A day in the life of a Structures Examiner

Dawn Jackson-Steven, Structural Examineer
17 December 2020
Image of a low bridge.
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Amey’s Structures Examiners inspect bridges and other structures for Network Rail’s Asset Engineers to make sure they are safe for passenger trains and freight. Amey’s Civil Examination Framework Agreement (CEFA) team includes over 200 Structures Examiners working on behalf of Network Rail to assess over 70,000 structures across the UK.

Recently Network Rail published their most ‘bashed UK rail bridges’. Taking the top spot for the most hit bridge is on the A5 in Hinckley, Leicestershire - the Watling Street Bridge was hit 25 times last year. This is closely followed by the Bromford Bridge in Dudley, West Midlands, which saw the most rail passenger delays due to bridge strikes - 4,300 minutes – that’s almost 72 hours of disruption from 24 bridge strikes.

Attending bridge strikes is just one of the various roles our Structures Examiners are involved with. Dawn Jackson-Stevens is a Structures Examiner at Amey, based out of Wessex, and recalls some of the more interesting inspections she’s had to undertake.

“I’ve worked for Amey as a Structures Examiner for the past 13 years, moving into this career following a period of time as a Product Designer (I still have a keen interest in Art and Design and create art as a personal hobby). A friend recommended the role who knew that the diversity and variety would be something that I would be attracted to. I can safely say that since I joined no two days have been the same.

“I’m part of a team of structural examiners who are located throughout the Wessex area. We mostly work on our own but when needed, such as a more complex or difficult examination, we work in collaboration – it all depends on the type of structure and its location. We’re a tight knit team and have regular team briefings with the management team that give us all the chance to catch up with each other, share best practice, assist each other with challenges and to compare the different works we’ve undertaken.

“My time is split between working from home, where I write reports, to being on-site and carrying out examinations – this is the part of my role that I enjoy most. Site preparation work must be carried out before you attend the site, familiarising yourself with all aspects of the structure you’ll be visiting. I can be asked to carry out examinations on a number of structures that are on the rail network; examine a bridge, a wall, signal gantry or a culvert. There are occasions when we need to work with our experienced supply chain partners who help us with our on-site examinations by providing specialist access, vegetation removal and exposed elements of a structure.

“When on-site I make my notes on a tablet, supporting them with sketches and photographs. This helps me to get a clear picture of the structure and prepare my report. Once the examination is complete, I write up my findings and compile a report which is reviewed by an engineer at Amey and then my recommendations are forwarded on to Network Rail for their consideration.”

Emergency services

The role of a Structures Examiner can see the teams attend emergency incidents. In the last financial year (April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020) there were on average five bridge strikes a day causing almost half a million minutes of delays for rail passengers. The role Dawn plays in assessing and reporting their findings, so emergency repair work can be carried out, is vital.

“There are occasions when we’re on-site with the emergency services. I’ve attended a number of bridge strikes involving double decker buses, HGV lorries and stock trailers. It’s important in those situations to understand the circumstances leading up to the incident so we can safely investigate any damage to the structure and our recommendations can try to avoid any repeat incidents. I take lots of photos of the incident, the positioning of the vehicle involved in the strike, any road signage or foliage. I also make a note of the weather as this can impact not only the road condition at the time of the strike but could also affect the structure if its been exposed.

“My main priority is to examine any structural damage. A lot of my photos are of the structures that have been involved with the strikes. I look for any changes to the façade, internal damage, deterioration or structural comprise. Depending on the findings, this will affect any immediate and future remedial works that need to be carried out.  

“I take a lot of pride in my work and am a conscientious examiner. I have a huge amount of respect to the engineering feat it took to create the structures I manage that can date back to the 19th and 20th centuries. The role does have its challenges. As a perfectionist I hope that I’ve been thorough with my examinations and noted all areas of potential concerns on a structure. This can be challenging when you are working on a large complex bridge from the structure itself, to the weather conditions you work in and the time of day – emergency call outs can happen at any time!”

The future

In such a varied role that can see Structures Examiners attend bridge strikes, investigating in a field full of cows or standing in a tenanted arch in the middle of Waterloo train station, appealing to the next generation of examiners is important. At Amey, we understand the challenge in attracting and recruiting females, and actively encourage women to join the business and progress their careers. With 28% of our workforce female, this is also reflected at Route and Senior Management level within our Rail Asset Management Team. Our ambition is to improve the diversity of our people at all levels even further, and appeal to the next generation of examiners.

“I have two daughters that I talk to regularly about my day job, sharing with them all aspects of what I do. I want to use this opportunity to share with as many people as possible the opportunities, variety and job satisfaction being a structures examiner brings with it. Even after 13 years, when I talk to friends and family, they are still surprised and intrigued by my day job. I couldn’t recommend highly enough this career – I personally can’t wait to see what every working day brings!”



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