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USA & UK, 2 Engineering Cultures Sharing 1 Language

USA & UK, 2 Engineering Cultures Sharing 1 Language

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 70) – All IMHO:

“Britain and America are two countries separated by the same language” (George Bernard Shaw).

In property development this can be restated as “Britain and America are two different engineering cultures sharing one language”.

 I have been fortunate to work in many different countries and the differences in English language and engineering cultures are a fascination to me and an irritation to others. However with 67 countries plus 27 territories claiming English as an official language (Source: Wikipedia, so it must be true!), diversity due to local cultures should be expected. For example, staircase pressurization, life safety and health & safety on site all have regional variations. 

Before we get into this, there is an irony in plain view that always puts a smile on my face. The world, even Canada, the USA’s largest trading partner, has settled on the metric system, yet the USA persists with the imperial system. Remember this is the system that the evil British left them (a BTU is a “British” Thermal Unit) and the British have abandoned in favour of metric. Who’s doesn’t like metric? Everything is divisible by 10, few correction factors are involved, just makes more sense to me as someone who started their career in imperial and moved to metric. IMHO, the American persistence with the imperial system is a real world demonstration of the power of lobbying and vested interests. Did I just go there politically? I guess, but I really do mean this as an ironic observation, although I know my opinions to anyone in the USA are worth what they cost, i.e. zero! 

So why care about this? Well, as projects and work forces globalized, cultural engineering practices plus metric Vs imperial have real world consequences. I have been on projects and experinaced:

  • VAV boxes designed in metric but selected in imperial (CMH confused with CFM). This problem was not found until the building was occupied!
  • Projects in metric countries ordering specialized items from the USA in imperial and then not working in situ.
  • Design errors due too mix ups in units and measures.
  • Drawings and specs incorporating every conceivable USA and British code and regulation leaving bidders confused and pricing high due to perceived risk. 

A project requires a fully co-ordianted IFC set of specifications and drawings. There should be no SNAFU’s between imperial and metric and no confusion about what Commissioning codes, procedures and outcomes are required. That is what clients actually pay for. I am starting to think that a fully co-ordianted IFC set of specifications and drawings with minimal errors & omissions doesn’t actually exist anywhere. It is like a unicorn, you can describe it in detail but it never appears in the real world. 

Take the building commissioning and testing context. There are several commissioning and testing codes, procedural standards, certifications and organizations to be referenced in specifications. It is not unusual for say, American design teams using and quoting American codes of practice in parts of the world where metric and British standards are the norm. This can result in confusion and additional costs to the project. For example, in no particular order, I have seen some specs where ALL these codes and regulations are included to cover someones backside!

  • LEED
  • CSA
  • NEBB 
  • AABC
  • TABB

On an international project with USA, Canadian, British and South Asian consultants, construction team and suppliers, confusion arose due to every conciveable Commissioning and green building standard being specified. To clarify matters the project manager had to issue to commissioning and testing bidders, a table like the one below of “Similar Commissioning Terms”. 

Design teams and specification writers must focus on context and clarity. Call me old fashioned, but IMHO, the clients “backside” is best covered by precision and competence. When precision and competence are applied to design and specification writing there is no need to specify every possible standard, just the ones that really apply.

Related posts:

#65 – Staircase Pressurization Systems – Life Safety with Single Points of Failure! ( )

#69 – Clarity Equals Results – CxA Sampling Rates ( )

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