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Signing Letters for CMT

Signing Letters for CMT

While not exactly the same situation I have i mind, this other post( got me thinking more about something I already think about quite a bit.

As the head engineer in my branch office, I routinely seal all kinds of letters verifying that "results of or tests and observations indicate the project was constructed in general accordance with the project specifications". About 99.999% of the time, I've never been to the project to witness any of the construction. We rely completely on our field technicians to monitor construction unless an issue of some sort arises. We have CMT PM's who are supposed to keep tabs on the techs, but that doesn't always happen as designed. The fact is, many of our field technicians are not to be trusted. This is a dirty truth at all firms in my area and has been since the dawn of CMT time. The industry simply doesn't allow for high enough pay to retain a majority of truly skilled and knowledgeable field techs in the southern US.

The company I work for is very successful and pumps out work like a factory. I feel uncomfortable signing these hundreds of documents a year even though the way we operate is all within standards of practice. Nobody is putting a gun to my head for my seal, but I have to be willing to play ball if I expect to maintain my position as a manager or advance. I don't seal anything with failing tests (that I can find) but my faith in the quality of passing tests is limited. It seems that at least 20 percent of the jobs that are presented to me for review (meaning the building is already there and everything is supposed to be good to go) have issues with them.

Here is an example of what makes me nervous: I recently had a project where we did the testing and were not the geotechnical engineer of record. They were supposed to place 4 ft of select fill over 6 ft of moisture conditioned soil in order to build spread footings. This recommendation was in an addendum report that was noted on the plans. What actually happened was that they only put 1 ft of select fill over 9 ft of moisture conditioning (improvement intended for slab foundation) and then built spread footings. We didn't have compaction tests for the select fill - not even observations. This is the Contractor's fault for not calling us out to the site. However, the CMT PM (who happens to be the office manager) submitted a conformance letter. When the Client requested a sealed copy for a certificate of occupancy, I get involved and find all these problems which is too late to fix. I didn't seal anything but it was a cluster.

Does anyone else in geotech have this concern or deal with these kind of issues?

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

The firm for which I work currently does very little CMT, so take what I've got to say with a big grain of salt. I also don't work much in the deep south, but I've certainly seen the kind of thing you are describing.

I've seen the type of problems that you discuss on other projects, often after lawyers have become involved. How do you say in a deposition that you have little faith in the work of your own technicians? If you don't trust them, they shouldn't work for you.

Remember, in just about every state, as a professional engineer you are personally responsible for the work that you sign and/or seal. It isn't your company that is going to loose, it is you when you loose your license to work as an engineer.

As for what to do, make some tough choices. First are you working for the right firm? Second, are you employing the right people as technicians? As CMT project managers? Fix the problems in your own firm.

I'm not saying that any of this will be easy and it may require that you find a different company to work for. The alternative is that you are one project away from not being able to call yourself an engineer. Is what you are currently doing worth that?

Mike Lambert

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

You should get out of the CMT business. There are no margins and many of the engineers just stamp anything they see.
CMT/goetech engineers are generally not respected for many of the issues you mentioned.
You will likely eventually be sued. Even if you are defended and idemnified by your company, are you willing to go through the court process?
Your office manager's behavior indicates that he is not serious about engineering and does not respect engineers.

This may be a little pessimistic, but it has been my experience in the SE US. Everything is rubber stamped.
I'm sure there are good engineers in the business, but I don't see how anyone can stick it out in the low margin, commodity environment.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

I get the gist of this, and agree with GeoPaveTraffic and jgailla, but would like to know what CMT stands for.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

CMT = Construction Materials Testing.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

I assume you do nothing but QC testing and from what it sounds like, their is no QA testing being done. So you are a sub to the contractor. the owner also loses here, not getting what he thought he was paying for. Just a bit of QA testing by the owner can usually convince the contractor to quit cheating. Maybe you just need to stop working for the low ball contractors and work for ones that pay you to actually do your job. By the way, this is apparently only a problem with some private construction, public works owners usually pay for both QA and QC.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

Yes CMT department does only QC testing, not QA. Our client is typically the owner. The contractor is the one who knows when they will be placing concrete, compacting soil, etc., so they are usually responsible for scheduling the tests and inspections, but do not pay for them. On big enough jobs we have someone onsite full time but that expense cannot (will not) be justified by the owner on most common jobs. There are occasions when we work for the contractor, but its not the norm. These contractors are usually the better ones involved in design-build.

The majority of jobs are above board with all parties trying to do the right thing. However, some contractors work harder to cut corners than to just to the job correctly. Even with the majority of jobs being okay, when you are involved with thousands of jobs a year, company wide, you get a lot of jobs with problems too.

CMT is just part of what I do. I manage the engineering department as well.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

ok, so if you are working for the owner, than there really is no QC. QC is always done and paid for by the contractor. QA is always done and paid for by the owner in order to checkup on the contractor's QC work. The owner is getting what he paid for which is not a hell of a lot if you can't afford to make regular visits to the site. you need to fire the cheaters.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

I spent many years in the CMT business with a couple of professional firms and then my own business. It is a difficult way to make a living if you do it right. I was later involved with another firm that had a setup similar to what the OP described; however, I was responsible for a region of the company and could not condone some of the practices of other offices and did not run my region that way. I was never in favor with the accounting side of the corporate office, even though my region was eventually profitable and doing things correctly. I had to fire two employees for unethical was a licensed engineer and one was an experienced technician who acted more like a salesman.

One significant issue with this setup is the use of non-licensed managers (PM's) and non-licensed Branch Managers. This concept gives financial responsibility to people who have no ethical obligation, no legal obligation and no buy-in to the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public. They are concerned only with making clients happy and profitability, with profitability being the number one goal. They end up with poorly trained technicians who either don't understand what they should do or don't care that they do it wrong. Don't get me wrong. There are some excellent CMT technicians out there who do an outstanding job of testing and observation in the way that it should be done. These are the people that engineers can rely on to be their eyes and ears on a jobsite.

Terratek,it sounds like your boss is a non-engineer. If so,in my not so humble opinion,it is a mistake.....both for you and the company; however, the company won't realize it because they are likely run by accountants or jaded engineers. You are being pressured to compromise your engineering integrity on a daily basis. You have no control over the personnel who should be protecting your engineering interests and the owner's interests. I would also guess that your best clients are contractors and you readily compete in that market as compared to being the owner's testing representatives.

I don't understand your reluctance to sign and seal a failing test. Most of what I do is forensic investigation of structural and construction failures and when I review test reports and see no failures, I get suspicious. All tests should be reported, good and bad. That's one thing that leads me to believe your clients are mostly contractors. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I've seen it many times over. My suspicion in those cases takes two forms....first, the technician didn't fail anything because he and the contractor are too close or he is afraid to fail a test because someone might then question his ability. Those same two premises can be true of the firm as well.

I had no problem reporting a failing test. Everyone in the process learns from it. Yes, sometimes your ability gets called into question; however, if you know what you're doing and can validate each of your processes and computations, there is no issue in my opinion. Yes, it is difficult to tell people things they don't want to hear....but ethically it's your job to give a clear picture of the issues and failing tests are issues that need resolution.

Unfortunately what you've described has become somewhat the norm for the CMT business. It has become a commodity service. Engineering employees and the public are the losers in this.

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

i could post so much on this topic that my family would get upset that i didn't have thanksgiving....

i will throw out a few lucid thoughts until i get beckoned... too often CMT PM's have misunderstood their budget overruns and/or miscommunicated them to their clients. The CMT industry in the SE USA is crap so you have a huge turnover of PM's so project estimation and project performing knowledge is hardly ever retained to build upon. invariably, PM's will blow the budget because everybody is imagining the quickest time to build or they are using a preconstruction contractor schedule which is similarly fiction so that the estimated budget doesn't kill the job in proposal phase... and go looking for retesting and all the other "blame the contractor" reasons the budget was blown. Usually this explain-and-ask-for-more-money process is when many PM's learn just exactly how much time was wasted, and in some cases they can't really be sure because inspectors are writing down fails... just calling a fail "work-in-progress". The letters they write to the Client hardly ever discuss the root causes of budget problems. Almost every spec out there has a spec clause that the Contractor is to pay for all retests. This clause was never intended to be enforced on routine construction, but really should be reserved for when the crap hits the fan. All those budget overrun letters have the unintended effect of creating an an additional conflict between Inspection/Testing and the Contractor. testing and inspection has become such a commodity that you really are looking at making people who could earn more money delivering pizza the only eyes/ears..... gotta go

RE: Signing Letters for CMT

> 9 million stories in the Naked City . . .

RE: Signing Letters for CMT


I understand your situation as my scope of work is similar to yours.
However, in Australia (at least in my State) you have a Standard (AS3798-2007 Section 8)which will more or less protect you from such situations. I believe you have such standards in US too.

I will briefly state what's the practice here.

When you sign the contract with the client for the service, you have two options to provide the services to the client

1. Geotechnical Inspection & Testing Authority (GITA) - Level 1 Inspection & Testing
2. Geotechnical Testing Authority (GTA) - Level 2 Inspection & Testing

In Level 1 Contract, we are responsible for ensuring that the inspection and testing is sufficient for the project and have competent personnel on site at all the time inspecting and testing the work. The personnel got to be either Geotechnical Professional or Experienced Technician. You have to have site lab or be able to test all the laboratory compaction testing on the same day as you have to sign off holdpoints often the same day. IF you are not happy with the number you get in density test or any other inspection without doing laboratory test you can ask to rework/replace the layer. At the same time you are visually inspecting the material that has been placed by the contractor and sample it for material assessment testing according to the frequency specified. At the end of the project, we have to provide compliance letter indicating that the earthwork has been carry out as per the specification. So, there is very little chance of happening what you have mentioned in your project.

In Level 2 Contract, client has to provide the test request form then the technician goes to the site and carry out the testing. The client is responsible for showing the area and frequency of testing however, technician choose exactly where to test. At the end of the project we do not have to write any compliance letter to the client. The client's QA officer writes the compliance letter based on our test results.

So i believe you shall have such contracts to stay away from possible litigation.

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