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Spring Forward, Move Forward

By March 6, 2020 April 23rd, 2020 Uncategorized

Our new decade is off to what seems like a roaring start. Already we are heading towards daylight savings time with spring around the corner.

Spring often serves as a reminder to tackle the never ending list of household tasks– changing batteries on the smoke detector, changing furnace filters, yard work, flipping mattresses, etc. – we all have a list of items that need to be revisited occasionally.

Today, I want to revisit a blog I wrote titled Today is Tomorrow, in which I showed some parallels between Groundhog Day the movie and the containment system industry. A brief synopsis of the movie is that arrogant, egotistical weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and ends up reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. As the same day passes by with the same sequence of events happening each time, Phil learns that he can not only change to avoid the pitfalls contained within the day, but open himself up to learning new skills.

The process causes Phil to have a major change of character, from a person who loathes everything to one who sincerely cares about everything, allowing him to ultimately break the repetitive cycle and move beyond Groundhog Day and resume his life.

Like Phil, I developed a true compassion – one for this industry that I really never thought I would have 30 years ago as an entry level technician. The daily sparring with contractors is enough to wear anyone out, but I often used the same tact that Phil did – I tried to change my approach the next day to help get me closer to what I wanted – a quality project. As I’ve grown in this industry, I realized I wanted far more than that – I want every project throughout the industry to achieve the best quality it can have. This really is our legacy as an industry – to push each other toward the goal of excellence. That excellence is what gets us out of the rut, out of our “Groundhog Day”.

So, on the first workday of February 2020, our staff took about 30 minutes to evaluate some of the common issues we see, year after year in containment systems. I’ve put together a list of the top 25 (or so) items we see, project to project, contractor to contractor, market sector to market sector. To keep this blog short and sweet, I will break down the list into the top 5 for both geosynthetic and compacted clay liner components – the complete list can be viewed at the end of this blog post.

The purpose of the fire alarm battery change reminder associated with the time change is to keep people safe while the air filter change improves air quality and HVAC efficiency.

Let’s make the daylight savings date serve as a reminder to do our part for helping the industry move forward each year and increase the quality on our containment projects. Put this list on your desk, your laptop, your fridge – wherever it will serve as a reminder that by each of us taking small steps, we can change the industry.

In no particular order, here are our Top 5 for the lists:

Each of the following items can be eliminated with relative ease, simply through proper education and training.

Our Top 5

Geosynthetics:

  • Anchor Trench – Garbage in the anchor trench is a huge quality issue. Improperly crossing the anchor trench by jumping over it remains a huge safety issue as well. I wonder how many of these injuries are reported each year? This is one of the easiest and cheapest to avoid safety issues out there!
  • Seaming – Operators slowing down the wedge immediately prior to taking end coupons. Hopefully, the data recording wedges will put an end to this practice.
  • Air Pressure Testing – All tests recorded on the geomembrane with a starting pressure and ending pressure of 30 PSI. Definitely time to keep an eye on the crew if you start seeing this trend!
  • Vacuum box testing – always some type of issue (poor gaskets, faulty equipment, doesn’t pull required vacuum, technicians don’t know what a leak is, improper time, improper overlap, etc.). QA personnel also often miss these items and the units of the gauge (typically kPa or inHg, not PSI).
  • Repairs – Temporary repairs are heat tacked and sit through precipitation/condensation events without being replaced prior to final welding. Many specifications do not address this and weld quality suffers as a result (moisture in seam).

Earthwork – Compacted Clay Liners:

  • Nuclear Gauge Standardization – far too many technicians do not properly standardize their gauges each day. The standardization is the foundation from which the test results are based – inaccurate standardization often contributes to faulty results.
  • Lift Thickness. Is there any training on converting inches to tenths of a foot? So many operators claim that they are putting down an 8” loose lift when in fact they are putting down a 10” loose lift because of the confusion between inches and tenths on their equipment. 8” = 0.67 feet; 10” = 0.83 feet. Guess which one we most commonly encounter.
  • Lift Bonding – Smoothening the existing surface prior to/during placement of a subsequent lift. This leads to poor bonding between lifts which is ultimately a pathway for liquid/gas migration and shear failure on slopes. QA’s still often fail to identify this, both as it is happening, and as indicated by the peeling portions of the lift as a cut is made for their density test by a dozer or compactor blade.
  • Lift Compaction vs Rototilling. Most often observed on slopes, but occasionally on flat surfaces with very wet clays, the compaction drums spin as they churn their way through the clay instead of a uniform rotation.
  • Lift Maintenance. If you want to watch an earthwork contractors head spin, ask them what their plans are for maintaining the clay during a long weekend or over a holiday. Often there is no plan in place – no one wants to pay for an operator to work over this timeframe to keep the soil properly conditioned. Sometimes they luck out and it rains. Most times, desiccation occurs, which results in fixes far costlier (time and money) than having a person work over the timeframe of the break in construction.

Complete List

Geosynthetics

  • Specifications – Cookie cutter specifications remain a common issue in the industry that cause delays, quality issues, and even lawsuits.
  • Subgrade – Earthwork contractor often swears it is the “best ever” even though it clearly does not meet specifications and/or manufacturer recommendations. Contract structure often ties the installers hands – even for “Manufacturer Approved Installers” that don’t follow the manufacturers installation manual in this regard.
  • Anchor Trench – Garbage in the anchor trench is a huge quality issue. Improperly crossing the anchor trench by jumping over it remains a huge safety issue as well. I wonder how many of these injuries are reported each year? This is one of the easiest and cheapest to avoid safety issues out there!
  • Material Deployment – not knowing which side of certain geomembranes are required to be up. This is particularly important on certain textured materials, where interface friction testing is involved.
  • Trial Seams/Destructs – QA/QC personnel not looking for peel separation on coupons, not testing different interfaces (smooth/smooth, textured/smooth, textured/textured, etc.), and not testing according to durations specified. Cooling coupons in ice water prior to testing is another common issue.
  • Trial Seams/Destructs – Improper testing speed for the material being tested. Even installation project managers occasionally get this one wrong when the speed is not specified but the ASTM is.
  • Seaming – Operators slowing down the wedge immediately prior to taking end coupons. Hopefully, the data recording wedges will put an end to this practice.
  • Seaming – Cord Length. How much footage of cord is too long? See the manufacturer’s recommendations. All too often, this is an overlooked issue.
  • Seaming – Welding through water, mud, dirt, paint. All will cause weld failure, yet we continue to see this. Recently we even seen a welder put his hardhat over the welding machine (fusion) during a torrential rain to protect the welder. What about the seam and the rollers having 2” of mud on them by the time the seam was finished?
  • Air Pressure Testing – Removing the needle before releasing air from opposing end to verify length of test.
  • Air Pressure Testing – All tests recorded on the geomembrane with a starting pressure and ending pressure of 30 PSI. Definitely time to keep an eye on the crew if you start seeing this trend!
  • Vacuum box testing – always some type of issue (poor gaskets, faulty equipment, doesn’t pull required vacuum, technicians don’t know what a leak is, improper time, improper overlap, etc.). QA personnel also often miss these items and the units of the gauge (typically kPa or inHg, not PSI).
  • Carelessness that damages the geomembrane, particularly from clamps. Unrounded clamps cause stresses or holes along the seam edge that often go unnoticed and unrepaired. Likewise, technicians still toss their clamps on the liner, causing damage.
  • Extrusion welding large caps. Many times, fusion welding could be done to minimize the amount of extrusion welding required, as well as providing a significantly higher quality weld. Specifications don’t require this – subsequently quality suffers.
  • Repairs – Temporary repairs are heat tacked and sit through precipitation/condensation events without being replaced prior to final welding. Many specifications do not address this and weld quality suffers as a result (moisture in seam).
  • Final Walk Through – Who bothers with this anymore? I feel this step is essential to ensuring nothing is missed and unknown damages (i.e. wildlife) have not occurred, but the practice is rather limited, unfortunately.
  • Safety – Does everyone on the crew fully understand the safety and activity plan for the day? They all signed off on the daily safety briefing. My bet is that they don’t. Language barriers prevent this and we’ve unfortunately observed many meetings where no one translates to other languages. Somewhere on these sign-in sheets should be a column for spoken language and a checkbox indicating they received direction in their spoken language.

Earthwork – Compacted Clay Liners

  • Nuclear Gauge Standardization – far too many technicians do not properly standardize their gauges each day. The standardization is the foundation from which the test results are based – inaccurate standardization often contributes to faulty results.
  • Nuclear Gauge Standardization vs Calibration. The terms are often misunderstood and misused. Calibration is usually done by a trained professional on an annual basis. Standardization should be done daily at a minimum unless project specifications require a more stringent frequency.
  • Lift Thickness. Is there any training on converting inches to tenths of a foot? So many operators claim that they are putting down an 8” loose lift when in fact they are putting down a 10” loose lift because of the confusion between inches and tenths on their equipment. 8” = 0.67 feet; 10” = 0.83 feet. Guess which one we most commonly encounter.
  • Lift Bonding – Smoothening the existing surface prior to/during placement of a subsequent lift. This leads to poor bonding between lifts which is ultimately a pathway for liquid/gas migration and shear failure on slopes. QA’s still often fail to identify this, both as it is happening, and as indicated by the peeling portions of the lift as a cut is made for their density test by a dozer or compactor blade.
  • Lift Bonding – Scarification vs clod reduction/disking. Scarification should only impact the top inch or so of a previously completed lift to promote lift bonding. Far too often, the contractor sets the disc to full depth, meaning they just destroyed the previous completed lift.
  • Maximum Particle Size – Usually specified for a reason, such as making sure adequate compactive energy is transferred through the entire lift, it is still uncommon to see rock-pickers removing oversize materials that can inhibit compaction or create pathways for liquid/gas migration.
  • Lift Compaction vs Rototilling. Most often observed on slopes, but occasionally on flat surfaces with very wet clays, the compaction drums spin as they churn their way through the clay instead of a uniform rotation.
  • Lift Maintenance. If you want to watch an earthwork contractors head spin, ask them what their plans are for maintaining the clay during a long weekend or over a holiday. Often there is no plan in place – no one wants to pay for an operator to work over this timeframe to keep the soil properly conditioned. Sometimes they luck out and it rains. Most times, desiccation occurs, which results in fixes far costlier (time and money) than having a person work over the timeframe of the break in construction.