Speakers for the motion

Martin Knights, FICE, BTS committee member, BTS UK representative at the ITA and director of Halliburton KBR (formerly Brown & Root), has been involved in the tunnel and rail business for 32 years.

The motion was seconded by Sir Alan Muir Wood, retired senior partner of Sir William Halcrow & Partners, past president of the Institute of Civil Engineers (1984), and the second chairman of BTS, ITA.

Speakers against the motion

Alan Myers FICE, is a past member of the BTS committee with 30 years experience in tunnelling. Currently Area 300 project manager for the Thames Tunnel on Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) for Rail Link Engineering (RLE).

Seconding was Andy Sindle with 37 years’ experience in construction, two thirds of which has been in tunnels. In 1994 he was section manager on the Heathrow Express project. Following this, he was project director for the North Downs Tunnel and is now project director for Contract 310 on Section 2 of the CTRL

Martin Knights opened for the motion, stating that the key drivers in the debate were the words “self” and “dangerous”. The danger of self-certification was that it did not provide a fail-safe process. He said it was used in industries where there is a controllable predictable environment from the start of a process to delivery. An example was the manufacture of light bulbs, an industrial continuous process regulated by Kite Mark standards and quality control/quality assurance procedures.

Knights pointed out that in more unpredictable environments where there is a greater risk, a regime of strict environmental controls, supply-chain monitoring, self-certification overseen by a government regulator is appropriate. Also, some sections of construction such as the manufacture of standard building components in a controlled environment lend themselves to be self-certified.

However, on a construction site where the location, the structure, the labour, the geology and the managers come together for the first time for a project, self-certification is inappropriate. Independent site supervision is needed.

Knights cited a few recent cases to illustrate the dangers of self-certification, including: the Enron saga where Anderson earned five times more revenue from consultancy work for Enron than from auditing; BNFL at Sellafield reprocessing plant where staff were found to be signing for inspections that had not been carried out; and Equitable life and the assurance industry, where a failed self-regulating process led to mis-selling to the public and the appointment of the Financial Services Regulator.

Knights argued that self-certification had developed from the quality assurance industry. He said the drive for it came from clients trying to shift all the risk to the contractor and reduce construction supervision costs. The upshot is that shift engineers spend more time filling in forms testifying they have witnessed the quality of the work than actual witnessing and inspection. He concluded that self-certification is fraught with conflicting responsibilities and dangerous for tunnelling.

Alan Myers, speaking against the motion, admitted that after the Heathrow collapse he said he would never trust self-certification again. He had since changed his mind and believed that the industry needs to move forward.

Myers, who was RLE’s area construction manager for the North Downs Tunnel and the Medway Bridge, said these constituted one of the most successful tunnel projects in the country to date. The SCL tunnel was completed five months ahead of programme and £5m under target cost, and was handed over with zero defects.

&#8220the driver for self-certification came from clients trying to shift all the risk to the contractor and reduce construction supervision costs.”

Martin Knights

He noted that the CTRL project is based on self-certification by the Contractor using the NEC option C target cost contract with a pain/gain share mechanism encouraging a partnering approach. The Contractor is not left on his own, as RLE does joint audits and surveillance of safety critical operations. The contract provides incentives to ensure the Contractor takes self-certification seriously.

He said self-certification focuses site management’s attention on reducing out-turns costs, preventing time over-runs. In addition, the process develops people and gives Contractors’ personnel more responsibility.

Self-certification, Myers said, is the way forward, but it requires changes in behaviour and attitudes. He said the CTRL was setting new standards for construction for low accident frequency ratios. People’s awareness of safety is linked to Quality Assurance and there is a need for checks and balances with self-certification. This is provided by audits, surveillance and inspection, which can be done by the construction team.

Myers said that with self-certification the Contractor is responsible for preparing and implementing the procedures required, achieving quality and getting it right first time. It is in his interest to make it a success and be efficient to generate profits. He may employ an independent supervisor if there is a major risk. This is not a transfer of risk from the client but placing the risk where it can be best managed.

Good risk management makes sites safe, not independent supervision, he said. To manage risks there is a need for key people with the right experience, with appropriate procedures and audits.

He explained how the risk in self-certification on the North Downs tunnel was managed. It required training personnel to get used to, not rely on, an inspector. Key to its success was having RLE to act as an inspection team at the start-up to help the Contractor take on this new responsibility.

Sir Alan Muir Wood seconded the motion saying it was a myth that construction under the supervision of an independent Engineer was all about conflict; before the 1970s and 1980s it was the objective of both the Engineer and the Contractor to avoid conflict and there are basic principles and lessons to be learned from this approach.

He said the 1993 Latham report had missed the point of construction activities, such as tunnelling, which need continuity from design into construction. He argued that the NEC/Latham approach introduced a safety critical discontinuity and listed three weaknesses with this approach:

  • The NEC approach is to provide a seamless team, all on the same side, and achieve right-first-time construction. However, there is a need for independent supervision by inspectors to provide Quality Assurance.

  • The need for the Designer to undertake observations to confirm conditions conform with the design assumptions.

  • The need to have continuity between design and construction.
  • He said self-certification is just a signing off process and will not anticipate a problem. It can be intrinsically dangerous and only operates acceptably when the person best capable of performing the function understands the design intent.

    Muir Wood recalled the BTS debate in February 1994 “How suitable is sprayed concrete in London?”. He said at the time that if self-certification was employed in the fragmented way that LUL/BAA applied it on the JLE and the HEX projects then it would lead to problems. The Heathrow collapse on 20 October, 1994, he said, is a example of what is wrong with self-certification.

    Andy Sindle, who was against the motion, recollected his experiences of construction in the 1970s to 1990s, with contractual letters passing back and forth between the Engineer and the Contractor. In those days clients chose contractors with the lowest tender rather than on competence to undertake the work. In his opinion the industry had gone off the rails with the Engineer’s Representative and the Contractor’s Site Agent putting all their efforts into protecting contractual positions rather than focusing on the work, time, cost and quality.

    Sindle said after the Heathrow incident he resolved to work in a different way and crusade to make the industry more efficient. The North Downs tunnel and the Medway crossing demonstrated this approaches benefits. Self-certification was a small but important part of the partnering process, which included everyone from client to subcontractors.

    He argued that it is not the contract, but the people who make it work. They must be trained to work in a co-operative way to resolve problems.

    &#8220Good risk management makes sites safe, not independent supervision”

    Alan Myers

    He summarised the keys to success on the North Downs Tunnel as: Target Cost contract with partnering; Contractor designed primary lining; permanent and temporary works designers based on site; value engineering exercises; integrated team, enabling experts to be available in all fields and disciplines; integrated management structures; self-certification; strong safety culture; robust procedures and risk management and; competent players of great integrity

    Sindle said the project set up procedures to control the construction of the works and the NATM supervisory team had a direct communication channel to the tunnel manager. Also, the government’s project representative had the role to protect the government’s interest as a stakeholder.

    The project set up all the checks and balances to make self-certification work. The Contractor was responsible for demonstrating compliance using detailed and documented procedures. Where mistakes occurred the Contractor raised Non Conformance Reports (NCRs).

    The contractor, Eurolink, was responsible for preparing the quality plan, programming, method statements, inspection and test plans for acceptance by RLE and Union Railways North.

    The entire workforce was trained in self-certification. Bonus payments were used as incentives, with targets for safety, quality and progress. The system gave clear responsibilities and ownership to all working on the contract.

    Sindle said the contract was a success and concluded that “self-certification is the future”.

    Closing arguments

    Martin Knights summarised the case for the motion. He argued that a shortage of engineers was not justification for self-certification. He labelled it a fashion with a crying need for cynical independent checking. Knights said the partnering ethos needs trust to cement quality to safety, but asked: where is the robust independence? Knights noted that self-certification is claimed to be cheaper, quicker, and relies on greater trust and more professional staff. However, he added, in this scenario the independent check is even more important to ensure safety.

    He referred to the Dublin Port Tunnel where Halliburton KBR carries out independent checks on critical aspects of the work that require thorough checking and not just box ticks. For the 80km of tunnels on the Egnatia project in Greece Halliburton KBR has instigated some independent design checking. Knights wanted to know how, with RLE having a substantial presence on the North Downs Tunnel, is that more efficient? RLE had transferred all risk onto the design and construct contractor and then provided a supervisory presence – doing what?

    He said the case for self-certification in tunnels, which were subject to varying ground conditions where support requirements had to be monitored, or where the use of the observational methods requires independent verification of the process, was not convincing, though he conceded that it may just be acceptable for segmental lined TBM tunnels.

    Knights noted that in modern construction scenarios the pressure to achieve higher rates of production presents a conflict of interests with self-certification. Professional ticking is insufficient to ensure safety, independent review is required. He concluded that self-certification needs greater documentation, with a consequential reduction in witnessing and inspection work. This will not ensure safety and quality in a unique unpredictable construction environment such as tunnelling.

    Summing up against the motion Alan Myers said self-certification is the future. The traditional system with an independent Engineer had its own failures. He felt the proposers were out of step with the industry which, he said, is moving towards integrated teams comprising Client, Designer and Contractor managing risk together.

    Risk management is the key, Myers said, requiring the Designer and Contractor to discuss the issues. Working together ensures the Designer tells the site personnel what is important.

    Regarding Martin Knights’ point about RLE’s staff levels on the North Downs Tunnel, Myers said RLE’s field team comprised two field engineers – one working in the day and one at night.

    He said self-certification is not dangerous as it promotes the management of risks. It empowers people by giving them responsibility for their work, which in turn results in greater overall control. Myers accepted that not all of the tunnelling industry was ready yet, but it was the way forward.

    The vote was closed, with one abstention, 41 for and 36 against. The motion that “Self certification is dangerous to Tunnelling” was carried.