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Geotechnical Hazards: Challenges to Construction


Geotechnical Hazards

Before working on construction projects, contractors must ensure there aren't any geotechnical hazards that could make the work conditions dangerous or the building unsafe. 


A geotechnical engineer can assess the current conditions and provide a report on their findings, sharing ways to mitigate vulnerabilities and ensure stability.


Today, we're taking a look at some of the most common hazards that can occur and how Canadian builders can account for them before moving forward. 


What Does a Geotechnical Engineer Do?

geotechnical engineer conducts a thorough site assessment before construction work begins. In addition to identifying early indicators of geotechnical risk, they will also consider how future changes could affect those conditions, such as:


  • Temperature changes

  • Infrastructure changes

  • Weather fluctuations 


Most areas require a geotechnical assessment before permitting a building project. Even if this step isn't required, it's still a smart best practice, as it can save a client time and money, as well as protect anyone working on-site.


Geologist vs. Geotechnical Engineer

While the two terms sound similar, a geotechnical engineer is not the same as a geologist. 


A geotechnical engineer uses their professional expertise and in-depth knowledge of soil mechanics to determine how to safely build on a site. As such, their work is usually focused specifically on construction and civil engineering projects.


A geologist also knows about soil, but they're usually focused on researching different aspects of earth science. They're interested in learning about how rocks form and change over time, working mostly in academic settings. 


Common Geotechnical Hazards When Building

A geotechnical hazard is any type of earth movement that could affect the way a building sits on the earth. For instance, if the soil or groundwater shifts over time, it could render the foundation unsafe and unstable.


Still, this doesn't mean the work must stop. Geotechnical engineers can usually suggest strategic engineering solutions to support the structure for the long term.


Some of the most common risks they encounter include:


  • Sudden settlement or sinking (due to underground movement)

  • Gradual settlement (due to building loads pushing water out of the soil)

  • Upward ground movement or heaving (due to soil swelling or expansion)

  • Land slumping (similar to a short landslide)

  • Toppling or forward-tilting rocks

  • Fractures/cracks within or below the ground


These hazards can pose a threat both during and after construction. If they occur during the project, they can make the ground unstable and put the building at risk of moving. If they happen afterward, the newly built property could shift along with the ground. 


Get a Geotechnical Report You Can Trust

If you're about to begin work on a construction project, it's important to get a thorough and accurate geotechnical report to make sure the conditions are acceptable. 


Our engineers can assess current and future geotechnical hazards at your job site and provide you with a detailed report of their findings and recommendations. 


Interested in learning more about our geotechnical engineering services and how we can serve your construction project? If you're in Toronto, ON or the GTA region, visit Fisher Engineering or send us a message to connect!


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