Learn how we implement and incorporate changes in standards into the Laboratory Assessment and AASHTO Accreditation Programs.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 14: How re:source Implements Standard Updates
Recorded: July 19, 2022
Released: August 9, 2022
Guest: Maria Knake, Laboratory Assessment Program Manager for AASHTO re:source
Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source, AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures, and the referenced standards for official guidance on this, and other topics.
Transcribed by Kim Swanson and MS Teams.
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[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know from exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management, we're covering topics important to you. Now here's our host, Brian Johnson.
[00:00:20] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q&A. I’m Brian Johnson.
[00:00:24] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. And who do we have with us today, Brian?
[00:00:27] Brian: Well, this episode is kind of a follow-up to a previous episode where we talked about the release of the AASHTO Committee on Materials and Pavements, Standard Specifications and Test Methods, and Practices. The very long title that we talked about in that previous episode, but one of the questions that was raised in that episode was about when we implement changes into our assessment and accreditation process. Now I kind of muddled my way through that. The best I could, but really the person the answer that question is are guests today. So, we invited Maria Knake on who is the manager of the Laboratory Assessment program to give us an actual complete answer on that question instead of whatever I did. So, Maria, welcome to the podcast.
[00:1:21] Maria: Well, thank you, Brian. Thank you, Kim. I'm excited to be here today.
[00:1:24] Brian: So, let's get into it. Say we've got this release of standards and in this case, we're talking about the AASHTO standards, which is comprised of hundreds of new standards. With a lot of changes, those get released and then we find out about them, and then what do we do?
[00:01:41] Maria: Just like any other agency that is figuring out how to comply with any new changes to a standard, we have to take some time to look through them because we know that it's going to take us a little bit of time to look through those standards and make updates to our policies and procedures. We also give a bit of a grace period to our customers. We update the checklists that we use to complete our assessments once per quarter and we try to catch any changes that occurred during the previous quarter and incorporate those. However, sometimes the change, it's so complicated and there's a really large overhaul to it. It could take us up to six months to implement a large change into our program. So that gives us a little bit of a grace period. We have to do sometimes if there's a major change, we need to retrain our staff just as the technicians should be retrained in the laboratory on how to perform a procedure and learn all the updates, we need to take some time to do that as well. So, we don't expect anybody to be on the ball right away because we are not. It's a process and it takes some time.
[00:01:43] Maria: And we do have a very well-defined process. We have an entire team of staff that serve on an internal committee that are dedicated to updating those documents that we use. In addition, we find mistakes in them pretty regularly as well. So, we also have an internal ticketing system where staff can report issues they see or recommended changes to those checklists. And then we also incorporate all those changes once per quarter as well.
[00:03:08] Brian: OK, now that group of staff members are, they dedicated to that task, are they are they just constantly reviewing updates to standards or what do they do in the in the off times?
[00:03:18] Maria: Yeah, that's a good point for clarification. These are all laboratory assessors that serve on this committee. So, they all are all out doing assessments for the majority of the time. And this is something they do during their downtime when they are not assessing laboratories and it's just sort of an activity they volunteer for and have a pretty good internal structure set-up for we have different person in charge of each set of worksheets. So, we have somebody who's in charge of our asphalt mixture checklists, and then another person that is in charge of the aggregate ones, et cetera. And then we have a chair and a vice chair who lead those committees’ activities. They hold meetings regularly with their team to go over goals, expectations. You know there's sometimes there's a standard that there's no changes to it, right, but it still has to be reviewed every seven years, right, in order to make sure that it it's still up to date. So that's what the standard developers do with their process. We actually have a process in place internally where even if there's been no change to a worksheet or a checklist. Or to the standard associated with it in a few years, we still review it. So, we have a cycle of reviews that have to be done and those actually get handed out to the entire assessment team. So, every month, each person who's on the assessment team gets three or four that they have to review to make sure that they're up to date.
[00:04:41] Brian: Oh wow. So even if you don't volunteer, it doesn't mean that you are excluded from the activity.
[00:04:47] Maria: It takes the whole team to go through all of this and make sure that things are up to date. It's amazing the things that we find just like with standards development, you can look at a standard 100 times and think that you understand it and then somebody could show you a different way of interpreting it and our checklist of the requirements that we have in place for our customers. It's the same way. [Brian: Yeah.] So those reviews are really valuable to us and they bring up great discussion points with staff as well.
[00:05:11] Brian: Yeah. And you mentioned quarterly release now with the AASHTO Committee on Materials and Pavements, that's an annual publication now that's kind of changed but there are listeners all over the world to some of these episodes of the podcast, and I don't know how they do it in in their countries. If they have national standards. But we're also dealing with other standards bodies. Right. And what are their sequences for release of updated standards?
[00:05:37] Maria: Yeah, that's a great question. So, you're correct that with the AASHTO standards, they come out every year typically at the end of July this year, the digital release will be at the end of July and then there will be a paper release that will take place in September. So, we're going to kind of delay our implementation until September as well, given the fact that we have some customers that we'll be using the paper version and won't have access to it until September. Now, with the ASTM versions of standards, they come out pretty regularly. I would say about quarterly is when you can expect them to come out, but it can really be any time that a standard is completed with the ballot process and goes through ASTM's editorial staff. It then goes through a final review with the technical contact. Once the technical contact gives their final approval for the release of that version of the standard, it does get published. They usually get published in batches with ASTM. But it's they can come out anytime. So, we try to capture them within that quarter.
[00:06:34] Maria: We do also evaluate some state methods as well, and those state methods. The only way for us to make sure that that we stay up to date with that is we actually just once per quarter have to go to the States website and check for updates. So, we have a process in place for anyone who's in charge of those state standards to make sure that they go and check the state website. Some of them have alert systems in place, but very few the states do you just have to kind of know how to go and check them.
[00:07:03] Brian: Yeah, that's one of the questions that I know we get occasionally from our customers is how can we be notified, you know, because a lot of times people think that we're a clearinghouse for all these standards even though we're just the user, right? So, what tips do you have for users of standards out there to get notified when changes are made to ASTM and AASHTO standards?
[00:07:25] Maria: Yeah. So, with the AASHTO standards, you can just sign up for the newsletter from AASHTO Publications, and then you will get an update every time a new AASHTO standard comes out. There are other standards and other publications that AASHTO is in charge of, as well as the ones developed by the Committee on Materials and Pavements. Those are the ones that for the AASHTO re:source listeners are probably the most applicable, but there's other ones that are important as well. So, every time there's a new release or if something happens and there's some sort of interim release which can. Happen on occasion you get updated about that, so I highly recommend getting the publication newsletter from AASHTO it might be something we could put in the show notes about that for an ASTM. They have a really great tracking tool. It's free. You don't even have to be an ASTM member to use it. We can probably put a link to that in the show notes as well and you can sign up to get alerts about in an entire volume of standards or specific standards and every time there's an update to those standards, you'll get an e-mail and we use that tool here pretty regularly. And I really recommend that anyone who's trying to stay up to date. On the ASTM standards that they use regularly, use that tool. It's useful. It's been around for a long time; it works really well.
[00:08:37] Brian: Yeah, speaking of questions that we get about standards, you know we have these checklists or we have these questions that are assessors all use and I know people are sitting there thinking man, I really love to get my hands on those. It would make everything a lot easier because I know that these things are up to date and AASHTO re:source is doing a great job keeping up with them. What do you say when people ask you if they can get a copy of those?
[00:09:01] Maria: Yeah, you know, uh, so one of the reasons we could ask that question a lot is because we used to actually publish those checklists in PDF format on our website. There were a couple of reasons that we decided to change that approach. One reason is we actually talked to AASHTO’s Publication Department and then also their counterparts at ASTM and said, hey, is this what we're doing? OK we're kind of taking the standard and just listing it out in checklist form. Is that all right? And they said no, that's a copyright issue. Ohh, we can't have you guys doing that. And we were like ohh boy. You know, we really thought we were doing something that was really a service to the industry. Transparency is one of our core values here. So, we felt it was a very transparent thing to do. So, we had to step away from it for that reason. The secondary reason we had to step away from it is because we are in the middle of a very lengthy IT project in which we are actually converting all of those checklists into a digital format where. You know, you actually be able to put a digital check mark. It will actually help the assessor write their report faster or help us do a lot more with tracking specific issues that occur during assessments. There's a lot of benefits that will come out of it, but we will no longer have something in a PDF format when that's developed so.
[00:10:18] Brian: OK, so let's talk about the situation we're about to get into where we've got hundreds of new standards. You know, you talked about quarterly reviews and the amount of people and they're not, we don't have full time dedicated people that are just standing by waiting to review all these things. So, I imagine it will take quite a while for us to get through these when should laboratories in our program expect us to be able to assess for any of the changes that are being made in the newest version, since there are so many.
[00:10:51] Maria: Yeah, that's a great question. There are certain situations where it may take us longer or we have to take a little bit of a different approach in how we implement the changes on our end. In this particular case, AASHTO made updates to nearly every standard that's within their books. Typically, we might only see 10 to 20% with updates and because there's so many of them, it is going to take us longer to get through them. We are going to give customers a more specific timeline as we get a better idea of how long it's going to take for us to do all of this. But there will be a delay in our implementation on our end. There are other situations that come up where change is written into a standard, but because we are present for a lot of the discussions that take place with the standards developers and perhaps a researcher who's been working on helping them implement these changes, we know that the changes are not finalized yet. They put something in place to kind of get it out there into the world, get people used to it, but they also know that there's more changes to come. In some cases where something could be really expensive for a customer to put into place or for a laboratory to implement in their facility, we don't want to make that change and then a year from now that standard change is again. So, if we kind of see that change coming, we may hold off on making any changes altogether. And in those cases, we let customers know specifically about those will typically send them something through e-mail and it'll be posted as an announcement on our website as well.
[00:12:23] Brian: Yeah, that sounds good. I know we've run into this before, right, with the Hamburg [Maria: Yeah.] wheel tracking device, there was an apparatus issue in there where there was a question. OK, are we going to make everybody get totally new expensive equipment to fix this thing that people aren't necessarily certain is important yet, that just happens to be in there or, you know, and I think there been some other cases of that in the past, right.
[00:12:47] Maria: Ohh yeah, that definitely the Hamburg is one that comes to mind because it would have required some really expensive upgrades and while you know basically the researchers said. If this measurement is important, then we need the equipment to do this, and this is how you fix it. But they said the research did not include whether or not it's important and that really needs to be determined before we go further down this path. And so, we decided we're just going to hold off on making any changes and making anybody do something really expensive to their equipment when we don't even know if it's important to do it. Yeah, that's the best example I can think of that's been recent. There's been other ones as well in the past too, where we've said it, we're just not ready to implement this yet.
[00:13:29] Brian: Yeah. And I will add, you know the CCRL methodology because I don't think we really get into that, and I don't have anybody from CCRL on this call. But from the AASHTO Accreditation perspective, a lot of the laboratories are accredited based on the assessments provided by CCLRL. And I know they do an annual review of their standards usually towards the end of the year, they'll kind of collect all of the changes that happen and then add those to their worksheets that their assessors use. So, it's a slightly different methodology, but it gets us to the same place and about the same time I guess depending on how long your view is on what that means. Well, Kim's got a question.
[00:14:10] Kim: I do. I was going to ask you, Brian. So, when the laboratory assessors start assessing for these changes, does that mean that is an immediate reflection of when the AASHTO Accreditation Program starts, accrediting for it? Or is there any differences in that process?
[00:14:27] Brian: It does, yeah. The accreditation process kind of downstream from the assessment process. So once those changes are made and the assessors are trained on them, that's when we start seeing Nonconformities written or just even if there aren't nonconformities written, the accreditation is reflective of what occurred during those assessments. So yeah, the implementation from assessment to accreditation is pretty much when we start getting reports that have those changes in them. Now we've got an entire tour of laboratories, what we would call a tour. So, all of the US and Canada and wherever else we go in this tour. So obviously when a change is made in implementing the worksheets, that's not immediately reflective of that e very lab in the country is being evaluated on that. It's just where we are. And then eventually we get everybody in the in the course of a sequence of an assessment tour. Then we'll know they're all in conformance, which could take a couple years, right. So it shouldn't be assumed that the directory will reflect immediate implementation of those changes, but because we haven't confirmed it, but it's assumed that the laboratory should be doing the same thing where they should be reviewing these changes and making changes. It's just we haven't confirmed them. So that's kind of a complicated answer to what sounded like a simple question.
[00:15:55] Maria: If I could add to that, you know from the assessment side, a lot of the findings that we observe when we observe the test procedures at a facility, so many of those findings are related to the facility not keeping up with those changes that happened with the standards. So, I really recommend that if you don't have a process in your laboratory right now for how to handle changes to the standards, implement them and make sure that your staff get trained on them, it's a really important process to have in place.
[00:16:26] Kim: We did cover this briefly in an episode in season one, episode 26, Keeping Up to Date With your Standards. So, if anybody wanted to reference that and as well as the episode that Brian alluded to at the beginning of the podcast was season three, episode 11 Updates to the 42nd Edition of the AASHTO Materials Standards. So, if you wanted to reference those and go back and listen to that for some more insight on these topics, that will be good. And I did want to recap because we kind of talked about a lot of information here, so…the 42nd edition of the AASHTO Materials Standards are released at the end of July, and the paperback versions are going to be released in September. So, what does the vague timeline of when laboratories can expect to be assessed based on those new standards.
[00:17:18] Maria: Yeah, that's a great question. And we want to make sure that everybody has a little bit of lead time to get caught up and learn what all those changes are and train their technicians. So even though we will have the digital versions in July, we won't be implementing those into our worksheets until I'm going to say probably January would be the earliest that we would be implementing those into our assessment process.
[00:17:41] Brian: I think what happens a lot of times is it if you're a laboratory and you're only running a few tests. You're going to wonder why we didn't cover your tests right away that that happens. But like, like there's 100 hundred or so two, maybe even 300 changes. I don't even remember how many standards that I have to look back at the episode with Casey, which Kim on the spot as always looking it up.
[00:18:08] Kim: On the spot, I know. Ohh yes, there were 273 revised standards, 70 reconfirmed standards and three new standards inside the 42nd edition of the AASHTO Materials standards.
[00:18:20] Brian: Yeah. So, it's going to take a while to chip away at, though. So, we ask that our customers be patient with us on implementation and look out if we, if we have anything, any insights or guidance that we can provide, you will let you know. But Maria, thank you so much for your time today. This was great information.
[00:18:40] Maria: Thank you both as always.
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