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Upgraded subsurface utility standard comes into affect

Following a three year journey, a committee overseeing an upgrade to the management of subsurface utilities are celebrating with the release of Australian Standard AS5488 – Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE).

The updated standard addresses one of the key challenges on a construction site – when existing underground utilities are not documented accurately, or information on existing infrastructure is simply not available.

WGE’s Rob Sansbury has been involved with the upgrade of AS5488 since the beginning, canvassing Engineers Australia before getting Standards Australia involved for support.

“I feel a combination of being immensely proud and tremendously relieved, “ Rob said of the newly-released Standard. 

“To be honest, if someone had said to me three years ago that it was going to take three to four years to get it across the line, I’m not so sure I would have done it.

“But, this is kind of one of those altruistic things that when my engineering career ends, if my greatest input is contributing towards the upgrade of an Australian standard, I’ll feel very proud about it. I know this is a really fantastic document; now, it comes down to how people choose to use the information.”

Rob sat on the committee as Engineer Australia’s national representative, working alongside organisations including Australian Industry Group, Australian Institute of Mine Surveyors, Austroads, Dial Before You Dig, Energy Networks Australia, Geospatial Information & Technology Association, National Utility Locating Contractors Association, NBN Co, Roads Australia, SafeWork NSW, Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute, and Water Services Association of Australia.

“The first time the Standard came to the fore was in 2013, there wasn’t a Standard in Australia before then,” he said. 

“I was working on the Gold Coast Light Rail project and during my interaction with Queensland Transport Main Roads I learned that a standard was being put together. I was asked if I wanted to sit on a sub-committee to contribute to that standard. That was in 2011, with the standard released in 2013.

“However, in my opinion it was incomplete. There was critical information, particularly from a design engineering point of view, that was missing. Personally I felt there was some unfinished business to produce a more holistic standard that encompasses everything critical to subsurface utilities.”

Rob set to work petitioning industry advocacy groups, such as Engineers Australia, to expand and improve on the information in the original standard. 

“There are six Standards across the world now, Australia included. Before now all the other standards – from United States to Great Britain, also in Ecuador –  all their Standards were far superior to ours. Australia just didn’t have a national standard that was robust enough,” he said.

“The content I’ve contributed towards the new standard is unashamedly biased from a design engineer’s perspective. What it’s intended to do is provide recommendations and information by which the management of subsurface utilities, or SUE, can be done better. There’s a range of items that Part 2 deals with that advises how design and utility engineers in a consulting space can better manage subsurface utilities.

“There’s no doubt that utility authorities, developers, constructors and contractors – really, the industry at large will develop benefit from this. At the end of the day, the Standard is creating a safer, lower risk, less expensive means by which to manage subsurface utilities.”

As the industry moves forward and technology continues to improve, Rob says it will see a natural evolution in the AS5488 document beyond the new 2019 version.

“As equipment becomes high tech and changes, and we have different means by which we can locate and design utilities, so the Standard will evolve,” he said.

Following the release of the upgraded AS5488, Rob has been invited to speak at the World Engineers Convention, which is being held in Melbourne later this year. The presentation will discuss the new upgraded Standard and how the industry at large can benefit from it.

Those who are interested in learning more about the upgraded Standard can do so now through an online training module.

Open Learning, in partnership with Engineering Education Australia and Consult Australia, developed an online AS5488 training module aimed at practitioners who manage subsurface utilities – including engineers, designers, managers and state or council authorities.

The online module covers:

  • Defining what subsurface utilities are
  • How subsurface utilities are currently managed in Australia
  • Case studies that demonstrate how issues can escalate within the current framework
  • Who is responsible for different aspects of utilities and projects
  • The importance of following existing international standards of managing subsurface utilities

For more information about how to access the training, visit the Open Learning website.

Wood & Grieve Engineers, now part of Stantec, would like to congratulate Rob Sansbury and his colleagues for their efforts in realising the upgraded AS5488 and for helping improve the property industry for everyone involved.

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