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Planning for Success: A Geotechnical Study at The Table Rock Dam

Table Rock DamAs a part of our uncompromising commitment to safety, Terracon places tremendous emphasis on planning our tasks in order to work safely and efficiently. Field exploration in support of our geotechnical engineering projects is among the most significant tasks that require this type of planning. A recent example of the need for pre-task planning is a geotechnical exploration our team performed at Table Rock Dam, near Branson, Mo. The dam provides flood control, water supply, and is part of a chain of power-producing stations that create electricity for more than seven million end-users during peak demand periods.

Following the floods of 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) determined it would be prudent to perform a slope stability analysis of the dam. The USACE is well-known as a safety-conscious organization, requiring contractors to meet high safety standards, but this project presented unusual challenges. Finding a contractor who could perform this work safely would be difficult.

The project called for drilling to take place on a 1.5:1 to 2:1 (horizontal:vertical) slope, conditions that very few contractors have experienced. What’s more, a busy, two-lane highway runs along the top of the dam, and it is a primary route for many commuters and tourists. It is an area that is highly visible every day of the week. The public would be aware of this project, and closing the highway, or even one lane of the highway, was not a viable option due to the added expense of traffic control and the overall impact to local traffic.

The USACE selected Terracon to perform subsurface exploration because we proposed a plan that placed safety as a priority. Additionally, we saved weeks of time and thousands of dollars over the requested drilling method, which involved construction of earthen platforms and significant earthwork. Terracon carefully researched every contingency related to the steep slope and fully managed a long list of out-of-the-ordinary hazards. The overall approach meant the USACE could have this work completed more quickly, with less expense, and with confidence in our attention to preventing injuries and incidents.

Terracon’s team of engineers, safety personnel, and field staff brought experience with similar geotechnical investigations to the project. They knew that success here would require working together to develop and implement innovative solutions.


To conduct subgrade exploration, equipment had to be secured on steep slopes. This created several hazards that included the possibility of equipment tipping over or sliding down the hill, and the atypical risks that workers faced as they operated heavy equipment on a steep hill for long periods. Add to the list the record-breaking heat that the Midwest experienced in July 2012, with high temperatures at the dam ranging from 103 degrees Fahrenheit to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. To be successful, Terracon had to:

  •                         Develop a solution that would prevent equipment from slipping downward or tipping over.
  •                         Ensure the safety of all workers from dangers associated with steep slopes, heavy equipment, and heat.


This job required out-of-the-box thinking from the beginning.There was no set of instructions ready and waiting for us to follow. The team spent hours brainstorming and planning, exploring all of the risks using preplanning techniques that are part of our companywide commitment to safety. This allowed us to anticipate all hazards, and begin the project with solutions in place.


To assure the drill rigs were stable while positioned at the boring locations, Terracon anchored a bull dozer to the guardrail at the top of the dam and lowered the loading bucket into the soil.

A cable was attached to the drill rig to prevent movement in the event that the drill rig slipped while drilling.

Another hazard, working and walking on steep slopes, was factored into the task. The field crew built platforms that allowed the crews to work on a flat, level surface. This not only prevented stress and strain, it helped prevent slips and falls down the hill or into rotating equipment.

To avoid toppling hazards that placed people and equipment at risk, the team ruled that all vehicles were driven up or down the slopes and prohibited any crew member from driving a vehicle across the face of the slope for any reason. And finally, precautions against heat injury were taken.

Terracon’s work at Table Rock Dam is a prime example of how starting with safety as a priority, and dedicating adequate time and resources to understanding project conditions, can lead to innovation and positive outcomes that no one thought possible. At Terracon, performing our work safely is as important as client service. It is a part of everything we do and is ingrained into our corporate culture. We believe this makes us even more valuable to our clients, helps us improve our deliverables, and makes us the best in the industry.