There was plenty of evidence at the British Drilling Association (BDA) seminar ‘Emerging Best Practice in Ground Investigation for Linear Infrastructure Projects' to reaffirm the difficulties that persist in the industry relating to the correct and appropriate selection of ground investigation specialists.
From a client's perspective, ground investigation is often a necessary evil that they are told they need but do not see the value in or carry any consequences for. Often then, the lowest cost is chosen not the best value. Frequently those procuring the work are not going to be involved with the follow-on project - land ownership changes, project teams move on or the scheme is put on hold. So, the consequences of a poor selection are not felt by those that make them.
Even informed clients and consultants - and there are many - will struggle to be able to base their selections on rational argument. No amount of prequalification questions will reveal the real value or quality of a business; they are the minimum standards in most cases.
The decline of in-house specialists in so many major organisations means that procurement of some services is misunderstood and mishandled, which inevitably results in poor choices. Inappropriate forms of contract, incomplete specifications and mismatched bills of quantities are commonplace. Then, when the work gets to the site, the supervision and understanding of what is happening is non-existent or lacking. It is not a good situation.
The Spotlight survey initiated in 2016 in partnership by the BDA and AGS reveals the scale of some of the issues with some startling statistics:
- Compliance with codes and standards: 59 per cent of respondents had either a "good working knowledge" or were "completely familiar" with the technical standards
- Procurement: 58 per cent agreed that "Inappropriate procurement processes discourage adhering to the technical standards"
- Safety: 77 per cent of respondents either had a good working knowledge of legislation or were completely familiar with the legislation
In an attempt to make a small improvement the BDA has developed its Buyer's Guide to BDA Members, which is intended to provide factual information for any buying organisation to use to evaluate which specialists are appropriate for their scheme and what capabilities they have. Some information will be provided by member firms in good faith and some will be audited independently.
The key facts most buyers need to know relate to the scale and complexity of their project; do the subcontract specialists fit the profile for the work I need doing? No client wants or benefits from a mismatched selection of tenderers. None of those pricing the work want to waste time and effort if the competition is not appropriate. Ideally, the buyer will create an appropriate "playing field for everyone to work through on an equal basis".
In January 2019 the BDA issued forms to its members to complete and return. The results will be collated and published on the BDA website for reference, along with the live records of all audited drillers. In this way, it is intended that buyers can be more easily informed about the firms to choose and the site staff can be certain that they are using validated drillers.
There is no expectation that any of the above will guarantee that site operations will always go perfectly, or issues will not arise from time to time, but it is hoped that at least the procurement process will start off with the most appropriate firms being invited to tender for work that suits their skills and capacity.
Philip Ball is the Finance & Strategy Chair with the British Drilling Association