You are surrounded by the work of engineers, all day long

I was troubled by the article in The Chronicle Herald week ago Friday that noted the engineer’s role in innovation and iconic advances in society but was silent on our role in the built environment, that is everywhere. Then went on to express concern that “…the breadth of expertise and the engineering profession’s impact on the world around is largely unseen.” (Ref. 1)

This in a report in the newspaper on a talk by Gerald McDonald, Chief Executive Officer, Engineers Canada.

I don’t think our role is unseen. It’s staring us in the face in the built environment that would not exist if not for engineers designing, constructing and maintaining it. We just got to see what we’re looking at.

I suggest addressing this concern by taking a cue from Jane Goodall’s focus on kids who will arrest climate change when they grow up – Jane talked about this in Halifax last Saturday. (Ref. 2) Jane is not focusing on politicians and prominent people to fix climate change. In her spirit, we must focus on the humble engineer toiling away in the built environment, getting his hands dirty and mud on his boots providing habitat for the man in the street. Ye shall know him by his iron ring.

(For those of you who forgot, Jane Goodall is an English primatologist who studied the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees, starting when she was 26, and changed the way we think about humans. She travels the world today, at 89 years of age, writing, speaking and spreading hope through action to make the world a better place)

There’s no question that advances like the following are important – shepherded by engineers:

  • Helicopter safety
  • Harnessing renewable energy
  • Launch of the first Atlantic Canadian-built satellite into space
  • The Canadarm
  • The pace maker
  • Halifax Central Library
  • Confederation Bridge

Shepard’s focus on the engineer’s role in the big stuff is good – engineers are even in space as I write – but, so too is the engineer’s role in the design, construction and maintenance of the built environment that is comprised of the following, and more:

  • Buildings – residential and commercial. There are more hi-rise and low rise buildings in the world than any other structure. Think about that.
  • Water treatment and supply systems to and from the buildings
  • Sewage collection and treatment systems
  • Storm collection and drainage systems
  • Foundation support systems like spread footings and piles
  • Foundation subsoils
  • Parking lots and airport runways
  • Towers, like hydroelectric towers
  • Chimneys, particularly the tall ones
  • Highways and roads between the buildings and beyond
  • Highway embankments, cuts and fill slopes
  • Hydraulic structures like canals (eg. Shubie canal)
  • Electric power supply systems
  • Bridges – small like over highways, large like suspension bridges over water, very large like the Confederation Bridge
  • Hydroelectric dams like Mactaquac in New Brunswich
  • Marine structures like docks and wharves, breakwaters, and coastal protection
  • Ships – designed, constructed and maintained by engineers
  • Planes – same role as for ships
  • Etc.

These structures come into being and are maintained by engineers working in the civil, foundation, geotechnical, environmental, mechanical and electrical fields. What we have in common in our different disciplines is a creative desire for problem solving.

I felt good as that loooong list above came into being. We engineers are everywhere producing and maintaining the built environment and helping alter the natural environment, carefully. Gerald McDonald knows this and could easily inspire a complementary piece in the The Chronicle Herald.


  1. McDonald, Gerald, Tap Engineers For New Ideas, The Chronicle Herald, Friday, May 19, 2023
  2. Jane Goodall’s talk in Halifax, May 27, 2023

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 31, 2023.   

So, what’s “a reasonable person” to do?

It’s a good question because, for all the importance attached in law to the standard-of-care and reasonable-person concepts, there are few concrete examples to guide the design engineer. Concepts are nice – something conceived in the mind – but you got to get out of your head and get concrete – something characterized by actual things or events. (Ref. 1)

There are few concrete examples of the standard of care in Dr. Google or Wikipedia, nor in the engineering books, to guide the design engineer. (Ref. 2) There’s very little on when he should design above the minimum standard set by the National Building Code (NBC). (Ref. 3) Go read and see for yourself.

That’s what I learned during my research, prompted by realizing most engineers don’t even know about the standard of care. Then I wondered, how many look at the minimum requirements of the NBC and sometimes figure they’ve got to design to a higher standard? Then, I thought, how many civil litigation lawyers and claim adjusters know about these issues facing design engineers? Then I got scared and figured I’ve got to write about this – get it out in the open.


Before we go a bit further – just a bit, because I want to alert you to these issues not educate you – this is how these concepts are described in law dictionaries and Dr. Google:

The standard of care means “…the degree of care that a reasonable person should exercise” as put by Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th edition 2011. (Ref. 4)

Put another way in more detail, the level at which an ordinary, prudent professional with the same training and experience, in good standing, in a same or similar community would practice under the same or similar circumstances. (Ref. 5)

Or “… what is reasonable in the circumstances” according to Dr. Google. (Ref. 2)

A reasonable person according to Black is “… a person who exercises the degree of attention, knowledge, intelligence, and judgement that society requires of it’s members for the protection of their own and other’s interests. The reasonable person acts sensibly, does things without serious delay, and takes proper but not excessive precautions”.

Or, as put by Dr. Google “A person who is thought to be careful and considerate in their actions … the way a typical person with “ordinary prudence” would act”.


I’ve got queries out to two engineering friends, one who worked as a design engineer for many years and another who worked in construction. I asked each how often they came across situations where something more than the minimum NBC standard was in order. I’ll let you know when I hear back.

Like, for example, if designing to a factor of safety of three (3) is normal – the minimum? – are there times when it should be greater, perhaps (4)? Should a steel or concrete beam be deeper than normal, a column larger, a concrete slab thicker, a storm drainage pipe bigger?

Here’s a question: To what extent is a designer liable if he designs for the Code’s minimum standard – and goes happily on his way – when something higher is order? What’s the big deal, he met the NBC’s standards?

(A factor of safety of three (3) means something is designed three times stronger or bigger than it needs to be before it breaks or falls down)

I asked three other friends – two engineers and an oceanographer who investigated the cause of failures and accidents for years – about the standard of care and the reasonable person. They didn’t know about these concepts.


So, what’s a reasonable person in law or insurance to do about a situation like this? Hmmm? How about first asking your expert if they’re aware of these concepts. Then, depending on their answer ask how well their work would stand up to a peer review. If they’re important concepts in Law and Dr. Google, it seems they would be important concepts in the forensic investigation of a failure or accident.

And as you’re asking these questions, remember, there are no concrete examples in the engineering text books to guide the reasonable engineer on when to design to a higher standard than the NBC minimum.

(I may be out in left field a bit with some of these comments but if they stimulate thought about these concepts in the concrete world of engineering design, construction and forensic investigation then I’ve achieved something)


  1. Merriam-Webster dictionary
  2. Dr. Google May, 2023
  3. National Building Code (NBC), most recent edition
  4. Blacks law dictionary
  5. A Bundle of Blogs: On assessing the standard of care. Posted August 12, 2022

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 19, 2023.   

How will climate change affect engineering design, and what will a reasonable person do about it?

Climate change will increase the number of disputes and insurance claims. These will occur, for example, because designing for strong wind on a building or tower, heavy rain on a storm water system or big waves on a sea wall all depend to some extent on past knowledge. This knowledge will be more limited for bigger or lighter winds, rains and seas as we learn about the effects of climate change.

The design engineer – a reasonable person – will take an educated guess on the effect of the weather on his structure but it will be a rougher guess as we climb up the learning curve.

(I mean a reasonable person as referenced in the concept of the standard of care. (Refs 1, 2) Design engineers will make reasonable decisions during climate change)

My thoughts on this arose on learning about a failure caused by a “mother-of-a-rain-storm” – in the opinion of some.  The erosion and sedimentation control structures on a construction site failed and a lake was contaminated by sediment.

When we design a structure today where climate is a factor, we must now factor in climate change, and the uncertainty associated with this process as we learn. 

For example, in the past we might have designed a structure for a 1 in 50 year rain storm.  Today we must design the structure for a more or less severe rain storm depending on the expected climate change in the area of the structure. But, how much more or less?

Also, in the past we had codes and handbooks to guide us on design of structures for a particular storm.  Today I expect that type of guidance has not kept up with climate change and the decision of a reasonable person will prevail in design. 

Do you want more on the answer to the question in the heading?

In the years ahead, climate change will result in over-design – more costly structures, and under-design – more failures, disputes and claims. The reasonable person, the design engineer, will know the risk and attempt to reduce it. To give you some idea of what they’re up against, consider the rough estimate of a two (2) metre rise in sea level off our shores over the next 50 years, according to one friend, (Ref. 3) and a few feet to a few metres according to another. (Ref. 4)


  1. Dr. Google and Wikipedia will give you an idea about the standard of care and the reasonable person – an okay start to understanding this concept
  2. A Bundle of Blogs: On assessing the standard of care. Posted 2022/8/12. There’s a lot of good reading in these blogs, particularly Blog #5 in the Bundle, and reference to sources. Scroll down the right side of to the year and month, 2022/8/12.
  3. Comment by a friend, an oceanographer, about sea level rise based on what was known about climate change a few years ago. April, 2023
  4. Fillmore, Peter, personal communication, April, 2023

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, April 29, 2023.   

Surprise! Surprise! Engineers like failures.

We learn from failures. They contribute to successful design. I also like investigating the cause of failures as a means of resolving disputes, sans judicial process. There’s too much discord in the world now without duking it out in court too.

You can read all about learning from failures in To Engineer is Human, The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski. He cites examples of well known failures like,

  • The Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 – a video online of the failure is something else to watch. Lesson: The effect of wind on a suspension bridge like those over Halifax Harbour.
  • The Nyatt Regency Hotel walkway collapse in 1981. Lesson: Tiny, inadequate structural connections can cause big problems and the deaths of 114 people.
  • Roof collapses: The Hartford Civic Centre roof collapse in 1978 and the Kemper Arena roof collapse in 1979 Lessons: I haven’t researched the causes but easy to imagine – an initial hypothesis – inadequate structural design and/or construction of the roof support system.
  • We all know about the Ocean Ranger going down off Newfoundland in 1982. Lesson: Provide backup in the event sea water breaks a window, as happened in this case, and gets into the ballast control room. And this cause the control panel to malfunction and the drilling platform to roll over in the rough seas running at the time.
  • The space shuttle Columbia exploding on re-entry in 2003. Lesson: Be wary of cultural traits and organizational practices detrimental to safety being allowed to develop as happened in this case.

Petroski explains what was learned from these failures and others and how engineers think when they’re designing a structure.

Enough has been learned from failures that engineers often know the probable cause of a failure before they get on site. I’ve told you this before.

Petroski’s book is a good read – almost exciting – in fairly simple, jargon-free language. There’s the odd big word and abstract concept but not many. He also mentions a couple of other good books on failures which I mention below. One of these books is considered required reading for engineers, architects, civil litigation lawyers, and insurance claims managers.

Read his book, and like me, you’ll go about your daily chores looking and seeing the failures in our built environment. For example:

  • A paved driveway with cracks a couple years after the asphalt truck left. Lesson: The subgrade of a simple driveway needs to be well drained to prevent frost heave. Sometimes to a depth of two or three feet rather than inches, if you don’t want any cracks at all.
  • The varying height of a curb along a short stretch of residential road. Lesson: The road bed needs to be well constructed and compacted right out to the curb.
  • A leaning basketball practice hoop in a kid’s playground a few days after construction. Lesson: Even a kid’s hoop needs to be founded deep enough in the ground and the back fill soils well compacted.
  • The thump-thump at a depression in the highway. Lesson: The subgrade and highway embankment need to be well designed, constructed and compacted everywhere, particularly where pipes are laid beneath the highway in a trench after the highway is constructed.
  • The sloping door threshold in an elder’s washroom. Lesson: The floors in an elder’s facility need to be designed and constructed at the same level – a simple design and construct problem.
  • The irregular, sloping floor surface in a high rise. (I know something about high rise construction. When I saw this – an easy call – I thought sloppy, too fast construction. I knew the job supervisor and the pressure he was under to get the high rise up) Lesson: Take the time to support the floors properly during construction, ensuring the concrete forms are level and well supported before placing concrete.
  • A highway slope failure – a mini landslide – where soil has been excavated to form the highway. For example, the slope on the west side of Highway 102 at Exit 10. Lesson: Excavate the slope at the angle of repose of the soil.
  • A lake contaminated with sediment from a construction site. Lesson: Design and construct adequate erosion and sedimentation control structures using simple, well understood methods in handbooks.

(I can’t help but think I could prepare a similar list to the above for slip, trip and fall accidents, for certain the ones that I’ve investigated. Another time)

An experienced engineer knows the probable cause of these failures from the get-go.

Some of you will say some of these failures are due to poor construction. I will say you’re right, in a sense. But, I will point out that the poor construction is due to poor construction inspection – quality control – looking and seeing during construction that you’re getting what you’re paying for – which is a design task.


Based on what the engineer in me knows, there are some places I won’t go and things I won’t do because of suspect design and/or construction.

And, increasingly, I’m less inclined to fly. If the airlines can mess up the scheduling like they did last Christmas could they mess up plane maintenance and repair? Look what happened to the space shuttle Columbia mentioned above.

Plane maintenance is sometimes contracted out – and sometimes to the lowest bidder, who must focus on the bottom line as well as fixing the plane.

I thought this on a chat with a friend who is an aviation mechanic, months ago and well before the Christmas scheduling mess.

It’s not just me. I exchanged emails with a friend a few days ago who investigates traffic accidents. He was on his way to Orlando, Florida to take a course in accident reconstruction, and wasn’t looking forward to flying. I wonder why?


The lists in this blog have come from an engineer’s love of failure and learning from them. That engineers make mistakes is forgivable; that they catch them is imperative.

I had that concept drilled into me years ago – pre-engineering – by Major James A. H. Church, our instructor when I did a two year diploma course in land surveying at the College of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia: It’s okay to make a mistake as long as you catch it! The Major was fierce about this.


  1. You could be excused for thinking that everything is falling down. Blog posted July 23, 2020 Updated October 13, 2020
  2. What’s in the built environment and how many ways can it fail? Blog posted July 8, 2020
  3. How many ways can a building fail and possibly result in civil litigation or an insurance claim. Blog posted July 10, 2014
  4. Nicastro, David H., ed., Failure Mechanisms in Building Construction, ASCE Press, ASCE, Reston, Virginia 1997 This is a real good, well researched read by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
  5. Petroski, Henry, To Engineer is Human, The Role of Failure in Successful Design, Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 1984 Petroski covers a lot of ground in 17 chapters, 251 pages and pithy comment. As he says in the Preface, the book is his answer to the questions “What is engineering?” and “What do engineers do?”. You’ll read some of the answer in Chapter 14, page 172, Forensic Engineering and Engineering Fiction. And the rest of the answer in the remainder of the book.

Appendix: Causes of Failure

Petroski also notes causes of failure as cited in Thomas McKaig’s 1962 book Building Failures. This is a widely known collection of case studies intended for the use of engineers, architects, contractors, and claims managers. The following list in McKaig’s book comes from another, long ago source lost in the mists of time, but still rings with relevance:

  1. Ignorance a. Incompetent men in charge of design, construction, or inspection. b. Supervision and maintenance by men without necessary intelligence. c. Assumption of vital responsibility by men without necessary intelligence. d. Competition without supervision. e. Lack of precedent. f. Lack of sufficient preliminary information.
  2. Economy a. In first cost. b. In maintenance.
  3. Lapses, or carelessness a. An engineer or architect, otherwise careful and competent, shows negligence in some certain part of the work. b. A contractor or superintendent takes a chance, knowing he is taking it. c. Lack of proper coordination in production of plans.
  4. Unusual occurrences a. Earthquakes, b. Extreme storms, c. Fires, d. And the like.

Petroski’s book also notes some causes of structural failure as listed in D. I. Blockley’s book, The Nature of Structural Design and Safety, another good read:

  1. Limit states a. Overload: Geophysical, dead, wind, earthquake, etc.; manmade, imposed, etc. b. Under strength: Structure, materials instability c. Movement: Foundation settlement, creep, shrinkage, etc. d. Deterioration: Cracking, fatigue, corrosion, erosion, etc.
  2. Random hazards a. Fire b. Floods c. Explosions: Accidental, sabotage d. Earthquake e. Vehicle impact
  3. Human-based errors a. Design error: Mistake, misunderstanding of structural behaviour b. Construction error: Mistake, bad practice, poor communications

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, April 20, 2023.   

What is forensic archaeology?

Archaeology is a very interesting field of study considering it’s everywhere beneath our feet. In that regard, it’s very similar to geotechnology, my first love in engineering. Investigating the cause of failures and accidents in the built environment are my loves now.

Archaeology v. Geotechnology

Geotechnology studies the different layers of soil at a site and their physical properties. This is done for supporting structures in the built environment. (Ref. 1) Archaeology studies objects found in layers of soil to learn how people lived in the past and engaged with the environment. Objects like tools, pottery, jewelry, stone walls and monuments.

Similar exacting investigative procedures are used in both fields of study – the identification of different layers of soil and the identification of objects in the layers. I was struck by the similarity on reading up on archaeology.

A difference is that archaeologists want to see objects in the soil and geotechnologists don’t – geotechs don’t want anything messing up the engineering properties of the soil.

Archaeological specialties

There are different specialties in archaeology like industrial archaeology, coastal and marine archaeology, building archaeology and battlefield archaeology.

Marine archaeology was practiced by Eric Allaby, author of The Sea Wins, a report on more than 40 ship wrecks in the Bay of Fundy. He dove on the wrecks of many of these ships. I imagine similar was done in study of some of the approximately 250 ship wrecks on Sable Island.

There are no extraterrestrial archaeologists yet, though NASA does employ an archaeologist to study satellite images.

Historians also study the past, but they do so by using the written and oral records. Archaeologist can delve deeper into the past to study the thousands of years of human endeavour that occurred before written or oral records began.

Treasure hunting and archaeology

The treasure hunting on Oak Island near Chester on the South Shore of Nova Scotia can easily be seen as a form of archaeology in practice.

Forensic archaeology

Forensic archaeology is an emerging science where archaeologists collect evidence for recent criminal investigations – especially in cases involving murder, genocide and war crimes. It’s also relied on for victim identification following disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, terrorist attacks, fires or plane accidents. We’ve had our share of those in recent times.

The science is well described in a Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology. (Ref. 2) (I must say I liked seeing the word Practical in the title.) Forensic Science, the Basics is also a good read. (Ref. 3)

Forensic archaeology is also used to solve ancient puzzles, such as the identity of Jack the Ripper – a woman who was hung for another murder about that time, and only identified as Jack the Ripper years later. Or identify the cause of Beethoven’s death – lead in the medicines he was prescribed. (Ref. 2)

Forensic archaeology is being relied on today in the investigation of reported war crimes in Ukraine.

Like geotechnical engineers, what forensic archaeologists bring to the forensic process is a detailed knowledge of how to excavate the ground for buried remains, what to look for and how to analyse the data found. Both fields of study start with simple walk over surveys and aerial and drone photography.

Archaeologist have taught the police how to proceed from these simple tasks and be systematic and precise when excavating the ground beneath their feet – read, the emerging field of forensic archaeology.


  1. What is geotechnical engineering? Posted December 21, 2021
  2. Catling, Christopher and Bahn, Paul, The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology, 512 pp, Hermes House, England, 2013. See the chapter on Forensic Archaeology page 226
  3. Siegel, Jay A. and Mirakovits, Forensic Science, the Basics, 505 pp, CRC Press, 2nd edition 2010

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, March 26, 2023.   

More tiny causes of slip, trip and fall accidents

I was surprised recently when I felt a door threshold sloping down on exiting a hospital bathroom and shower to a patient’s room. It was noticeable and unexpected. I measured the threshold later. It was 5.5 inches wide and 1.0 inches lower from one side to the other, a slope of 18.1%. The floor in the patient’s room was 1.0 inches lower than the bathroom floor. Not much you say?

Tiny cause #1 A sloping threshold is disturbing enough but this was a doorway in rooms where older people stay. The unexpected slope could throw a person off as it did me a little on one occasion. If the patient had just come out of the shower with wet feet the slope will increase the chances of a patient slipping and falling.

This incident prompted me to think of other places with potential causes of falls, one quite close to home.

Tiny cause #2 I’ve blogged about a slight change in the height of a curb causing me to fall (Ref. 1) and Tiny cause #3 a protruding piece of frozen wet snow doing the same (Ref. 2). Cause #4 And dripping water from a bathing suit upping the slipperiness of a sauna floor. (Ref. 3)

Cause #5 I’ve been in a men’s locker room where the floor is so slippery and the red caution sign so big that you don’t know where to look to avoid it in your face. If the floor is that slippery when wet why not fix it?

Cause #6 Pool decks have warning signs not to run but little kids having fun still do, particularly to the tiny tot pool in one place.

Tiny cause #7 Closer to home, I’ve realized that the slight difference in level between my deck and the first step -1.5 inches lower – could cause someone to trip and fall. I know how to fix it and I will.


  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1. Posted September 2, 2021
  2. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2. Posted February 26, 2023
  3. The humble pig rises to new heights in a heart transplant, and a forensic investigation of a slip, trip and fall accident. Posted January 11, 2022

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. March 15, 2023   

A Bundle of Blogs: Investigating slip, trip and fall accidents

It was time to bundle these blogs together if for no other reason but that I’ve had two trip and fall accidents now – Blogs #1 and #3 in the following list. I got invaluable insight and experience from each of them. My accidents were due to two different causes, and I wasn’t one of them.

There are many elements in these accidents as evident in Blogs #4 and #5 that must not be forgotten. But all forensic investigations start with a simple visual assessment during a walk over of a site and a preliminary report on cause.

I’ve also got the feeling lately that there are many slip, trip and fall accidents that we don’t hear about. Some where there are liability and claim issues and others where no one’s at fault except possibly the person who fell.

I fell twice in a couple of other falls as a result of standing on my dog’s lease lying on the ground. I did this one time to keep her from running off and the second time I didn’t know. She suddenly took off both times chasing something in the forest and down I went. No pain except to my pride.

  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2. Posted February 26, 2023
  2. The humble pig rises to new heights in a heart transplant, and a forensic investigation of a slip and fall accident. Posted January 11, 2022
  3. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1. Posted September 2, 2021
  4. Experts, Litigants, Insurers: Beware! There are dozens of parameters that could be investigated at slip, trip and fall sites. Posted February 18, 2021
  5. What does an engineering expert do at the scene of slip, trip and fall accidents? Posted February 5, 2021
  6. Categorizing slip, trip and fall accident locations. Posted April 30, 2019
  7. Getting evidence in slip, trip and fall accidents and building failures with video taken from a drone. Posted August 9, 2018

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. March 6, 2023   

My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2

Down I went again early this month, #2. This time a good reminder of the relationship between site conditions and the causes of slip, trip and fall accidents. I don’t recommend it but the accident opened my eyes yet again and added to my experience investigating these types of accidents. (Ref. 1) You can’t beat personal experience but I would have passed this one up in a heart beat.


My day started as usual by taking my two golden retrievers, Lily and Rosie, for an hour’s walk in the green belt near where I live. The green belt is a large, mixed forest of hard and soft woods at the rear of residential properties and along lakes.

The area is so well covered with forest that it’s known as Forest Hills in the City of Lakes. A nice place to live and a great place to start your day “forest bathing”; shinrin-yoku in Japanese. My dogs love it too, running like crazy through the woods and into and out of the lakes and mud holes.

An asphalt covered path winds back and forth through the green belt, along the lakes and beneath a road overpass.

The path is covered with snow after a storm, and a mixture of snow and ice after an East Coast storm that goes from snow, freezing rain to rain, then back to frozen, wet snow.

The amount of snow and ice on the path also depends on the forest cover and also surface and groundwater runoff from the forest beyond the path. (You can see the surface of groundwater – the water table – in a dug well) The groundwater flows onto the forest floor where the water table intercepts the ground surface – same place we get nice spring water in the summer.

I knew I would have to pick my way over and around some icy patches on the path Thursday morning so I wore cleats on my boots. These are rubber soles with sharp, steel cleats embedded in the underside of the sole that straps on your boot. They are good on ice but you do need to be a bit careful on a smooth, hard icy surface that slopes a little.

It was a cold, bitter morning so I wrapped up warm. I also have collars and leases for Lily and Rosie – they manage without winter gear seeing as they’re running and playing hard in the forest. I fitted Lily with a lease to her collar and hung Rosie’s around my neck. Lily has a mind of her own and tends to dash here and there so I need to keep her close till we get beyond the overpass on Gregory Drive at the start of our walk and the road there.

Water flows across the path at the overpass almost year round and the ice gets quite thick at times in the winter.

Careful, I was, no question

I picked my way at the start of my walk across a mix of ice, frozen, water-soaked snow, and exposed asphalt, and under the overpass. The path is quite steep down to and approaching the overpass then levels off some.

I walked along the side of the path on the down slope side beyond the overpass. The path was quite icy and even with cleats I not want to chance it. The edge of the path had more traction on a rougher surface of ice and frozen, water-soaked snow; a safer place to walk.

But, not careful enough

Nevertheless, down I went, hard! I lay there for a few seconds, more surprised than anything, a tad shook up. Then I lifted my head a little, and was surprised at the amount of blood dripping on the snow – a lot. I learned later from ski friends that there are a lot of blood vessels near the surface of the head.

Short minutes later I stood, took stock and decided, while shook up and bloody, I was okay to continue my walk. I had a couple of hankerchiefs and got them well soaked with blood over the next hour as Lily and Rosie and me continued our walk. I tend to get up and keep moving when broadsided by life, at least that’s my attitude.

Through it all my dogs stayed by my side when I was down. A nice feeling. Then, when they saw me walking again, they took off into the forest running and playing and having a laugh and a giggle.

Why did I fall?

So, what happened? Why did I fall? My immediate thought, even while laying there dripping blood, was that I tripped and fell on a piece of icy, frozen snow at the edge of the ice covered path, a piece standing a little prouder than the rest. I seem to remember actually thinking like that and also feeling a sensation at the toe of my right boot. All of this within seconds.

There’s no question I tripped and fell on a rough surface. Also that I was moving along like you do when you got a fairly calm dog like Lily on a lease, albeit a little more carefully still. And that I was walking on a thickened sole with cleats. But all of that was normal for me in the winter time these many dog-years on. I walk through the forest every morning and often on cleats in the winter time.

Conditions cause problem

I’ve since thought that the chunk of ice/frozen, wet snow was the cause of my trip and fall accident and the conditions at the overpass the lead-in. In engineering this is a way of seeing a situation as a product of a set of conditions leading to the cause of a problem. Prevent the conditions developing – the icy conditions at the overpass – and the cause of a problem won’t rear its ugly head, the chunk of ice and snow at the edge of the path in this case.

The path at the overpass is covered by several centimeters of ice a lot of the time in the winter – the conditions – and wet in the summer. The water on the path is surface water from the forest floor on the up slope side of the overpass and from the ground beneath the forest floor – the water table.

You can see this water on the path almost year round. It’s there because of poor design, construction and maintenance of site drainage at the overpass. Salt is placed on the ice but it doesn’t help much.

The water is there waiting for freeze-up in the winter to cause accidents. Kids actually walk through the forest to get to the Joseph Giles Elementary School in winter rather than across the icy path. Simple solutions to this type of problem are in place elsewhere in the green belt in the City of Lakes but not at this site. (Ref. 2)

The personal, take-away experience from this?: 

I was reminded that you can model a slip, trip and fall accident site during a forensic investigation as a set of condition and a number of causes depending on where you’re at on the site. The conditions vary depending on location and the causes of accidents vary too.

I had good cleats on my boots but knew they would be unreliable on smooth, sloping ice – reliance on them could be the cause of me slipping and falling. But that didn’t happen here – I didn’t slip. I forgot that the rough, frozen wet snow at the edge of the smooth ice could be the cause of me tripping and falling – as happened.

The tiniest conditions need to be investigated at the site of a slip, trip or fall accident.


  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1 Posted September 2, 2021
  2. Dewberry, Sidney O. and Matusik, John S., Land Development Handbook, Planning, Engineering and Surveying pp 1014, Chapter 14 Storm Drainage Design, pp 513 to 576 McGraw Hill

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. February 26, 2023   

(Note: The foregoing blog is not a report on a forensic engineering investigation)

Confusion reigned, due in no small part to me. Update.

A reader in Ottawa wasn’t surprised at my confusion with a virtual meeting, as I explained last December. (Ref. 1) Chris Morry notes that these meetings are better today compared to the past but still not great. The problem is due to different meeting apps and the varying experience of the participants. Also the tricky features on some apps – you think you’re on mute and can’t be heard but that’s not so because the organizer has control of the mute on-off switch. (Ref. 2)

There’s a lot of meeting apps out there:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Meetings
  • What’s App
  • Google Duo
  • Numerous other apps prior to these, many associated with Hotlink and Google

Some apps are old by today’s standards – like five years – and fading from interest.

Chris remarked at great length as follows after reading my blog as posted last December. His comments make for a good, informative read:

(He comes to his understanding after working for years in government on the effect of climate change on the aqua environment. Work that involved virtual meetings with different environmental groups in North America and overseas.

(He’s also the author of the book When the Great Red Dawn is Shining. This was a song sung by the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment on their march to the Somme in WW1. His grandfather, one of the kids in that fight, kept a memoir on which Chris based his book. (Ref. 2))


“Your experience with these virtual meeting systems mirrors my own, and in fact my experience goes back a very long way.

“Long before Zoom, Microsoft Meetings and What’s App showed up on the scene, there was for a period of four or five years when a large array of competing virtual meetings apps, many of them associated with existing email services like Hotlink and Google, was driving everyone nuts. Indeed the latter two each had TWO Different videoconferencing apps competing with each other.

“From time to time I was asked to attend a meeting using a wide variety of these services and with almost invariably the same result – utter confusion and failed attempts.

“No one knew all the ins and outs of setting up and managing all these different services and, since they seemed to drop the one that failed and tried another the next time, the learning curve was not only steeper than needs be for the conference organizer but for all attendees as well and went on for a very long time.

“Here we are at the front end of 2023 and we are little better off in this regard. Many of my affiliations with groups like genealogy and historical research groups each use a different app, which means not only having to download all the apps (though some will run within your browser, they all brow beat you into running the meeting on their app instead) but also having to try the different ins and outs of using the app.

“Needless to say I am thoroughly poisoned with the whole experience and would just as soon return to old fashioned group emails. Even though they don’t allow for instant give and take, an initial email followed by responses by those with something useful to say on the subject, and possibly a further follow-up email to provide the consensus is not only foolproof but leaves you with a written record of the discussion for future reference.

“Every App, just like every computer program, requires learning the methods which are somewhat different in every case. In particular the methods used to set up a meeting and send the notifications and what to do with the notification when it is received. (This was my undoing; check Ref. 1 – Eric)

“Scam artists have figured this out and are ahead of the game trying to fool people who are confused by the whole thing. This very morning I received a text message pretending to be an invitation to a Zoom meeting. It did not say who sent it and the number associated was of course not one belonging to anyone I know. If I clicked the included link they would have me.

“Getting back to online meeting Apps, each one also has protocols about the organiser being able to control whose microphone is on or off at any given time. Just imagine how that would be blasted at a public meeting if the organizer chose to shut off your mike when you were trying to make a point! This overrides your own settings for having your video on or off (you can attend more or less incognito by keeping your camera off) and your microphone, which you can mute, if you want to say something to someone in your room in private. Of course both of these options have led to people getting into deep doodoo for THINKING the camera or microphone is off when in fact it is on.

“Lots of other idiosyncrasies of each App pertaining sending messages to other participants which you theoretically can send as a private message to just that participant or to everyone attending the conference. You can imagine how dangerous that could be. Yet these controls and how to set them are different in every App, making it almost certain that sooner or later everyone will fall victim to these settings.

“I recommend advising that one always assumes that the mike and camera are on even if we set them to off. It could save a lot of embarrassment.”


This was one of a number of excellent reader responses to my blogs that I have received over the past 10 years. This one by Chris Morry has given me a big heads-up. While virtual meetings are efficient and expedient, some of the apps have their broken parts. This problem is compounded by participants needing to climb a steep learning curve that keeps changing. That problem contributed to my confusion as noted in Ref. 1 below.


  1. Confusion reigned, due in no small part to me. Posted December 15, 2022 12:47 pm
  2. Morry, C. J., Christopher, blog reader in Ottawa, December, 2022. Friend and former neighbour. Retired government worker on the effects of climate change on the aqua environment. Author of When the Great Red Dawn is Shining, Breakwater Books Ltd., illustrated edition, November 15, 2014, 224 pages. A memoir about what his granddad experienced in the trenches in WWI as a foot soldier in the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. January 31, 2023   

Expert report writing 101

Most disputes are settled out of court these days – I’ve seen more than 90% mentioned – and many of these are based on a forensic investigation and the expert’s report. This means the report is an important forensic task.

The report is written for the judicial process even though it doesn’t often go that far. This means a report for non-technical people. One that must be easy to read and understand the findings of the investigation.

It’s easy to write a report like this with the help that’s out there. My review of the literature produced the following list of characteristics of a well written expert report:

  1. Short, concrete words
  2. Declarative sentences
  3. Sequential sentences
  4. Thin paragraphs; not fat
  5. Few adverbs; almost none
  6. Few adjectives
  7. Jargon-free language
  8. Visually appealing pages

I’ve found over time that writing sequential sentences was tough enough. These are sentences where each picks up on a word or thought in the former, enlarges on it, and slowly tells the story of the forensic investigation.

Guidance on writing doesn’t get any better than On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 2006 by William Zinsser. The principles identified by the author also apply to expert reports. (Ref. 1)

This book by an American went to seven (7) editions before he went over the rainbow bridge in 2015. At the time he got a half page profile in one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail. Impressive. He urged clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.

Or guidance get any better than How to Write an Expert Witness Report, 2014 by Mangraviti, James J. et al – as long as you remember it provides guidance for American experts. (Ref. 2) Pick and chose the best advice and you’ll be well guided in another way to that by Zinsser.

If your expert does no more than read the eight page Executive Summary by Mangraviti, et al instead of all 560 pages, s/he will write a good expert report, helped by Zinsser. There are also some good paragraphs and sections in other chapters. But, be careful of some emphasis in this reference – the American way – on how to make your report powerful and persuasive.

Sorry, but you weren’t retained to persuade and impress. You’re there to tell the reader in an objective way about your thorough forensic investigation, no more, no less:

  1. The tasks you carried out during your forensic investigation,
  2. Why you carried out each task,
  3. The data you got from each,
  4. What you did during your analysis of the data,
  5. How the data from each task pointed to a cause,
  6. How the data from different tasks supported the data from others on a possible cause(s),
  7. What you found when you followed the evidence,
  8. How the cause of the failure or accident began to come into focus, off in the distance,
  9. The conclusions arising from your analysis, and,
  10. Your opinion on cause arising from your conclusions.

I have found over the years that writing well results in better analysis of data, like in “thinking on paper“. A nice fringe benefit of writing expert reports well.

The guidance in Zinsser and Mangraviti, Jr. et al will also ensure you meet the requirements of civil procedure rules governing experts, like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia.

This is as far as you need to go in expert report writing. You don’t need to go beyond Expert Report Writing 101. What’s out there will get you in trouble, particularly the American way. Keep it simple like in the lists above and keep the disputes out of court.


  1. Zinsser, William, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 7th edition, Harper Collins Publishers New York 2006
  2. Mangraviti, Jr., James J., Babitsky, Steven and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to Write An Expert Witness Report, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, MA 2014


  1. Strunk, Jr., William and White, E. B., The Elements of Style, 4th ed. Allan and Bacon 2000. Zinsser was inspired by this book, a book about pointers and admonitions: Do this. Don’t do that. What it didn’t address was how to apply those principles. How to write about people and places, science and technology, etc. That’s what Zinsser does in his book, On Writing Well.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. January 17, 2023