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Technology transfer and export of remediation knowledge to East Africa

Shortlisted for Brownfield Awards Category 10 - Best International Project

Organisations: Central Alliance, Ecologia, RSK Italia, RemedX, RSK Geosciences, Structural Soils,  RSK Raw, RSK Middle East, RSK GCS, RSK NL, RSK Benelux and CJ Associates


With the grit, determination and ‘can do’ attitude of RSK, local contractors and its client, remediation of over 30 retail sites across  East Africa was achieved. The project provided employment for over  100 East Africans; many of whom were previously out of work. They  were supported by 12 international RSK business units who exported  skills as part of capacity building totalling over 4000 days. Through  promotion of RSK’s health, safety and environmental culture the  team delivered the project safely, working over 35,000 hours without a lost time incident.  

The project was truly international with 15 nationalities, importation of  equipment from Europe, carbon from South Africa and chemicals from  the USA. Export of knowledge with respect to tendering, export of  parts and systems, fabrication of remediation systems also took place  in East Africa, supervision of drilling works for remedial wells and tank  pulls, construction of bioremediation cells and commission, operation,  maintenance and decommission of the in-situ remediation systems. In  addition to providing employment, RSK set up businesses and offices in  two countries, procured parts for fabrication of the systems, sub contracted civils works to East African companies and purchased  twenty vehicles including two crane trucks. This contributed  immensely to the East African economy.  

As with all remediation projects there are short term negative aspects  and this is certainly true when you consider the carbon footprint for  travel, energy and the granular activated carbon used during  remediation. That said, in addition to the knowledge exchange, the project positively contributed by removing pollution with the clean-up of 8000m   soil through bioremediation and c. 9300 kg volatile petroleum hydrocarbons removal from soil and  water by in-situ treatment. 

The project is an outstanding example of how effective  collaboration, export of skills and technology transfer can achieve multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) concurrent  with achieving excellence in brownfield remediation. 

What was RSK commissioned to do?  

After competitive tender, RSK was commissioned to undertake  remediation contracting works at c. 30 fuel retail sites and depots in  East Africa. Remediation was required following site acquisition and a  programme of site assessment by others. RSK worked within tight  timescales: c. 15 months from contract award to completion. In  addition to the scale of the project, one of our sites was a two day  drive from our warehouse with many others approximately one day  each way adding to the logistical challenge.  

The works involved a review of site investigation works and remedial  strategies which excluded soil samples for many sites owing to export  restrictions; just one of the many challenges. RSK designed the  implementation of the remediation, undertook the scope of works  specific to the site and designed to meet the project objectives.  

In addition to the business and operational set up, the remediation  works included the removal of underground fuel storage tanks, drilling  of remedial wells, commission, operate, maintain and decommission  the in-situ remediation systems and undertake ex-situ  bioremediation. 



Vessels waiting to be prepared at the yard 

What was achieved? 

RSK spent over 4000 days knowledge sharing all the skills associated  with risk-based remediation to international standards to over 100  East African scientists and engineers. The technology transfer and export of knowledge share activities included:  

  • Formal training to subcontractors and employees on the RSK and client safety culture such as permits to work, journey management plans and our open reporting culture

  • Formal and subsequent on the job training for detection of buried utilities

  • 4-day defensive driver training for all drivers to international standards  

  • On the job training with description of soils to British Standards during drilling and implementation of remedial wells  

  • Soil, vapour and water sampling to international standards including use of in-situ field equipment such as a photo ionisation detector and low-flow sampling equipment  

  • Fabrication of remediation systems including East African registered electricians and mechanical engineers who undergo a similar process of registration to the UK chartership approach and need projects like this to showcase in their submissions  

  • OHSA and the job training as riggers and crane operators to deliver and collect the remediation systems from sites across both countries, the furthest of which is a 2 day drive each way

  • On the job training for commissioning, operation, and maintenance of the systems  

  • Other general skills including computing, software packages, marketing and sales  

  • Stakeholder engagement: regular communications with the authorities and a one-day training course to Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda  

RSK bioremediated over 8000m   of soil to meet the project  

objectives and recovered c. 9300 kg volatile petroleum hydrocarbon  

mass from the soil and groundwater. 

Our team is the biggest asset and the economic and social benefits of this project upon everyone involved but particularly the East Africans and their families is clear to see. Some highlights are below:

  • How quickly the wood panelling used to deliver the 120 vessels disappeared to be re-used as chicken coops.

  • How proud one team was when OHSA shared the film of their 4- day rigger course, which is now the OHSA training video for lifting.



Typical Mass Recovery of One of the Sites 


Several of the East Africans after a successful install

How the workforce became fully embedded within the RSK  culture, for example:  

  • one shared in his annual appraisal commenting that RSK  really does feel and behave like a family  

  • the East African teams regularly feature in RSK’s internal  and external communications including being nominated  for employee Spotlight Awards, participating in events for  International Women’s day, a day in the life of an engineer  soon to be on TikTok and the challenges of undertaking  education concurrently with working  

  • contributing to RSK’s SHEQ culture with both countries  winning RSK positive intervention of the month award. 


The latter is an accomplishment in itself when hazards present themselves continually from inadequate scaffolding to the sheer numbers of ‘boda bodas‘ (motorbike-taxis) on the roads

  • The away day in which the team were coming up with ideas for their future business

  • A team building quiz when enabling works (drilling and pipework laying) were nearing completion and the works were transitioning to the delivery and commissioning of the remediation systems which meant a change to the international support team.

  • The excitement of the team realising they’re finalists and ultimately winning the RSK Innovation Awards 2020 owing to their manufacturing capabilities and the difference this project and employment has made to their lives

  • Purchase of a heart monitor for a local hospital, training of staff as mental health first aiders, painting classrooms at the Nile Vocational Institute where RSK sponsors children and running STEM sessions at the school adjacent to the office

  • The spirit of both teams now they’re competent to operate without the RSK international team which benefits their personal economic and social situations in addition to the economy of East Africa.

Other than a lot of hard work, how was this achieved?

We built relationships with our supply chain at tender stage including in-country visits to clarify expectations and understand the challenges the RSK team would face. RSK reviewed the relevant legislation, met with National Environment Management Authority and the Ministry of Water and Environment to explain the works which are the first of its type in these countries. We gave a 1-day training course to a City Council Authority on risk- based remediation advocating the internationally accepted conceptual  site model approach, reuse of materials, permitting options, SuRF  framework and the NICOLA organisation.


We started every day with a Safety Moment relevant to the works  being undertaken and the environment we were working within to  reinforce our emphasis on safety; one of the memorable toolbox  talks being about snakes following which a black mamba was  identified on site.

As mentioned earlier our team is our strongest asset and was  fundamental to the successful delivery of the project. RSK was well  supported by our client reps in-country and internationally who  was keen to see the progress of the works and meet the team delivering the works. In addition to building relationships with our client and supply chain RSK also facilitated relationships between employees. This may sound unusual but with 15 nationalities thrown together to deliver a project to tight timescales this was no easy challenge but was assisted by existing relationships within RSK business units in the UK and overseas.


The number of nationalities and personalities was certainly challenging at times and led to ‘cultural differences’ training led by a couple of East Africans. This was a great success and helped everyone respect their differences and minimise any offence being caused.

Knowledge transfer and empowerment of the East African employees

Over 4000 days knowledge and technology transfer took place until the team was capable of working unsupervised and several were competent to train others. This covered the following topics:

  • international safety standards

  • soil descriptions to BS5930 for which the team got plenty of practice with the drilling of 3 km remediation and groundwater sampling wells

  • civils work to international standards such as underground fuel tank removal works, bioremediation and excavation management

  • fabrication, commissioning, operation and maintenance of systems

  • decommissioning of remedial systems and boreholes

Given the Covid-19 pandemic that closed airspace and halted international travel, thank goodness we were nearing completion at many sites and had undertaken the intensive knowledge transfer works throughout the project. This meant the East Africans could complete the work with remote international support and just one international team member visiting for a particularly hazardous part of the project. 


Table 1: Real economic, social and environmental benefits


In conclusion, the project achieved high quality and cost-effective
remediation of over 30 sites across East Africa through transfer of
knowledge and technology to local teams. The team did a wonderful
job of juggling incredibly tight time constraints, local customs and
different ways of working and regulatory engagement, all the while
training local staff and making sure the work was completed safely
and to the highest standard. The project is a brilliant example of how
different nationalities can work together to actively support the
UNSDGs to reduce poverty, good health and well-being, quality,
education, gender equality, clean water, decent work and economic
growth, industry innovation and infrastructure.

Use of robust, sustainable and defensible solutions to give real economic, social and environmental benefits

The systems included techniques proven in Europe including bioremediation, dual- and multi-phase extraction, soil vapour extraction, chemical injection, air sparging and pump and treat. These had to be adapted for use in East Africa including the fitting of air conditioning units, drenching systems and painting white to reduce the temperature particularly on the coastal regions.

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