What is involved when you are asked to go to the field?  If you are truly a knowledgeable and experienced designer or engineer you are supposed to know the answer to that question.  If you are a novice, new to the business or if you have never been to a job site you will not know.  However, you should be smart enough to ask.  Yet, we see many cases where people show up at a job site, uninformed of what they are supposed to do, and unprepared to do it. 


I remember a case that is a classic.  A team of four were selected and sent to a job site.  All the members had ten plus years of experience so the supervisor made the assumption that they all knew what was expected.  The individuals involved happened to live in a widely scattered area and were to travel from different airports and at different times.  This point eventually contributed in part to the problem because there was no face to face meeting in the office or at the airport before getting on the plane.  Friday they were all given (or sent) plane tickets and directions for finding the plant and were to meet at the job site on arrival on Monday.

Three of the four seemed to know what was expected.  The forth, a contract employee, new to the company, but with more than thirty years of total experience proved to be the exception.  This person showed up in “dress casual” and with nothing in hand.  The supervisor, thinking the person had left his work clothes in the car or some place close by, told him to change into his field gear and be ready to go to work.  “Change, into what?”  “What field gear?”  To make a long story short, this person had only brought casual clothes and had brought nothing in the way of field gear or tools.  He had no work shoes, no work clothes, no hard hat, no safety glasses, and no hearing protection.  He also had no pencil, eraser, sketch paper, no clipboard, and no tape measure.  Nothing!  When asked why not, the answer was that he expected the company or the client to supply everything.  As quietly as possible the person was told that he was fired and to leave the job site, go get on the plane and go home. 

The situation proved to be an embarrassment to not only the supervisor but also the company.  You see job sites such as the type we had in this case are tight little communities and you cannot keep secrets from people who are in charge.  It was not long before the company construction manager and the client both knew about the fiasco.  Although they agreed with sending the employee away, they were not happy with the cost and the effect on the schedule.  They expected everyone to show up ready, willing and able to work. 

Ready, willing, and able to work means everybody.  It means all the members of the team.  It includes the team leader and each individual engineer or designer.  The balance of this article is intended to be a guide to any individual who is required to go to a job site to perform work.  It is offered to held define the major procedural and technical issues related to making the field trip both cost effective and safe.

When it is recognized that a trip is required, the first thing that is normally done is to define the purpose of the trip and obtain all required approvals.  This is normally done at the project senior supervisory and management levels.  We will not dwell on why a field trip is required.  What we need to do is insure that it is done right. 

The next thing to do is activate the team.  Engineers or designers assigned to a field team for routine fieldwork or specific problem solving need to be selected carefully.  They should be selected on the basis of knowledge and prior experience.  They may also need specific skills, or the familiarity with operations, maintenance, or construction.

In order to activate the team the following may be required:

  • Names & phone numbers of client site primary & secondary "Key" contacts
  • Names of the engineering company primary & secondary contacts
  • Name of the person responsible for decision making, time sheet and expense report approval
  • Team member names
  • Assign someone as the team leader, someone in charge
  • Team member release from present assignment (if applicable)
  • Travel arrangements (Airline, lodging, ground transportation, meals, etc.)
  • Maps to site location, site logistics, site safety criteria, badges, camera pass and site access 
  • Charge number for this (Problem/Solution) assignment

Next, before leaving for the site, there should be a pre-trip meeting of all the team members.  The direct supervisor who is responsible for the team and the results should conduct this pre-trip meeting.  The agenda for this meeting should include a review of the purpose of the trip and the expected results.  Have a plan for everyone and for all the work objectives. Other items that should be covered would include the chain of command, the schedule, the cost and expense issues, and an exchange of phone numbers for emergency contacts.  Review what to do if someone misses the plane, etc.

On arrival, check in with the key Client contact person and the jobsite construction manager.  Safety is the first and most important step of the actual site visit.  Make sure that every member of the team has received the site-specific safety training.  Know and understand the emergency warning system and the evacuation routes.  Identify and agree on a place to meet, if there is a possibility of getting separated.

Engineers and Designers who visit a Client facility or site are expected to know the type of work they will be doing when they arrive and should be prepared to take prompt action to address that work.  They are also expected to have with them the tools and supplies required for their jobs. 

Standard safety clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) Requirements:

  •  Hard hat
  •  Goggles or safety glasses w/ permanent side shields (no contact lenses and no removable side shields)
  •  Work shoes (check, some job sites require steel toed work boots)
  •  Gloves
  •  Ear protection
  • Respirator with Cartridges (When required)
  • NOMEX or Equivalent flame retarding outer wear (This is sometimes optional depending on the client or type of plant)

Basic tools:

  • Pencils and markers, a clip board, straightedge
  • Sketch paper and Isometric forms
  • 25 ft. Tape measure

Alternate tools that may be helpful

  • String line, Plumb Bob, and String Level (Used for measurements)
  • Stopwatch (Used for checking frequency of events)
  • Medical type Stethoscope (Used for listening for unusual noises inside of pipes)
  • Camera (Requires Client approval and pass)

The team should not expect to borrow any tools or supplies from the Client.   If a new requirement for tools or supplies is identified, after arrival at the site, the team should arrange to rent or purchase the item and turn in the cost on an expense report.  An exception may be made if the required item is unusual and or very costly and the client has the item available.

Once in the field and trained in the site safety criteria, the team is ready to go to work.  Everyone should go about the work in a prompt and professional manner.  Where possible, fieldwork should be done by two person teams.  The people on each team should check each other’s work as the work progresses.  They should review their list of activities and tasks as they proceed.  Review the trip plan.  It’s better to get too much information thus insuring you do not miss something.  Remember that this job site may be thousands of miles from your home office.  A return trip for one missed item could be very costly. 

Check in with the home office daily or per previous instructions.  Let the home office supervisor know the progress of the planned work and ask if there are any new requirements. Proceed through the list of all planned trip requirements.  Perform all activities and tasks.  Do no return from the job site until all planned items are complete (unless directed otherwise).  It is also recommended that you check in with the site construction manager on a daily basis.  There may be additional project needs that have come up.  There may also be a change in some critical site condition that could effect the team safety.  When leaving the job site you should check out with the construction manager and your client host.

Upon return to the office, there should be a debriefing meeting.  The responsible supervisor, the project engineer (or manager) and all team members should attend.  Review the purpose of the trip, the results.  Review the trip plan.  Did you accomplish everything that was required?  If not, why not? Were there any problems?  Were they solved and what were the solutions?  Are there any lessons to be learned from this trip?  Is another trip required?  If so why?  And when will the next trip be required? 

Every field trip should be planned and executed in a proper and cost effective manner.  If so, then the project will benefit.  The individuals on the team also benefit.  They gain value and a reputation for being an experienced and effective candidate for future fieldwork.  Good luck and have a safe and successful trip. 

About the Author


{cb:Lee Smith is the Owner/Operator of Smith Design, CADWorx and AutoCAD experienced,}

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