Project managment

The resident engineer’s staff

Except for the largest jobs the RE’s staff on UK sites will be quite small. Two or three assistant engineers and two or three inspectors might be needed for a £25 million project in the UK; but much depends on the nature of the work.
There is usually a considerable amount of work for assistant engineers to do during the first one-third period of a project, tailing off thereafter. On large jobs a measurement engineer or sometimes a quantity surveyor having experience of civil engineering work, may be needed to handle the checking of interim payments, dayworks sheets, etc. This can be important because, if the RE has only a couple of assistant engineers, he will not want to lose one on office work.
A driver and suitable vehicles may be essential for getting about the site or carrying surveying equipment, taking concrete test cubes and soil samples for testing, etc. A chainman-cum-teaboy on the RE’s staff must not be forgotten for his presence on even the smallest site can be a great asset. It is usual for the chainman, and the driver plus vehicle, to be provided by the contractor under the contract, and woe betide the drafter of the contract documents if he forgets to include provision of these in the specification.

Under the ICE conditions the engineer or RE must notify the contractor of ‘the names, duties and scope of authority’ of persons appointed to assist the RE in his duties (Clause 2(5)). This must include the names of inspectors as well as assistant engineers because the clause goes on to say that such assistants are not to have any authority to issue instructions save as ‘may be necessary to enable them to carry out their duties and to secure the acceptance of materials and workmanship as being in accordance with the Contract.’ This clearly implies they have power to accept or reject materials or workmanship.
However, this power must be exercised with tact and understanding.
It is not sufficient to take the view that the RE and his staff are present solely to ensure the works conform to specification. To serve the engineer and employer properly they must assist the contractor make a good job of the construction.
When unexpected conditions occur, assistance must be given to find a solution that is not only necessary for the quality of the permanent works but is also that which the contractor feels he can do satisfactorily. The queries the contractor raises must all be answered constructively and, when reasonable help is asked for, it should be given.
The engineering assistants should be kept informed of problems on the job, so that their actions can be intelligently directed. This helps to avoid mistaken or contradictory instructions being given to the contractor. Young engineers on site for the first time need to be forewarned of some of the troubles they can fall into.
Ayoung engineer may know it is injudicious of him to give the general foreman ‘an instruction’. But he may not be aware that a question he innocently puts to a section foreman may (less innocently) be translated into ‘a complaint’ which, travelling rapidly upwards, brings an irate agent into the RE’s office, asking ‘What is this trouble your engineer is complaining about?’ It all sounds rather difficult, but site life is rather a closed society which seldom resists the temptation to ‘put a newcomer in his place’ to start with. However, once relationships are established and statuses are recognized, such troubles blow over.
Status on site is tied to evident competence and the ability to give clear instructions courteously; it has nothing to do with rank or gender. Construction sites run by a good agent and a sensible RE can provide an outstandingly valuable and enjoyable experience to an engineer in his or her career.
The inspectors have to be mostly outside, watching the workmanship.
Inspectors are usually older men, but this is no disadvantage because their practical experience is of value to the RE, and also an advantage when having to deal with the contractor’s workers. Persuasion, tact, tolerance, care in observation, and the ability to give firm direction are required. Not everyone possesses these qualities, and it is not really the job for a young man who can find it irksome to watch the work of others he sometimes feels he could do better himself. On overseas sites an inspector plays a much more positive role, often having to teach and demonstrate to labourers how work should be done. Agood inspector can be an asset to a contractor. One agent said ‘A good inspector relieves me of some of my worries. When he passes something I know it should be all right.’ One of the problems for the RE is how to get hold of a ‘good’ inspector. Usually it is best done by recommendation from an RE who has employed the inspector before. Some firms of consulting engineers keep good inspectors in continuous work, passing them from one job to another. If the RE hears of one such ‘coming free’ and can gain his services, he is lucky.

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