Category: Resident Engineering

Working on a Construction Site: A Woman’s Perspective

Construction photo with a yellow machine building a new bridge

This summer I had the pleasure of working very close to my hometown as a resident project representative (RPR) for two bridge construction projects in the Town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Funding from NHDOT’s Municipally-Managed State Bridge Aid Program allowed the Gilmanton to upgrade two pieces of its aging bridge infrastructure on Stage Road.

The Project

The previous bridge crossing at Nighthawk Hollow Brook was comprised of steel beams with a concrete deck. Originally built in 1930, and rehabilitated in 1960, the bridge was undersized to convey water flow, causing frequent roadway flooding by over a foot. A hydraulic analysis of the bridge revealed that to prevent future flooding, the roadway should be raised by several feet and the bridge span should increase. Less than a mile to the south is the bridge at Unnamed Brook crossing, which was also built in 1930. The supporting earth was washed away around the existing bridge because of puddling on the roadway and poor drainage. Hoyle, Tanner partnered with the Town to design both replacement structures, obtain necessary regulatory agencies’ permits, and administer the construction phase.

The design of a new 54-foot span bridge with over 3 feet of raise in the roadway profile over Nighthawk Hollow Brook was completed in late 2018. The design of the Unnamed Brook crossing was completed at the same time and included a 22-foot span bridge with drainage and roadway safety improvements. The Town’s goals for these projects were met with the design of two low-maintenance bridges with a long service life and improved water flow and drainage, while successfully addressing environmental permitting requirements. The projects were advertised together under one contract for bidding in winter 2018-19, and awarded to E.D. Swett, Inc. of Concord. Construction commenced in May 2019 with the installation of a temporary bridge at the Nighthawk Hollow Brook crossing, and a detour at the Unnamed Brook crossing in July 2019.

My Experience

As the RPR for this project, I was responsible for ensuring that the daily construction activities adhered to the contract plans and specifications. It involved effective organization, documentation, and measurement of the construction progress, but most importantly, it involved constant communication between the contractor, subcontractors, client, and engineer.

One of the first things I like to do as the RPR of a new project is establish a feeling of trust with the Contractor’s foreman, who controls the day-to-day operations of the project site. When working with someone new as a young, female engineer, I have been cautioned that people may doubt my abilities, as opposed to my male counterparts.

While I have been cautioned that people may not take me as seriously as my male counterparts, I did not feel that having to build trust or learning to communicate in a direct manner had much to do with me being a female. I know from experience that men and women communicate differently. Our choice in words, our verbal and nonverbal actions, and our responses to each other are different. Because I’m comfortable with verbal communication, I learned to alter my statements, questions, responses, and conversations in a way that was as clear as possible to each person I came in contact with.

Instead, I think it came down to being younger and not as experienced; that even a younger male engineer would have to prove his knowledge and win the trust of the construction site workers. Thankfully, with a high confidence level, and using effective communication, I was able to gain the trust of the foreman by proving my knowledge in a variety of situations. Having this trust with the foreman allowed us to rely on each other for the remainder of the project and easily work through any discrepancies.

Overall, my experience has been positive as a woman on a construction site. I feel confident in my abilities to make sure the work gets done on time, correctly, and under budget. I feel comfortable in this type of workplace communicating with people very different than myself. The men I have worked with are kind, understanding, hardworking, and like to joke around when there’s time for it.

Through the efforts of all parties involved, the two bridges were reopened to traffic in November 2019. Both projects were substantially completed and under budget with minor cleanup work and final paving scheduled for late spring 2020.

Resident Project Representative: A Young Engineer’s Perspective

Resident Project Representative Collecting an Asphalt Core Sample

A resident project representative (RPR) is responsible for keeping track of daily construction operations to assure that the project is being constructed per the contract documents and construction plans. They are there to reduce – and if possible – eliminate the potential for construction defects or deficiencies. In order to do this the RPR must be organized, communicate effectively with the Client, Contractor, and Engineer, and always research and plan ahead as much as possible.

For my first project as an RPR, I worked on an airport that included two separate projects. The first project I worked on was for a runway rehabilitation which involved removing existing asphalt and shoulder pavement, adding lime rock and compacting it with the existing base course, paving, striping, and a new electrical system. The second project involved some heliport site improvements. A roadway, taxilane connector, parking lot extension, and sidewalk were added to an existing helipad.

Organization

Prior to going on-site, an RPR is given many resources to gain familiarity with the project and site.  First and foremost, an RPR should keep safety in mind. They should be aware of the phasing of the project to determine when and where heavy equipment will be operating, points of contact for potential emergency situations, and check the weather each day. See this article for additional information on safety awareness while on-site.

The two main resources include construction drawings and a project manual containing contract documents and technical specifications. These documents can include a bound 200-500-page project manual and a set of 20-100 sheets of design plans. Utilizing these resources by clarifying details and enforcing standards can seem like a daunting task even if, as an engineer, you are heavily involved in the creation of these resources.

Reconstruction of One of the Potholes

Reconstruction of One of the Potholes

I began by assessing each technical specification and highlighting the numerical and qualitative units that I needed to ensure were being constructed to code. For example, according to the Federal Aviation Administration standard for the P-401 Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) Pavements:

 “The initial placement and compaction of the HMA shall occur at a temperature suitable for obtaining density, surface smoothness, and other specified requirements but not less than 250° F (121°C).

In this case, I would take note of the 250° F requirement of the HMA mix that came on-site and use a thermometer to test the temperature of the mix while it was in the delivery truck before it was placed down as pavement.

Keeping all documentation including the daily reports, construction meeting minutes, change orders, shop drawings, pay applications and test results organized was required. These would be referenced at different points in the project, and it was important to be aware of how one change would affect the project schedule and budget.

Planning Ahead & Researching

Weather, unforeseen circumstances, and schedule changes can always impact a construction project. Several unforeseen circumstances that came up while my coworkers and I were on the site included a base course that ended up pumping a lot of water, digging up existing electrical wires, and numerous potholes that started popping up on a runway that was being rehabilitated.

Pothole on a Milled Runway

Pothole on a Milled Runway

To stay on track, an RPR utilizes communication and organization, but to handle these unforeseen circumstances, they must also be creative. When situations like this arise, the RPR helps alleviate confusion and coordinate and implement a strategy that will allow the project to be minimally impacted. Researching potential issues, details, and situations that weren’t familiar enabled me to have a database to pull from in these situations. Planning ahead by looking at the weather and familiarizing myself with relevant specifications and schedule details enabled me to mitigate the stress that came from these situations.

Communication

An RPR keeps a mental account of the city/county standards circulating as they watch all construction operations, verifying distances, lengths, taking photos of each process, and communicating with the Contractor.  At any point in the work, if something looks off or is not being done as a standard specifies – the RPR must communicate quickly and effectively with the Contractor or Engineer.

The RPR is also in charge of scheduling testing. In my case, I was scheduling and monitoring the Geotechnical Engineer conducting density tests of compacted limerock, collecting concrete cylinders, and taking asphalt core samples. I watched how they took their tests, verified they were using the correct numbers and processes, and that their results matched what was required per specification.

It’s an iterative process to identify an issue, bring it to the Contractor’s attention, and ask them their method of resolving the issue; and if it is an issue that’s not made clear by taking a closer look at plans and specifications – it has to be run by the Engineer. At that point, an RPR must provide a clear descriptive explanation of the scenario and the feedback they are requesting from the Engineer.

As you can imagine, this process of going between the Contractor, Geotechnical Engineer, Engineer, Client, possibly the air traffic control tower and other personnel from the city or county can cause a variety of reactions. This could feel easy and simple or awkward, frustrating, and complex. Reactive communication is rarely effective communication. As an RPR, you will be subjected to many peoples’ reactions, including your own. You must remain calm and firm on your decisions while still maintaining a good relationship with the Contractor and Client. Communication involves coordinating schedule updates, preventing issues, addressing the Contractor’s request for changes and clarification, and problem-solving unanticipated issues.  An RPR must be clear, calm, and consider how communication truly can resolve most issues.

For a young engineer, independently being an RPR for the first time can be overwhelming. However, going onsite to gain that experience is the best method of learning to manage all the demands that come with this being an RPR. The on-site experience bridges the gap young engineers have between designing engineering plans and the construction of the project from those plans.  Having completed this experience, I feel significantly more equipped as an engineer than I did before.

Written by Sara Bateman, EIT

4 Safety Tips for Visiting a Construction Site

I-93 Construction Site Visit

Summer is known for vacation, beach days, barbecues, and last but not least, construction. During the summer months, it’s unlikely you’ll make it to any of your favorite summer destinations without encountering at least one construction site along the way.

Construction can be spotted from a mile away. First there are a dozen signs, then the traffic slows down by 10 mph or more, you may even see a cop car or two, finally you pass the workers in hard hats and fluorescent vests, hard at work turning our engineers’ designs into reality. Every operation on a construction site is designed with safety regulations and guidelines in mind; there is a reason for everything down to the color of the vest the workers are wearing.

Here at Hoyle, Tanner, we are committed to ensuring the safety of our employees, our clients and the workers who turn our designs into reality. In honor of Safety Month, we spoke to David Langlais, the Chair of the Safety Committee at Hoyle, Tanner about practicing basic safety on the job site in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) guidelines and regulations.

    1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
      This may go without saying but you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times when inside a work zone. Be aware and on high alert from the moment you arrive on-site. Remember where you are, sometimes one wrong move can change everything.  Hazards can be on the ground, like those that cause slips, trips, and falls, or in the air such as equipment coming into contact with electrical wires.  Make eye contact with equipment operators – if you can’t see them, they can’t see you.  Avoid fumes, dust, and particulates from cutting or grinding.  The first step to ensuring your safety when on a construction site is keeping the wellbeing of both yourself and others at the top of your concerns.  If it doesn’t seem safe, stay away, and contact a supervisor to assist you.  A list of common site hazards can be downloaded below. Check out this article on improving driver safety on construction sites, too.
    2. Prepare for the Elements
      Working outside in the elements can be dangerous. A day on the construction site is far different than another day at the office. Make sure you prepare for the weather conditions – whatever they may be. Especially in these summer months, the weather can change from calm and sunny to torrential downpours with lightning in an instant, so be sure to check hourly forecasts and plan your visit accordingly.  Anticipate what your needs will be before it becomes a threat to your safety, and know your limitations.  Oftentimes, we are called to observe work that puts us at a height, or in a confined space, or to walk long distances.  Communicate with your supervisor if you have difficulty with any of these.  Thousands of workers suffer from heat related illnesses each year. Practice heat prevention techniques – drink plenty of water, take breaks, and give yourself rest when necessary. Just because you aren’t at the beach doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear sunscreen. Take care of yourself and come prepared with everything you need to have a successful and comfortable day working outdoors. The physical environment can be a concern as well.  Ticks, mosquitoes, bees, and poison ivy are common problems when working outdoors.
    3. Wear Proper EquipmentSafety Garments Chart
      Wearing the proper safety equipment is required to enter the job site. Required equipment varies from site to site, but may include a safety helmet, protective eye glasses, gloves, high visibility clothing, hearing protection, and laced steel toe boots. The type of safety vest you need to wear varies based on the proximity between the jobsite and motor vehicles, speed of motor vehicles passing the job site, site visibility and complexity of background. When purchasing garments to wear on the job site, read the labels and only select clothing that meets ANSI/ISEA 107 standards. There are a number of products on the market that look similar to clothing that meet these standards but are in fact made of inferior material and do not provide the proper visibility and protection necessary to stay safe on a job sight. To learn more about the four classes of garments take a look at this chart:
    4. Be Prepared for Emergencies
      Sometimes no matter how safe you are, emergencies happen, and it’s important that you are prepared. When visiting a job site make sure you provide your supervisor with your emergency contact information. If you’re on an active construction site, check in with the site supervisor.  Bring a first aid kit – each service group and branch office has at least one for you to take with you.  Consider becoming CPR certified, it can never hurt to be educated in what to do in the case of injury or illness on the job site – it could save a life.

For regular site visitors, Hoyle, Tanner recommends completing a 10-hour OSHA training session to ensure you are caught up and aware of safety regulations and standards. The training will provide potential situations that may arise on any given day at the job site and walk you through how to properly mitigate the risk.

Situations that carry their own unique risks require special training, i.e. bridge inspections, wastewater treatment plant inspections, confined spaces and others. Our professionals at Hoyle, Tanner are trained and up-to-date on safety regulations and requirements and are committed to the safety of the client and construction personnel. We are currently working on systems that will help you and your supervisor identify and prepare for risks on the job site well ahead of your first site visit.

For more information on this topic, feel free to email our safety committee with any questions or concerns and someone will be happy to help you.

A Resident Project Represenative’s Perspective – Civil Engineers as ‘civil’ engineers

Recently while on-site, I was helping train a summer intern.  In describing what I do in the field vs. what she was learning in the classroom, one thing that came up was how I handle mitigating   public complaints – definitely experience you don’t gain in the classroom, but also something rarely discussed there either.  How I explained it to her, in general, was that we are Civil Engineers by education, but when we are dealing with public complaints we are called upon to be ‘civil’ engineers.

Parking Lot Construction As RPRs, we serve as the face of our clients, who in our field are more often than not public agencies –DOTs, municipalities, airports, and the like – that people rely on to provide them with clean water, handle their refuse, and provide safe roads and bridges to accommodate their travel from “point A” to “point B”, among other things. Every construction project has its share of challenges, but when it’s a public infrastructure project there is often more scrutiny from the public eye as it is their money funding the project and they have more of a stake in the final outcome.  RPRs are the civil engineers fielding the public concerns when there are “cracks in the driveway from blasting”, “sediment in the pond from digging”, or “no more trees screening my view from the highway”. We often hear from impassioned abutters who never had this problem before the “Town decided to re-do the bridge” or the “State decided to widen the highway”, and so on and so forth.

Utilities Construction Along Rt 28The complaints don’t come in when there’s a lull in construction; they often come in first thing on a Monday when everyone is trying to get organized for the busy week ahead.  They come in during the critical part of an operation.  They come in at the very end of a long day when the thoughts of the day’s activities can’t seem to wait any longer to make it into the daily report.  This is when we must remember to be ‘civil’ engineers by putting aside the stresses of the day to address the public with a thoughtful ear.  We must express a general concern for what the issue is, regardless of how minute or outlandish it may sound.  We must remind ourselves that it is difficult for most people to “see the forest through the trees”, especially well into the middle of a project when the area looks nothing like its former self, and a shadow of the finished product.  The concerned neighbor and the irate business owner are not focused on what the plan says (nor are most trained in reading the plan); they care about the immediate impact of the current construction effort.

By representing our clients in a ‘civil’ manor, we offer inflamed abutters a professional courtesy, and portray our clients’ intentions to address the issue at hand.  In some cases, this alone is enough to allay their fears – knowing that the project isn’t carrying on in a wonton fashion, but rather under watchful scrutiny.  Whether that neighbor is being cooperative or difficult, whether that business owner is being reasonable or unreasonable, we must remain ‘civil’ in our handling of their concerns – especially when we are tired, our patience is worn thin, and other situations on-site are demanding our attention.  To do otherwise would be a disservice to our clients, our profession, and the public we serve, and dare I say ‘uncivilized’.

RPR, or Resident Project Representative, is the general term for an inspector, resident engineer, contract administrator, clerk of the works, etc.; basically the field person responsible for ensuring that a project is constructed per the Contract Plans and Specifications and reporting back to the Owner.