Calling drifter

29 March 2017

In this issue we have a comment article written by Martin Knights, a past president of the International Tunnelling Association calling on engineers to “value their signature” and think about what they are putting their names to when they sign off on something. It starts on page 18 and is well worth a read.

But there are instances when you might not want to put your name to something.

A number of years ago there was a regular section in Tunnels and Tunnelling that we called Drifter. The article was written anonymously by whoever wrote in to us with some irritation about the state of a project, practice, or the industry at large. The only thing the authors had in common was a desire not to put their name to the article.

Past topics have included “half the money on site investigation is wasted”, “we can claim little or no credit for improvement in site communication” or even “tunnellers must take to social media to promote the industry”. But there have been many more.

The revival of drifter is a topic that has been coming up more regularly in conversations at the bar. We have seen clients’ paranoia grow, bringing with it the excessive gagging of engineers over even noncontroversial topics.

In the UK the rise has been relatively sudden. On major projects, if you are not seconded to the client, you are now often not allowed to speak to the press. This is not brand new, but there has been a change in the obstinacy of some clients, while in other countries it is a more traditional state of affairs that the client or the state controls who has the right to comment or what is an appropriate area of discussion.

Drifter frees you of the fear of retribution from your paymaster, so if you or a colleague have anything you want to say but can’t, email me and take up the role for a month. Your name will not appear in print but you will get your message out to the readers and wider industry.

Drifter, I look forward to hearing from you.