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Warm Offices – Cold Sites

Warm Offices – Cold Sites

About the Author

Stuart Howie

  • Stuart has built something like 2,500 houses, refurbished 1,500 homes and been involved in 150 contracts of which a 100 were project turnaround roles. He now works as an advisor for GenieBelt.
  • Find out more: GenieBelt

Civil Engineering? Ah. Yes. Well.

I suppose it is great fun, and brings in a living for all those structural and civil engineers who dream the projects up while they are sat in their nice warm offices.

But what about us poor guys who actually have to build it?

It is probably only a coincidence, but most of my Civils projects have been in the winter. I’ve had to stand outside in the rain, gales, snow, frost and fog; I could barely move for all the layers of clothing I had on- which I never did manage to get properly dry before the next day; which I would then spend walking around with the mud sucking the boots off my feet…

As for the actual work in Civils; well it seems to be either nothing visible happens and is dead boring, or so much is happening that we hadn’t a clue what is really going on; just walking around pretending that we are in charge! Two examples that encompass my whole experience with Civil Engineering are the M5 and an on-shore gas terminal, both of which I had the ‘pleasure’ of working on.

Now I might have been cold, wet, bored and even sometimes bewildered, but I must have taken some pride in all the Civils works I’ve done.

We had to do concrete repairs to the supporting beams on an elevated section of the M5. The existing defective concrete was cut away using high-pressure water jetting. For protection, the areas being worked on, off scaffolding, were fully enclosed and we couldn’t see in. The noise of the water-jetting was horrendous and we couldn’t even talk to people on the phone. To make it even worse, there wasn’t even anywhere nearby where we could go for lunch!

Only when the lads had finished for the day could we actually go in and check that they had actually achieved anything. Otherwise I spent my day on the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle (which I finished in ten minutes on one memorable occasion…) The only other diversion was a wander to the canal from which we pulled our water. We kept looking for fish, but never saw any.

The lads didn’t like me picking holes, so they made good even before I got to have a look after the shuttering came down!

The other extreme was an on-shore gas terminal. I was involved with the piling, concrete sub-structures and the support columns for incoming and outgoing gas pipes. At today’s prices I was spending money at the rate of about £10 million a week, and the various subbies involved had, between them, about 2,000 men on site- there was absolutely no way could I keep up with everything going on, but at least it wasn’t boring!

Project management control was a non-starter; by the time I’d found the subby’s Site Manager the guys had moved on to their next phase. What I did, just to justify my existence, was get sneaky; I wandered round all day with a clipboard, making notes, and pointing out to the lads the defects in their work. Any defects in the visible concrete were immediately made good; not that that did me much good: The lads didn’t like me picking holes, so they made good even before I got to have a look after the shuttering came down!

Of course- if GenieBelt had been around then [Ed. ahh- go-on; these guys are trying to do something new, they deserve a plug] – I would have known exactly who the site managers were, got real time updates as the project progressed- including early warnings- and had somewhere to actually record my impromptu audits; all wrapped up in a free-forever app. Who knows- I might even have found enough time to sit inside in a warm office all day!

Now I might have been cold, wet, bored and even sometimes bewildered, but I must have taken some pride in all the Civils works I’ve done. Whenever I’m in the area I have to divert to have a nostalgic look at them.

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