Article Business Practice Contaminated Land

Work Permits to involve less Red Tape

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There is big news for the Industry with a new addition of Geotechnical Engineers to the Shortage Occupations List for Work Permit purposes.

Inclusion on the Shortage Occupation List means Geotechnical Engineers join such professions as Railway Engineers, Doctors, Nurses and Teachers (a surprisingly short list, given the known shortages in many sectors).

The change will mean that companies applying for work permits will no longer have to demonstrate that the post cannot be filled from within the UK or EU. This will make it easier to recruit from Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Previously full details and supporting evidence had to be provided to show what advertising had already been undertaken to recruit a ‘resident worker’. This included details of responses received and reasons why each applicant had not been employed.

Previously to obtain a work permit for an overseas employee an employer was required to complete a 12 page application form. Applicants will now be able to jump from Page 7 direct to Page 12 of the application form.

The announcement that Geotechnical Engineers had been included on the Shortage Occupation List was made on the Work Permits website on Monday 20th June and can be seen at and following the links to work permits – applying for a work permit – business and commercial.

The definition of Geotechnical Engineer will cover the following Ground Engineering related occupations:- Geoenvironmental Engineer; Geotechnical Engineer; Geological Advisor; Geological Analyst; Geological Associate; Geological Engineer; Geologist/Hydrogeologist; Geology/Reservoir Engineer; Geomechanics Engineer; Geophysical Specialist; Geophysicist; Geoscientist; Geosupport Engineer; Engineering Geologist; Ground Engineer; Contaminated Land Specialist.

Article Contaminated Land Laboratories

ISO/TC190 Meeting, Paris Note prepared by Peter Rodd

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For the fourth year running I attended the ISO/TC190 Soil Quality meeting, this year in Paris. The meeting comprises sessions of the various Sub Committees and their working groups plus plenary sessions for the Sub Committees, and the TC190 and CEN TC345 (both Soil Quality) meetings. I attended 7 sessions.

As previously, I was representing the BSI committee EH/4 (Soil Quality) on which I serve, in turn, representing the AGS.

As with last year’s meeting in Brno, the Czech Republic, much of the general discussion concerned the Horizontal Project originally instituted by CEN. The purpose of this project is to harmonize standards across matrices.. Once a Horizontal Standard has been created and endorsed by CEN it becomes a European Standard and supersedes equivalent National Standards and International Standards within the EC. If it is also accepted by ISO the new standard supersedes the equivalent ISO Standard in the rest of the world; if not accepted by ISO it runs side by side with the ISO as a European Standard. It is now ISO TC190’s first function to respond to CEN requests to develop new standards while continuing to develop standards that have international support. Everything clear so far?

Although the function of EH/4, ISO TC190 and CEN TC345 is Soil Quality from the soil science perspective, there are clearly overlaps with geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering, particularly in light of the Horizontal Project, and this is the reason why the AGS agreed to have representation on the EH/4 committee. Topics of particular relevance are the chemical test methods being developed that will be used for compliance issues arising from the sludge directive.

The function of EH/4 is to assist in the development and review of International and European standards, and to put forward comments received initially from the EH/4 sub committees on early committee drafts (CD), and at a later stage comments from interested parties more generally on draft international standards (DIS). The latter stage is where AGS members get the chance to make comments (which can be funnelled through me) to EH/4 and thence to the ISO TC190 working groups. The annual meeting is the usual forum for discussion of such comments. Following DIS stage the document becomes a final draft (FDIS) at which stage comments are largely restricted to editorial issues. The member countries then vote to determine whether the document should become an International Standard. If BSi give a positive vote and the document is passed as an International Standard it automatically becomes a British Standard. If a member country votes ‘No’ then they do not adopt the ISO standard, even if passed, as their National standard.

The sessions I attended were: ” CEN 345 – Characterisation of soils; ” ISO/TC 190 Plenary – Soil Quality; ” SC7 WG4 – Human Exposure; ” SC7 WG6 – Leaching; ” SC7 WG7 – Background Levels; ” SC7 Plenary – Soil and Site Assessment; and ” SC3 Plenary – Chemical Methods.

The CEN meeting concentrated on various existing standards and whether they were suitable as Horizontal Standards. Previously questionnaires had been sent to member countries to get their views but only brief responses were forthcoming. One standard of particular relevance to the AGS is ISO 11277 ‘determination of particle size distribution in mineral soil material – method by sieving and sedimentation’. It was felt by the delegates that this test method is time consuming and is not generally used, therefore, it will not be recommended as a Horizontal standard but will remain as an ISO and should be used as a reference method. Other test methods discussed were: ISO 10381-3 on safety, ISO 10381-4 Guidance on the procedure for investigation of natural, near-natural and cultivated sites, ISO 10694 organic and total carbon after dry combustion (elementary analysis), ISO 11261 Total Nitrogen, ISO 11263 Phosphorus spectrometric soluble in sodium hydrogen carbonate, ISO 14255 Nitrate, ammonium and total soluble nitrogen using calcium chloride, and ISO FDIS 16772 mercury in aqua regia. It was felt that none of the standards could be recommended to Horizontal without review and that ISO 10381.4 was to general and would conflict with national standards, and ISO 11263 was not used and should also not be recommended.

Registration of new work items for CEN and their terms of reference will be controlled by BT TF151, a task force set up for that purpose and to receive the Horizontal draft CEN standards. They will also co-ordinate the CEN response to these standards.

One item of interest from the ISO TC190 plenary meeting was that methods for the analysis of asbestos were considered to be outside the scope of soil quality and that TC146 will develop methods although TC190 will be involved in the handling and sampling aspects.

The SC7/WG4 session considered to documents; ISO 15800 on the characterisation of soils with respect to human exposure that was reported as having been issued as a full standard, and CD 17924 on the bioavailability of metals in contaminated soils – physiological based extraction method which will be amended in light of the discussions and comments received and issued as a DIS in June 2005. The stated aim of this document is to establish a list of parameters and is aimed at risk assessors.

I attended the second session of SC7/WG6 and discussion focused on CD 19492 ‘Leaching procedures for subsequent chemical and ecotoxicological testing of soils and soil materials – influence of pH on leaching with initial acid/base addition’. The procedure is considered to be generic. An annex will be added to explain the use of the various pH levels and extraction solutes. Validation of the method is required but funding will be required and so the document, initially, will be a technical specification. The delegates did not agree with the UK’s definition of ‘leaching’ but in any case it is defined in the document. It was considered that the agitation levels given in the document are likely to break most glassware, guidance was requested from the delegate countries. A guidance document was also discussed but this was at a very early stage of development.

SC7/WG7 discussed DIS 19258 ‘Guidance on the establishment of background values’ which was issued late due to a problem with obtaining the French translation. The DIS was approved prior to the meeting with only the UK disapproving. Although such a guidance document would be useful the EH4 committee considered that there is too much confusion in the document particularly with the terms that are used. In particular the term ‘usual background’ was considered to be somewhat imprecise and the main definitions will be re-written. Another problem with the document is that if it becomes a standard and the UK approve it, there may well be a conflict with BS 10175 which would probably have to be withdrawn.

On that alarming note I shall end my report. The next meeting will be in Japan in October.

Article Contaminated Land Laboratories

Reinforced soil design code to be revised

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When BS 8006, the code of practice for Strengthened / Reinforced soils and other fills, was first published in 1995, it was acclaimed as an international benchmark in the field. Nearly ten years on, the Standard remains the most comprehensive National Standard on reinforced soil, and is adopted as practice in many other countries. In keeping with BSI policy, the Standard BS8006 is presently undergoing its 10 year review and it is expected that new developments in the field and the development of new European standards, will be included in the revised Standard thus ensuring it remains at the forefront of good practice.

In December 2003, British Standards Institution gave the go ahead to revise the document and BSI Technical Committee B 526/4 met to start the process in April 2004. Representatives are drawn from industry, trade associations and learned bodies (Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), International Geosynthetics Society, Association of Geotechnical and Geo-environmental Specialists (AGS), Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT), Association for Consultancy & Engineering (ACE), Department for Transport, Highways Agency (DfT), British Apparel & Textile Confederation (BATC)) to provide a mix of experience from the original drafting committee combined with input from some new members, all chaired by Steve Corbett of Faber Maunsell.

Several task groups have now been formed to review all of the main sections of the documents including the design of reinforced slopes, walls, embankments and soil nailing. Comments, suggestions, and proposals for improvements are invited from users of the document and other interested parties, either via their trade association or directly to the BSI secretary Sina Talal. It is hoped to provide regular updates on progress within Ground Engineering, as work proceeds. In the meantime, BS8006 should continue to be used until the new revision of the document is available, anticipated for 2006.

Please forward any comments or suggestions to committee secretary Sina Talal at SINA.TALAL@BSI-GLOBAL.COM.

Article Loss Prevention

AGS PI Insurance Survey

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In an endeavour to discover AGS Members’ experience with PI insurance and their claims history, the Loss Prevention WG asked all Members to complete a short questionnaire.

Who responded

The questionnaire was sent to all 125 AGS Members. 41 completed responses were received – 3 of which were from respondents that did not hold PI insurance. These were more or less representative of the Membership. Large companies, however, were slightly under represented (partly because those with group insurance, or in some cases world-wide policies, did not have access to the required data). Personal Members, who appear to have been particularly hard hit by recent increases in premiums, were somewhat over represented.

Figure 1: Respondents compared to AGS Membership

Membership Type Response % responding
Member Firm 20 78 26
Associate MF 5 17 30
Affiliate 2 11 18
Personal 9 19 47
Not known 2
Grand Total 38 125 30

Consultants were predominant among correspondents (34 of the 38 who gave information) but this was not surprising given the nature of the survey. Two-thirds of the consultants undertake both geotechnical and geoenvironmental work. 15 respondents were contractors, but only 4 of these were not also consultants. (It must also be remembered that ‘contractor’ in the AGS can mean those whose primary activity is carrying out site investigations, as well as those involved in remediation of contaminated land, the construction of foundations or other geotechnical work.) Only 5 laboratories supplied information – and all of these companies also engage in either consultancy or sampling activities.

In short (and unsurprisingly), the replies primarily reflect the experience of consultants engaged in both geotechnical and geoenvironmental work.

Limit of Insurance

Even 10 years ago, there was a trend towards ‘aggregate’ cover for geoenvironmental insurance. Reports suggested that this has increased in the interim so Respondents were asked whether their insurance limits were ‘aggregate’ or ‘each and every’. As can be seen from Figure 2 – the trend towards aggregate’ cover is still prevalent – but by no means universal. Geoenvironmental cover is twice as likely to be aggregate but a significant number of policies are still written on an ‘each and every’ basis.

Figure 2: Basis of insurance cover*

Aggregate ‘Each & Every’
Geotechnical cover 16 17
Geoenvironmental cover 23 11

(* 29 companies held both geotechnical and geoenvironmental cover – sometimes on an ‘each and every’ basis for geotechnical and ‘aggregate’ for geoenvironmental .)

Premium Increases

No respondent reported that they had ever been notified that their premium was being increased because of their claims record.

Respondents were asked to indicate the year on year increases in premiums, excesses and turnover for the past 3 years. During this period there were widespread reports of large premium increases, and the insurance industry came up with a number of reasons why this should be so. Insurance industry explanations included the need to cover large claims resulting from losses due to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the collapse of Enron, the loss of investment income following the stock market collapse, and, as far as the construction industry was concerned, reduced competition following the collapse of the Independent insurance company. The table below indicates how little of the increases were due to increases in turnover. It also indicates that although the rate of increase may now have slowed, premiums have yet to stabilise.

Mean Premium Increases over the past 3 Years
(compared to increases in turnover)
Last year 2 years ago 3 years ago
Geotechnical Policies 31% 32% 36%
(12%) (17%) (16%)
Geoenvironmental Policies 23% 49% -2%
(2%) (2%) (2%)
Combined Policies 30% 73% 71%
(8%) (11%) (16%)
 Overall Mean 28% 51% 35%
(7%) (10%) (11%)


Word of mouth over the past 3-4 years has indicated that excesses on many policies have risen even faster than premiums. The survey results showed however that only 45% of companies had experienced any change in their excess during the period. Of those that had, some reported increments of 20%-30% year on year – but most had experienced a single large increase of 100% to 500% (and one respondent reported a 1,000% increase!)


More than half of the respondents reported changes to the policy exclusions – mostly relating to asbestos but toxic mould and terrorism also figured prominently.


One of the primary purposes of undertaking the survey was to look at the claims record of the sector. There are two ways that insurers might track risk in the sector – by looking at possible claims notified and by looking at actual claims. Predictably, the claims notified out numbered those paid.

It is clear that many potential problems never come to fruition or are resolved without financial loss. Received wisdom is that insurers are wary of potential geoenvironmental liabilities – but these figures indicate that only 30% of the claims notified in this sector are settled or paid (compared to 60% in the geotechnical sector).

It would have been good to end with some conclusions about the value of claims paid over the last 5 years but the small number of claims reported in the survey makes this impossible. Interestingly, however, the mean value of claims made In each sector is virtually identical.


There is growing evidence that external issues have increased premiums. There is some evidence that geoenvironmental issues are no more likely to result in pay outs than geotechnical issues.


Article Contaminated Land Laboratories Safety

What Is Finalling?

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In future the NHBC will adopt a consistent approach to determining what will and what will not prevent the necessary confirmation that a warranty is in place. In order to facilitate this, any outstanding information, defective design or non-compliance with standards on site must be classified as either RED (prevents warranty) or GREEN (will not prevent warranty) by applying the following sequential logic test:

Will the outstanding issue result in:-

1. A risk to health and safety?
2. A claim against the warranty?
3. Significant disruption to the occupier (in order to rectify the issue)?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes then the item will be classified as RED and confirmation that a full warranty will be in place will be withheld until the relevant issue is resolved. If the answer to the three standard questions is no then the item will be classified GREEN and confirmation would be provided. It remains the builder’s responsibility to address any outstanding Green issues.

In relation to design issues, inadequate or unsatisfactory information is generally the reason preventing a warranty being in place. Hazards where information will normally be requested by NHBC Engineering include:-

High water table, Made Ground, Mining or other Cavities, Multiple Hazard, Peat, Soft Ground, Steep Slopes (more than 1 in 10), Sulphates, Landfill gas and Peat, Contaminated Land other than Landfill Gas.

Geotechnical site investigation report, gas test results and proposals for gas membranes received from a builder for a site with known made ground, past shallow mining and within 250m of a landfill site.

Mining report and foundation proposals not received, therefore fails the logic test and hence would be classified as RED until such information is received and approved.

Article Business Practice Data Management Executive

Electronic Tenders – The Future?

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A survey of Members in January/February 2003 revealed that a majority have some experience of tendering based on information provided electronically.   Responses were received from approximately one third of the AGS Member Firms.  Of these 20% had tendered for a contract over the internet; 38% had bought (construction related) products and services over the internet; 5% had sold products and services on the web; and 74% had tenders on information provided in an electronic format.

E-Procurement Survey of AGS Members experience

Tendering on the WWW (electronic auctions)                       20%

Buying products and services on WWW                                  38%

Selling products and services on WWW                                  5 %

Tendering based on electronic information                            74%

Of those that had tendered using electronic information 68% had experienced difficulties typical of e-tendering:  poor indexing; irrelevant information (ie information overload); and data that couldn’t be manipulated.  Leaving 76% of those with experience with the overall impression that electronic data did not save time.

This is particularly important when it comes to ground investigation data in AGS format which is intended to deliver efficiencies in both time and cost by eliminating the need to re-key information.  To achieve these efficiencies, data providers must address the need to supply data in a manipulable format (perhaps in addition to a *.pdf file) and to make routine use of the AGS Format logo (supplied to all registered users of Edition 3) to alert the data user that electronic data is available.

How can IT help the tender process?

Saving time?

Theoretically, yes.

  • Information can be efficiently shared internally and with bid partners
  • re-keying of data can be avoided
  • re-drafting (eg existing survey information sections, etc) can be avoided

Save printing costs?

Not really.  Cost is just passed down the chain to the user.

Reduce the tender period?

Not really.  Design development, commercial assessment, technical considerations and health and safety risk assessments are still necessary, and these are undertaken by people.


AGS Members appear to be increasingly comfortable with web technology and with conducting business transactions on the www.  However they are cautious about bidding for complex projects through electronic auctions, although this might be a suitable route for small, straightforward contracts, using standard terms and conditions. Certainly, Clients are showing increasing enthusiasm for this method of procurement and believe that it brings price savings.  Many people, however, recognise that it is contrary to the industry agenda for best value and partnering – and ultimately that quality might be affected.

Tendering based upon electronic information is widespread; but many of the intended benefits are lost because data is poorly indexed and insufficient thought has been given to the format in which it is made available. SI data, in particular, needs to be in AGS Format and transmitted in a way that the recipient can use it without re-keying.

The AGS Business Practice WG, in co-operation with other interested bodies, is working to improve this situation and is preparing a standard information protocol for geotechnical contracts to assist those preparing enquiry documents.

The AGS would like to thank those Members who took part in the e-procurement survey and contributed valuable information about the use and usefulness of this method of procurement.