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Subsurface Utility Engineering enhanced through collaboration

April 20, 2019

Consult Australia talks to Stantec about the importance of understanding of managing subsurface utilities in Consulting Matters

The process of managing subsurface utilities can only be a success in Australia (and quite frankly, most places in the world) with collaboration by all stakeholders. These stakeholders include a long list of project owners, developers, project managers, State and local authorities, public utility authorities, design engineers, surveyors, locaters and last (but no means least) the constructor on the ground. The contention of this article is that the correct practice of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is very much dependent on successful collaboration amongst all stakeholders.

Stantec has been working with Standards Australia and Engineers Australia to improve our country’s generally poorly regulated approach to managing underground utilities. The new approach looks to focus on solutions implemented during the engineering design process rather than waiting until construction occurs, as is current practice.

The Standards Australia committee has recently completed the upgrade of AS5488 which will now include a new Part 2 that focuses on the management of of subsurface utilities and is expected to be available in /Australia (via SAI Global) in March 2019. This committee has been chaired by former Queensland Department of Main Roads Director General Bruce Wilson. Bruce himself is an outstanding advocate for collaboration and has been throughout his long and distinguished career.

SUE refers to an engineering management process that involves engineering, geophysics and geospatial disciplines and technologies to manage certain risks associated with utility mapping at appropriate quality levels, utility coordination, utility relocation design and coordination, utility condition assessment, communication of Subsurface Utility Information (SUI) utility data to concerned parties, utility relocation cost estimates, implementation of utility accommodation policies, and utility designs.

So in review of this definition of SUE, it is evident that this process can only be successful with good collaboration. There are so many intricacies and nuances associated with developing a project in consideration of what utilities may be affected and if so how to design around, protect or relocate them. Anyone who has worked within arm’s length of subsurface utilities will recall negative outcomes and on review will most likely agree that with better collaboration, ‘things might have ended better’.

Fives countries have SUE standards in place – the USA, Canada, UK, Malaysia and Ecuador.

Specifically with regards to Canada and again on the collaboration front. The concepts of mergers are by no means foreign to the engineering industry both within Australia and abroad. Stantec's National Underground Utility Manager Rob Sansbury says, “The collaboration that we have enjoyed with Stantec to date, across numerous aspects of our business, has been truly enlightening and most rewarding.”

Canada has a subsurface utility standard known as CSA 250, and Sansbury has picked up close collaboration with Canadian counterparts of his within Stantec, to further align approaches to the management of subsurface utilities. “We have much to learn from such a large organisation that has been managing subsurface utility designs across enormous projects for a number of years.”

Sansbury further notes that. “A key factor in the success of the upgraded AS5488 will be if it is released to an informed marketplace. The current AS5488 has not been well adopted, primarily as a result of ineffective collaboration within the marketplace and we realise that, in parallel with upgrading AS5488 we needed to create a training course that was accessible to all to permit collaboration toward an improved environment within which to manage subsurface utilities.”

This article first appeared in Consult Australia‘s official quarterly publication, Consulting Matters; first published 18 April 2019.

  • Rob Sansbury

    An infrastructure section manager in our Brisbane office, Rob has more than 27 years as a civil engineer. He’s worked on infrastructure development in the Defence, hospitality, healthcare, and commercial sectors.

    Contact Rob
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