Managing earthworks risk in civil construction

Peter Miller

Civil engineering construction is primarily the business of risk management, and earthworks must surely present the most wide-ranging, prolific and difficult risks to manage.  Failure to successfully manage these risks often results in significant adverse consequences.  Even with comprehensive pre-construction investigation and planning there still remain some unknowns, and surprises are often encountered during the course of construction.  This presentation covers, anecdotally, case studies of a selection of projects undertaken over a period of some 47 years.  Some successful, others not so successful, but all of which featured a variety of unusual and interesting experiences, challenges and surprises.

About the speaker

Peter Miller

Peter began his professional career with the Highways Department, and in 1981 joined Macmahon Construction, working mostly on major highway and bridgeworks projects in remote areas.  In 1986, Peter was given responsibility for tendering and delivery of all civil projects in South Australia and by 1989 this was extended to the Northern Territory, with occasional forays into Western Australia and south-west Queensland. 

In 1993 Peter was allocated the additional task of managing a joint venture to develop new pipeline construction technology.  Protracted litigation on one of the JV projects provided invaluable experience in dispute resolution, leading to successful completion of the project in 1999.

In 1997, Peter was appointed Project Manager on the $32m Southern Expressway contract, and in 1999 took on a challenging role as engineering manager on the 822km Eastern Gas Pipeline Project joint venture, based at Wollongong.  Returning to Adelaide in 2000 work focussed on tendering in eastern Australia and New Zealand, followed by a role as Project Manager of the Happy Valley Dam in 2003. 

In 2004 Peter joined Bardavcol Pty Ltd, as General Manager, with responsibility for management of all design and construction operations, industrial relations, commercial management, and corporate engineering systems.  Projects included roads, bridges, airfields, dams, water, waste water and rail infrastructure (stations, tunnels and trackwork), and some unique defence projects including an aircraft turntable. 

Since retiring from full-time work in 2017, Peter has continued work as an independent consultant, mostly with Birubi, a local Indigenous-owned civil contractor.  Assignments have also been undertaken for the Department for Infrastructure and Transport and other clients, including CPB and Sitzler.

During his career, Peter has been a board member with AFCC and CCFSA serving on various sub-committees including industrial relations and environmental management. 

Peter holds the position of adjunct senior lecturer with the University of Adelaide School of Architecture and Engineering and has been a guest lecturer since 2009, teaching cost estimating, safety and construction management topics.  He served on the School Advisory Board from 2019 to 2021.

Peter has maintained an interest in further study, successfully completing the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ course in 2004, and the Australian Institute of Mediators and Arbitrators’ practitioner’s certificate in mediation and conciliation in 2013, in addition to recreational studies in Japanese, Spanish, French and Dutch language courses.

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