be engaged, in I&M including, but not limited to: the design and manufacture of instruments and related software and research and development, the design of and specification of I&M, the procurement of I&M, the installation of instruments, and the interpretation and presentation of I&M and related software.
• To identify and define an appropriate data format to effect the transfer of I&M data for interpretation, analysis, and presentation.

These Aims are contained in the “Terms of Reference and Modus Operandi” document as a necessary feature of the proposal to form this new Working Group.

The document then sets down how these Aims are to be achieved through the Group’s Activities, by:
a) promoting the activities of the I&MWG to the AGS Membership and to the wider industry.
b) maintaining a watching brief on I&M activities of the wider national and international engineering and related communities, and reporting these to the membership.
c) organising and running I&MWG initiatives and events on behalf of AGS.
d) being involved closely in the drafting and reviewing of national and international standards, codes of practice and other definitive guidance.
e) being represented on national and international Technical Committees, and the like, in addition to d), above.
f) being pro-active at all levels of education and technical and professional training.
g) establishing and promoting recognised qualifications for all those engaged in I&M work.
h) striving to become a leading national authority on I&M matters affecting the AGS Membership and the wider industry.

Promotion of the I&MWG within AGS and the Founding Members of the I&MWG
Existing Members of AGS were contacted to identify individuals who could be the Founding Members of the I&MWG. “My ambition was initially to establish what I saw as a “critical mass” of at least ten members forming the I&MWG”, reports Jonathan.

The Founding Members of the I&MWG are:
Jonathan Gammon Geotechnical Observations Limited [I&MWG Leader]
Neil Atkinson Arcadis
Paul Bailie Arup
Katharine Barker Campbell Reith
Tom Birch Geotechnics
Philip Child Bentley Systems
Chris Crosby Bridgeway Consulting
Emma Leivers Geotechnical Engineering
Mario Markos Miletic Fugro
Rachel Monteith BuroHappold Engineering
Andrew Ridley Geotechnical Observations Limited
Alice Shrubshall BuroHappold Engineering

“In time, and as we work our way through our planned activities, the size of the Group will grow, probably to a maximum of 20 members”.

Promotion of the I&MWG beyond current AGS Members
Some companies and organisations who are actively involved with I&M, including public and private sector Client organisations and institutions such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), are not Members of AGS.

The I&MWG has also been brought to the attention of a wider audience as a result of articles published by Ground Engineering on its website “This is a welcome opportunity to thank Michaila Hancock at GE, in particular, for her articles about I&M and the I&MWG.” Jonathan adds.

First Meeting of the I&MWG and Current Status of Aims and Activities
As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, the first meeting of the I&MWG took place online on Friday 24 April 2020.

With reference to the Aims and related activities:
a) Action relating to promotion of the Group has already been described in this article. Although the cancellation of the AGS Members Conference in April prevented an introduction to the I&MWG taking place at that time, this article is intended to make up for that lost opportunity.
b) Concerning wider national and international communities, contacts have already been established with various organisations and individuals. These include leading I&M practitioner John Dunnicliff, author of the world-famous book “Geotechnical Instrumentation for Monitoring Field Performance”, who asks the I&MWG to acknowledge “the importance of human factors in geotechnical and structural monitoring programs”. A proposal to form a parallel I&MWG at AGS in Hong Kong was surprisingly unsuccessful although AGS(HK) have identified a point of contact with their existing Working Groups. A favourable response has been received from the British Tunnelling Society to contribute to revisions to their “Tunnelling Specification” and “Monitoring Underground Construction” documents.
c) A one-day AGS seminar (“Critical Links in Ground Engineering”), was planned by AGS at the time the I&MWG was formed. Scheduled initially for 15 July, a postponed date for this event in November is currently being sought, at which time it is likely to take the form of a webinar (c/o Caroline Kratz at AGS).
d) Regarding standards and the like, AGS’s revision of the “Yellow Book” – the UK Specification for Ground Investigation – will now include input from the I&MWG. BSI’s BS5930:2015+A1:2020 “Code of Practice for Ground Investigations” has just been published and includes a section on I&M.
e) Relating to Technical Committees, I&MWG member Andrew Ridley is Chairman of the ISSMGE’s Technical Committee TC220 “Field Measurement in Geomechanics” and is a member of the ISO’s Technical Committee ISO/TC182/WG2 “Monitoring in Geotechnical Engineering”. Andrew is also Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 12th FMGM Symposium to be held in early September 2022 at Imperial College, London.
f) g), and h). The I&MWG has already been represented at training events [f)] including a British Drilling Association Seminar and it plans to extend its engagement with education and technical and professional training and the establishment of recognised qualifications as soon as possible.

The I&MWG will be contributing to an AGS initiative relating to Procurement as influenced by the Institution of Civil Engineer’s “Project 13” and encompassing related issues such as Specifications and NEC4 (and its application, for example, to Ground Investigation).

Matters such as data format and management will be tackled in conjunction with AGS’s Data Management Working Group and there are other examples of where an ability to engage directly with another AGS Working Group will be to the I&MWG’s advantage.

And now there is a new matter needing the I&MWG’s attention: The impact of COVID-19 on I&M in the future.

Contact for the I&MWG
To contact or register interest in the I&MWG, please email