A Day in the Life of a Construction Oversight Engineer

Have you ever wondered what it actually means to conduct construction oversight on a project? Our engineers regularly do so to ensure design plans are being implemented correctly. But, construction oversight requires a lot more than just the ability to oversee. Our engineers have to understand the ins and outs of the plans, be adaptable, fast-thinking, and incredibly capable of communicating with and coordinating various parties.

Let’s walk through a day in the life of one of our construction oversight engineers, Casey Schrading, EIT, and outline the key components of his job:

SAFETY. When it comes to construction sites, safety always comes first. It is important to have the proper health and safety training before entering an active construction zone. On an active construction site, there could be many different hazards that workers encounter. Before heading to the site, Casey makes sure he has all his necessary safety equipment and protection gear. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) usually includes a neon safety vest (visibility), hard hat (head protection), long pants (protective clothing), safety glasses (eye protection), and steel-toed boots (foot protection). In some cases, on construction sites with more risk factors, higher levels of PPE may be required including hearing protection, gloves, respiratory masks, fall protection equipment, and disposable Tyvek coveralls.

COORDINATION.  For most construction projects, the day starts early. Upon arrival, Casey checks the site out to see if anything has changed from the day before and takes pictures of the site. He then checks in with the contractor to discuss the plan for the day and any outstanding items from the day prior.

Most of the day consists of a back and forth process between watching the construction workers implement the design and then monitoring and checking the design plans. In order for the contractor to properly implement the design, the oversight engineer must direct the workers during the installation process; for many designs, there are critical angles, locations, heights, and widths that features must be installed at. It is imperative for the oversight engineer to direct and work hand-in-hand with the contractor so those features are installed correctly for effective design implementation.

ON-SITE MONITORING.  For certain projects, the day-to-day construction oversight tasks may get a little more involved. For instance, when conducting construction oversight for our Columbia Dam Removal project, Casey was tasked with taking turbidity samples every three hours at two locations along the Paulins Kill — one upstream of the site to collect baseline data and one downstream of the site to quantify the site’s effect on turbidity. If the turbidity readings downstream of the site came out too high, Casey would then have to determine how those high levels were affecting the turbidity in the Delaware River, which the Paulins Kill discharges into less than a quarter mile downstream of the site. If flooding in the Delaware River wasn’t enough to pose safety concerns, Casey would then take readings at two additional locations upstream and downstream of the Delaware River-Paulins Kill confluence. Again, the upstream reading served as a baseline reading for turbidity while the downstream reading showed the effects of the Paulins Kill on the Delaware River.

These turbidity samples were necessary because this project involved passive sediment transport, meaning the sediment that had built up behind the dam for over a century was going to slowly work its way downstream as the dam was notched out piece by piece, as opposed to it being dredged out before the barrier removal. It’s important to monitor turbidity in a case like this to make sure levels remain stable. The need for monitoring at construction sites further emphasizes the need for construction oversight engineers to be multifaceted.

ADAPTATION.  In all construction projects, the goal is to have everything installed or constructed according to plan, but, with so many environmental factors at play, that rarely happens. Because of the ever-changing nature of most of our projects, it is essential that our construction oversight engineers have the keen ability to adapt and to do so quickly. Casey has experienced a range of changes in plan while conducting construction oversight. He says the skills he relies on most is communication. When something changes, it’s imperative that the onsite engineer knows exactly who to contact to work out a solution. Sometimes that might be Princeton Hydro’s internal project manager, or sometimes it might be a regulatory official from NJDEP.

WEEKLY MEETINGS.  Another critical part of construction oversight is facilitating weekly coordination meetings. The weekly meeting is usually attended by the contractor, the engineering firm, and the client.  The parties will discuss what has happened thus far at the site and what still needs to happen, allowing them to establish action items. Occasionally, other entities like organizations that provided funding for a project or regulatory agencies, will also be involved in those conversations. The weekly meetings are designed to keep everybody on task and help to ensure every party’s goals and needs are being met.

DOCUMENTATION.  Anytime field work is being conducted, it is essential to document the happenings and the progress made. This documentation usually comes in the form of a Daily Field Report (DFR). A DFR includes information about the work performed on a given day, such as measurements, quantities of structures installed, and how that installation process went. Also included in the DFRs are clear and descriptive photographs.

COMMUNICATION.  Working on any project, it’s important to make sure all involved parties understand the reason behind each installation. It is often easier for a construction team to implement plans correctly if they know and understand why each part of it is important and included in the project. Explaining why a task needs to be completed also helps relieve tension that could potentially arise between the engineer and the contractor. It is essential to make sure every person on the project team is on the same page.

PUBLIC OUTREACH.  Another critical aspect of construction oversight is having the ability to successfully communicate with the public. Members of the community surrounding a site need to be kept apprised of the goings on so they can remain safe during the construction period and understand the goals of the project. When citizens understand the purpose and goals of a project, they are more likely to support and respect it.

REGULATORY COMPLIANCE.  Understanding the permitting surrounding a project is also essential to success as a construction oversight engineer. The engineer has to understand the ins and outs of the permitting and regulations in order to be able to make decisions about changes in the plan and to be able to successfully point the contractor in the correct and compliant direction.

Construction oversight is a tedious and incredibly important job, yet I really enjoy it because it gives me a new and better understanding of the engineering design process,” explains Casey. He feels it gives him a much more practical understanding of engineering design, as he has seen what kinds of plans are actually implementable and what that process looks like. “Watching a design plan get implemented brings the project full circle and allows me to take that knowledge and experience back to the office and back into the design process.

Princeton Hydro provides construction oversight services to private, public, and nonprofit clients for a variety of ecosystem restoration, water resource, and geotechnical projects across the Northeast.  Learn more.

Casey graduated from Virginia Tech in 2018 with a degree in Biological Systems Engineering and now works as a staff engineer for the firm with a focus in water resources engineering. He has experience in ecological restoration, flood management, water quality analysis, and best management practices. His experience also includes construction oversight for dam removal and restoration projects as well as design, technical writing, and drafting for a wide variety of water resources engineering projects. In his free time Casey very much enjoys travelling, hiking, skiing, and camping.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out another one from our “Day in the Life” series, and stay tuned for more:

A Day in the Life of a Stormwater Inspector