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From garden slopes to soakaways, foundations to engineered fill, Simon at STG Engineering is a Geotechnical Site Engineer keeping the ground as steady as the houses we build upon it. Here’s what you need to know …
I am a geologist who found my way into the engineering world after university. It wasn’t what I had planned - I had thought I would work with dinosaurs like Ross from Friends! What I do is also sometimes described as being an ‘engineering geologist’ - which is perhaps a bit more user friendly.
In a nutshell, I investigate the ground; the underlying soil and rock. I identify what it is and how, when you build in or on it, it will behave differently. When you build, you take the natural ground and move it, load it, fill it; you’ve changed what’s there and the equilibrium it originally had. By looking at it and analysing it, I can make predictions about how it can or will move as a result. Obviously, there’s a lot of testing and parameters to what we do, but in short, what I do is about how the ground is and how it behaves. Based on the ground type I can also determine the permeability rates; infiltration and percolation to design either surface water soakaways or foul water drainage fields.
By doing this it helps civil and structural engineers, architects and builders to know what the ground will take in terms of load (whether it’s a house or a 10 storey flat) and how something should be built safely. It has an impact on the foundation and retaining wall design. I don’t build anything above the ground, but with new regulations around soakaways for surface water to stop the flooding of main sewers, for example, that’s where my work has an impact as well.
I live here, but for many years my work has been global. I’ve been running my own business since 2008 but I launched into the South Hams more recently. As I get a little older, I am keen to focus much more on local projects, maintain a smaller carbon footprint of my own, and help local companies to do the same by keeping services in the area rather than say employ a company from London or further afield. I live in West Charleton and always try to make sure things are competitively priced.
What kind of projects do you tend to work on?
I often work for larger organisations such as housing companies or consultants where there are big projects in motion, but in the South Hams it’s often work on single dwellings and rebuilds. If you have knocked down an old house and need soakaway testing for surface water or percolation testing for foul water drainage field planned for example - they’re smaller jobs than I have done in the past, but they have a bigger impact for the individual and that’s extremely gratifying.
The other side of what I do is in residential and private sector slope stability. That’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years on railways for Network Rail - where you cut into a hill and look at it to see how that slope of rock and/or soil could fail. On a local scale that translates to gardens where a slope could be failing or may do in the future, considering how to fix it or remediate it in both the long and short term. Embankments are man-made features made of soil and I can look at these to identify how these could fail and if constructing on a project I can undertake a range of in-situ tests to ensure this soil within the man-made feature (bund, plateau, ridge) is compliant and will not sink.
I think a lot of people don’t realise that it’s a service that exists separately to structural engineering, or that it’s something they can engage with directly rather than just being something for builders to consider. I think there’s also a sense that it’s there to complicate a build as well, whereas really, it’s there to make their build easier or better informed.
It depends on what you define as interesting. I worked on the London Olympics, I have worked in central and western Africa doing open cast mining for the geotechnical pit designs, I have worked in the Highlands of Scotland identifying geotechnical stability and hazards for a power line upgrade and I’ve been working on the railways for a number of years. There are day shifts, night shifts, but actually I love working on projects for individuals around South Devon because it’s much more personal.
I was born and bred here but moved to Hampshire for 10 years. I came back home with the family but continued to travel a lot with work, and as mentioned I am now taking the business that step further in the local area, launching more into the South Hams and working locally.
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