|03/04/2018||Slow progress due to atrocious surface conditions (boggy, water-logged ground) on sites at Prudhoe and Grassholme Reservoir. The return of the cold snap over the Easter weekend yielded a further barrage of, in places, snow but mainly heavy persistant rain which has inevitably led to additional misery for those personnel at the sharp end. Wheeled and even tracked plant movements were affected, making the simplest tasks in these conditions appreciably more difficult than usual. It is time for some sunshine and settled weather to soothe our pain!|
|31/03/2018||New internet site published - hopefully the complete overhaul and redesign of the web site is more pleasing on the eye, as well as being much easier to navigate on different electronic devices.|
|06/03/2018||Northumbria University civil engineering student visit to our Chester-le-Street office ... cancelled due to bad weather, another casualty of the situation.|
|02/03/2018||Operational disruption as a consequence of the extremely poor weather, the so called "Beast from the East."|
|31/01/2018||New Year off with renewed optimism, an excellent month in the field with works completed in A9 Berriedale, Transport Scotland and work in full-flow on the A19 Norton to Wynyard Improvements for Autolink and their technical advisors, WSP (Newcastle).|
|01/01/2018||Happy New Year!|
The fictional television character Victor Meldrum said on many occasions that he couldn't believe the misfortune that comically came his way as he navigated his increasing despair and anguish through each tortured episode of One Foot in the Grave. It is clear to cynics alike that good ol’ Victor, albeit only at times, can be an apt metaphor for the site investigation industry. From a place of work perspective, outside in the middle of somewhere, or perhaps a section of highway at the dead of night, with the worst of the weather angrily pointing its frigid fingers at every opportunity, there would be few in this business who haven’t muttered “I don’t believe it!”; perhaps to themselves or even at the heavens. We have had a few of those moments already this year.
Site investigation is not a glamorous pursuit during the winter months, the financial rewards are often as slender as those at other times of the year, but with the added drama of catastrophe waiting impatiantly in the wings. It is often said that a contractor is only as good as their last job, regardless of the less foreseeable and seasonal difficulties which can turn a straightforward task into something with a much higher degree of difficulty. At the beginnning of March we were buffeted by the 'Beast from the East' and it proved to have greater consequences than expected. This culminated in the effective closure of our offices over a two day period as staff struggled to free their cars from snow-ladened estate roads. Some of our locals employees managed to hike-in on both days (the Wednesday and Thursday) which was very much to their credit and from a managerial perspective this commitment was greatly appreciated. Nevertheless the company existed on a skeleton staff, with others able to work from home. By the Friday there was a greater air of normality and the company's heartbeat slowly returned to normal. Inevitably site starts were delayed and a visit from Northumbria University and Achilles regrettably became casualties of the circumstances - hopefully the former visit can be rescheduled later on in the academic year.
Good always manages to arise out of bad and this was no exception. With respect to the 'Beast from the East' it became clear that although our business continuity plan was alright, it wasn't particularly responsive or robust to these types of events. Therefore, some thought will need to be applied to more adequately address a number of rough edges and ensure management is reacting to these events in a consistent manner. The first morning of the hiatus indicated that decisions had a tendency to devolve away from the usual centralised channels - in part ascribed to the inefficiency of mobile phone diplomacy and the mixed messages that can sometimes result.
There have been other weather related issues this year, mainly in conjunction with an unscheduled sortie to the very north of Scotland; a small estate village along the A9, Berriedale Braes in Caithness. The area has been in the public eye for a number of years as a consequence of a sequence of sharp bends, the last in the north being an inclined hairpin. Whereas Transport Scotland where kind enough to award the contract for the supplementary investigation, we did however consider the assistance of the adventurer Bear Grylls to establish our presence on site. The project did not have a particularly large investigation scope, but this belied its underlying difficultly level and remoteness - made worse by the weather leading into Christmas (Storm Caroline). The company owes a debt of gratitude to those employees that toughed this investigation out, with grateful acknowledgment also going to the support that was given by the people of Berriedale and Helmsdale who provided their assistance when needed. It was our first Transport Scotland contract award and on this merit alone it was good to finally become involved in the large scale infrastructure investment along the length of the A9 and elsewhere in Scotland. It is also goes to show that we are capable of mobilising to anywhere in the UK, with further works in Berriedale a distinct possibility during May.
From an industry perspective it's welcoming to see that the site investigation sector is looking significantly more optimistic and upbeat. The industry appears to be enjoying a mini-rennaissance and this has been headlined by independent companies such as Ian Farmer Associates, and more recently Central Alliance, being acquired into RSK's expanding stable of construction related services. Hopefully, such evolution will not present a barrier to companies like AEG to operate successfully within the industry whilst retaining their independence. It is also good to see that the profile of the industry is back on the agenda with Geotechnics and Len Threadgold bringing quality and excellance back into sharp focus in a series of lectures. The benefits that a fit-for-purpose well designed and executed ground investgation can provide client organisations has never been in doubt and it should be remembered that a similar push for greater recognition was made in the early 1990's by the Site Investigation Steering Group. Large scale organisations such as HS2 and Transport Scotland (amongst others) have an important role in setting the agenda on this issue, which will hopefully cascade down into the broader market place. The principal obstacle has always been one of cost; quality as a tangible product constituent in ground investigation adds to the overall price tag of the service provided. The same is true in all industries from manufacturing to financial services, especially in the former where there is a clear visual expression of the quality element you are buying into. This is not particularly obvious in ground investigations as key parts of the service involve tasks and actions that are not necessarily scrutinised, issues such as sample storage and handling being one of many related aspects. We've always embraced greater quality and believe that we punch above our position in this regard within the industry, which in turn has been rewarded by admittance onto a number of high profile framework agreements. Personnel are extremely important and constitute the soul of any company, with particular emphasis on those that are in positions whereby they set the tone for others to follow.
Nick Vater - Technical Director