People Competencies on Site in the Geotechnical Industry

May 3, 2018

It is important that personnel operating on site in the geotechnical industry have a level of competency and experience which is relevant for the operations being undertaken. This competency should be acknowledged and supported by certification, which is in date and valid for activity being performed. Obviously, some competencies are life-long, such as degree-level qualifications for a relevant subject and the NVQ 2 Land Drilling achievement etc., but some will require regular and repeated re-evaluation, or at the very least refreshing after a year or so. For example, the 1-day Safety at Work course, the ISOH 3-day Safety Course, or BDA Audit, as their content will have evolved according to the latest guidance and legislation.

The requirement for current accreditation in various competencies was first introduced in BS5930:1999 and latterly EN 22475-2:2001 and covers all disciplines – from engineers/geologists and technicians through to site operatives (drilling). Depending on the level of competency and/or experience required by a person, various numbers and levels of certification will be required.

This style of certification will vary dependant of skill, role and safety requirement and some examples are presented here:

Safety Requirement:

  • Basic Safety Requirement – 1-day Safety at Work – should have been performed by all personnel on site and generally has to be re-taken every three years
  • ISOH 3-day Safety Course – Should have been performed with one person associated with site and a number of people, depending on the size and complexity of the project.

Project Management Requirement:

  • Anybody leading investigation / site operations should have formal Project Management training – there are many courses available and some companies have even developed their own internal coursesSkill (Type depends on the operation being performed)
  • Engineers/Geologist should have a relevant degree-level qualification, plus some further training to fulfil the requirements of the role on site, for instance logging course (which can be internal or external to company); if senior should have chartered status (i.e. C.Eng., C.Geol, etc)
  • Technicians should have specific product/service training supported by an appropriate Level 2 NVQ as a minimum
  • Field Drilling Operatives – NVQ level 2 & BDA Annual Audit, both qualifications are essential to show and maintain competencyWhy is the above important? The reason is so that activities are performed to the same standards, quality, consistency, etc. and in a safe manner all in compliance with the relevant BS/EN norms. The re-evaluation and re-fresher training will also ensure bad habits are reduced or eliminated and that best practice is being adopted. Also, changes in legislation and update on recent safety incidents can be shared
  • The BDA is about to launch a significant update to the Rotary Guidance, which together with NVQ’s and annual audits will help set improved standards and quality in this much-maligned technique for investigation drilling.  Add to this a Level 3 NVQ for drilling supervisors and we can be optimistic that progress in the ground investigation drilling industry is happening.
  • Like every audit the assessment on the day does not guarantee the performance for the rest of the year, however it does set a consistent benchmark
  • Like every voluntary system for accreditation, the BDA’s annual audit is only as good as those that sign up to it.  Clients must demand it, appreciate the benefits, and see the value of using crews that maintain it.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t good providers without audited crews, but how is that demonstrated?
  • A secondary benefit is the reminder of safe and good practices and providing consistency across the industry. This makes for a better product and one that is easier to supervise
  • One peripheral benefit of the annual audit is that when regulations or good practice evolve there is never more than 12 months before it is identified and an opportunity to rectify the situation. That is happening with electric secondary winches on Cable Percussion rigs, now that it has been widely agreed they are preferable to using the single line as in the distant past
  • A sample collected for identification and testing is a unique thing; a one-off that can rarely be recreated. The follow-on work that determines its various parameters is entirely dependent on how the sample was created: the workmanship, the tools used, and sub-surface conditions all have an impact on the findings. At the 2016 Geotechnica Conference, Thomas Lunne showed how significant sample disturbance can occur and how NGI excluded overly disturbed specimens.  Similar arguments can be made for testing in situ. So, perhaps the annual reassessment of drillers is a good ingredient in the process of sampling and in situ testing
  • Does this inconsistency matter?  Maybe not. Ground investigation is characterised by the adoption of good practice at every stage to deliver quality samples and tests.  Once taken, recovered or determined, there is rarely an opportunity to test or verify the outcome because the ground has been disturbed. Therefore, the competence of the drillers in this process is fundamental to a satisfactory outcome. In contrast, ground engineering solutions are usually accompanied by some form of post-installation verification; whether it be grouting or installing an anchor there is always a means of testing the end-product. Although there is an underlying requirement to ensure everyone is competent to perform the tasks being undertaken, there is quite a difference in how this is being delivered for almost identical tasks; annual audit versus what?
  • There is a puzzling contradiction in the drilling world where a project run under BS5930 is deemed to require audited drillers, yet a similar operation for a ground engineering solution does not.  These two cases may use the same drillers and even the same rig (to illustrate the point) and yet have different demands on demonstrating continued competence. Obviously, it is the fundamentals of the respective codes that determine the requirements, but the logic is inconsistent; one rule for one driller and a different rule for the next?
  • The British Drilling Association (BDA) has been the primary provider of audits in the UK and more recently has seen numbers steadily increasing as the value and benefits have become better understood by those delivering and buying ground investigation services.  Firms can of course audit their own crews, but this is not common and could be perceived as lacking the independence required to comply with EN 22475-3:201
  • There has been a requirement for drillers to be audited for many years; first in BS5930:1999 and latterly EN 22475-2:2011.  In the UK this has linked well with the efforts to up-skill the field crews through the adoption of NVQ Level 2’s.  Effectively, the audit should be reassessing the crews’ competencies on an annual basis by comparison with the criteria for a Level 2 NVQ

BDA Audited Drilling Operatives – Reasons and Present Status

  • If work is performed and scoped correctly with competent personnel and quality plant, then the end-product produced will be of a high standard. This will save time in re-design, etc during construction arising due to unforeseen or unexpected ground conditions. It is well known from various surveys that delays in time and cost on construction projects arise more often than not as a result of poor quality ground investigation or unexpected ground conditions. Is this poor quality or a lack of investment by the client at the initial stages of a project to use quality organisations that spend time and money supporting the development of staff?
  • If clients feel that work should be performed by personnel and companies with the correct competencies and experience, then they should take an active role in policing these requirements. It is not sufficient to ask a bidder to complete a pre-qualification document and prepare a project plan – a more active role of auditing undertaken periodically during projects is required on site, with checks done to observe and verify the in-date competency of certifications, etc. This should not only apply to personnel, but equally it should include plant, which requires PUWER, LOLER and other forms of certification.
  • How can competencies become part of a project?  By being stated in the specification document and the relevant standards quoted to support requirements and then implemented on site and monitored effectively.
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