We discuss how as AASHTO members, state DOTs can best use AASHTO re:source’s services.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 20: Top 5 Ways State DOTs Can Get the Most Out of AASHTO re:source Services
Recorded: September 1, 2022
Released: September 20, 2022
Host(s): Brian Johnson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager and Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source and AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures online 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.
[00:00:21] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q & A. I'm Brian Johnson.
[00:00:23] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. And what are we here to talk about today, Brian?
[00:00:28] Brian: Well, today we're going to talk about the top five ways state DOTs can get the most out of AASHTO re:source’s services.
[00:00:36] Kim: Yes, that is what we're going to talk about today and I'm actually pretty excited about this. I'm not sure why, but...most of AASHTO re:source’s programs and services are included in the membership dues that AASHTO members which are state DOTs are included with so. They pay for most of our services and help offset the cost of our services.
[00:00:59] Brian: Yeah, but they pay those fees because they support the program and we deliver the program services for the DOTs so, that they don't have to maintain their own version of this because a lot of them would. And I think that most of the participating laboratories in our program are very grateful that they do not because...not because they wouldn't do a good job but because they could potentially if you're especially if you're in an area where there are quite a few states around, you could potentially have quite a few audits going on all of the time, and then you're basically a full time audit receiver and you have very little time to get work done. So, the concept is that we can kind of consolidate those efforts into one program that is accepted widely by all the DOTs.
[00:01:47] Kim: Exactly. And we, AASHTO re:source, is just one of many services provided by AASHTO in general. So, if you want more information about what AASHTO does in general, you can go to transportation.org now. With all that background out of the way, Brian, the first one on this list that we have is to require AASHTO accreditation for testing laboratories working on state projects, care to explain explained.
[00:02:14] Brian: This is the ultimate in in coverage that you can get from our program. You get the assessments; you get the proficiency samples. You get the accreditation, so, when a state DOT requires accreditation, they get. So, much more oversight and so, much more monitoring of the laboratory than they would get if they only required part of it. So, let me give you an example, if I'm a DOT and I say all well, all you have to do is get the assessment every tour, OK, so, that means somebody's going to go in there and evaluate the laboratory and make sure that they're in conformance with, while actually not make sure that they're in conformance, but determine if they are in conformance. With the standard requirements.
[00:03:03] Brian: And then they issue a report with all the nonconformities and observations, and that's the end. OK. So, then you've got a lot of. Loose ends to tie up at that point. So, then the question is. OK, what do I do with that? If I'm the DOT, do I have my own staff make sure that they've resolved all these things? Do I just say, I'm going to have somebody review it and make a subjective determination on if we think that's good enough to be in conformance or if they have to get another assessment. There could be a number of ways to do it, but if you require accreditation. That laboratory will be required to resolve all of those nonconformities they were written in the report through the AASHTO Accreditation Program. And then we would identify the ones that have been resolved on our directory. So, you have a way to verify it on the website and find out exactly what's going on. So, that's a good benefit between just requiring an assessment and then requiring accreditation.
[00:04:03] Kim: Are there many states that do not require testing laboratories to be accredited?
[00:04:10] Brian: There are quite a few DOTs that don't require accreditation. Some of the DOT's have under 10 laboratories in the whole state, one of them has only one laboratory and that is their own laboratory. That is something and we may have jumbled that up in the beginning. But you know the DOT sponsor of the program so, that we can carry out these services on their behalf. But they also, get. The assessment, proficiency sample fees, accreditation fees covered for their central laboratory as part of that sponsorship and in some cases, they have such a large scope of services that it's kind of a wash. We're providing like about the same amount of services that they would pay for if they were paying independently. So, it really doesn't provide much for the general services that we provide in monitoring the other labs in their state, but it just depends on how much they want to cover. That gets a little complicated, but there are DOTS that aren't taking full advantage of the program and we encourage them to do so.
[00:05:07] Brian: But it does have to be the right fit for them, you know. Like if I'm a DOT and I handle all of the testing. You know, I have my own labs. I don't hire a private company to do that testing. It really doesn't make a lot of sense for them to require accreditation in that case. But if they do, then it does because they get that extra oversight. You know, I mentioned the assessment part, there are some DOTs that only require assessment. There are some DOTs that only require proficiency testing too. So then that's another way that you can look at. This is OK if I'm a state DOT that requires only proficiency sample participation. Then what do I do with that? So, I might make everybody get certain samples and I might make them send me the results. But then I've also, got this responsibility of making sure that they're in conformance, making sure that they're getting satisfactory ratings, making sure that if they get low ratings, I have to make sure that they have resolved whatever issues they are that led to the low ratings. I have to have policies and procedures related to what happens when it happens more than once, and they don't resolve that we have all those policies and procedures already and we do that. So, if a DOT requires accreditation that is built into that process. Our monitoring of those ratings. That's helpful too.
[00:06:23] Kim: So, I think that covers most of that. Can we move on to number 2? Is there anything else that I haven't asked you?
[00:06:30] Brian: Yeah, there's one other thing I want to mention about that. So, there's there are some of the things that are not related to the programs of assessment and proficiency samples that are a side benefit. And one of those is we are always looking out for bigger problems. We aren't like seeking them out, but when they are presented to us, we can take action. So, one example would be fraud. And it is unusual for us to find fraudulent activity at a laboratory that's going through the accreditation process, but it has happened, and when it does happen, we take action and that may be just another layer of protection that the DOT can get by specifying our program, those little unknown things that can happen.
[00:07:20] Brian: Another thing we look for is falsified records which. I don't know if you want to call that fraud or not, but it's certainly not good. Sometimes it's an indication of lack of integrity. Sometimes it's an indication of lack of competency. That is kind of just masked by just copying old records to new records and not knowing what they're doing. And those are things we watch out for and because of the repetition of our processes. We have a chance of finding that out. I don't know what all of the DOTS are doing for their monitoring, but if they are not looking at the same things over and over again like we are. They might not catch those issues.
[00:08:02] Kim: So, moving on to number 2 on our list of top five ways State DOT's can get the most out of AASHTO re:source’s services is require participation in the AASHTO re:source Proficiency Sample Program for all aggregate and asphalt suppliers. Would you care to elaborate on why that's the number 2 on their list?
[00:08:25] Brian: Yeah. So, I talked about what the shortcomings are of just requiring proficiency samples and not accreditation. But let me talk about the benefits, especially when it comes to suppliers. And I would say more for hot mix asphalt suppliers or asphalt, make sure suppliers, sometimes those laboratories may not be too keen on going through the entire accreditation process. Now some of them are, we do have quite a few producers. Of asphalt mixtures that are in the program. But let's say you have, you know, 100 or more asphalt plants in your state, and the paving association is is not really interested in pursuing accreditation for their members. There are other ways to provide monitoring and proficiency samples can be a good in-between solution.
[00:09:20] Brian: The proficiency symbols give you some objective numbers to determine if they are at least in the ballpark with the other laboratories in the program. Our proficiency sample program is globally used it has a large and a wide distribution and it really gives us an opportunity to have meaningful data involved in the analysis. So, when we have the average results. They can be relied upon. That is a little bit more reassurance than maybe a smaller program that only has a few laboratories. So. So, like a certain amount of data you need to have statistically significant results. We've got that and more just in the scale of our program and that's a real benefit both to the participants and to the DOTs.
[00:10:13] Kim: Moving on to #3 of the top five ways state DOTS can get the most out of AASHTO resources program. #3 is encourage your district laboratories to gain and maintain AASHTO Accreditation.
[00:10:29] Brian: This is a really good idea for any DOT. If you have District laboratories a lot of times that's where the conflicts take place. In the materials, acceptance takes place. So, it would be, you know, it's good to have the Central Laboratory accredited that's required by Federal Highway Administration and that might be where some of the training takes place for district technicians and managers. But to get those District Laboratories accredited it, it can give you some confidence in any of those conflicts that you may have on material acceptance in the field. So, if there is a dispute and that district laboratory is accredited and let's say the supplier or contractor or whoever it is third party testing lab that is presenting the data is not accredited.
[00:11:22] Brian: Then that gives you some not just confidence, but some clout in that discussion. So, if one party is accredited and the other is not. If we flip it and say, let's say the district does not accredit. And the other entity outside of the DOT is accredited and there is some sort of process whereby a determination needs to be made of who is right. I would have an idea that probably the accredited laboratory is going to make a better case of why their results should be trusted over the entity that is not accredited. So, I think that's something for consideration by any of the DOTs that have not pursued getting their district laboratories accredited. It's also, a great educational opportunity for the people at the district lab. We've seen ever since we've had the technical exchange, we've seen more of the people from the districts show up at these events and they usually get a lot out of it and it gives them an opportunity to interact with all kinds of labs around the country, whereas a lot of times the central lab folks get more of an opportunity to do that. So, I think just being in our program kind of opens some doors for people and gets them to know people outside the state, which can be a good way to just improve. Their understanding of some of the issues going on in the industry in general.
[00:12:46] Kim: Well said. Now #4 in the top five ways state DOTs can get the most out of our programs and services is...Sign up for our specifier functionality to take advantage of the free Laboratory monitoring services. Now, this could be a podcast all on its own, so, let's not go too into the weeds with this. But why is this number 4 on our list?
[00:13:15] Brian: Number one, it's free, which everybody loves free stuff, right? And it and it's a really good service so. I would encourage anybody that is a specifying agency, a DOT, building department, even a regional manager that is overseeing quite a few labs to sign up for this service because what it does is it gives you notifications any time there's a disruption to the accreditation of that laboratory. So, if there is a problem, you won't find out about it, later on, you'll find out about it the next day at about 2:00 AM Eastern Time when our notifications go out. There are monitoring tools that allow you to get those notifications, and there are also, more detailed ones if you have private access where you can find more information out about that, that laboratory in question. If you're a laboratory listening to this private access requires your approval public access would just be something that's available on our website to the public. So, a change in accreditation is reflected on the directory. That would be open for a public alert.
[00:14:27] Kim: So, our specifier functionality has two main points. If there's public access and private access, why don't you tell us about the public access first?
[00:14:37] Brian: OK, so, public access means that a specifying agency or whoever signed up for this service, the specifier service would get notifications anytime there is a change to the directory, which we would consider to be public information because you can access that information without being logged into our site. So, let's say a laboratory, gets suspended, that they're monitoring. The next day, late in the evening, they will get an e-mail from our system saying that laboratory was suspended for this, that and the other. It doesn't get into the details about why it happened. We consider that to be private information in that private information would require agreement on the part of the laboratory to share that kind of information with them.
[00:15:23] Kim: So, for laboratories, if they do have a change in their accreditation status, do you have any recommendations of how they should handle that? Because there could be specifiers? Monitoring that.
[00:15:36] Brian: Yeah. Now I can't dictate what that specifier does with that information, but what I encourage them to do is open up a conversation with that laboratory to figure out what went wrong. It could be something minor that could have triggered it. It could. It could be an administrative issue, but it could be a quality issue. Could be repeat low ratings on proficiency samples. Or it could be. Something more severe, but I if I'm the specifier, I want to see that notification that that laboratory received because we explained exactly what happened and exactly what that laboratory needs to do to resolve that suspension. So, what if I'm a specifier? My first question, when I get one of those, I reach out to the lab and say please send me the notification. That indicated why your laboratory was suspended, and I'd say if that laboratory is not willing to share that information, you should be concerned.
[00:16:28] Kim: I can see that for sure. And so, for state DOTs signing up for this functionality provides a lot of ease for monitoring, so, it's not. It takes out some of the labor-intensive monitoring that would need to be done otherwise with these automated alerts and notifications and things like that, correct?
[00:16:49] Brian: That's right. Yeah. I mean the programs only useful if it's easy to use and this really makes it easy to use. So, if it's an unrealistic expectation to think that somebody who is monitoring this lab is going to look every day to see if they were suspended, you know, this kind of takes the guesswork out and it automates that process of being notified. But it only works if you sign up for it. And it only works if you keep your contact information up to date. So, I would encourage people to try that out if you haven’t and understand the limitations. And again, I would encourage you to open up communication. If you see a suspension rather than taking action right away. You know like sometimes it's. It's viewed as being so, horrible that somebody got suspended that you need to stop work right away and do take all these actions. I'd be hesitant to do that until you know exactly what went wrong, because you may, you may delay, it may cost you a lot of money. You know your state, a lot of money to put the brakes on for something that's relatively minor.
[00:17:57] Brian: And I wish we didn't have to suspend over minor issues, but sometimes we have to because the. There are things that we need to know about the lab to make sure that they can be in conformance or that they are in conformance, but if they're not willing to share the information with us, we can't. We're just. Not aware. And we're saying that the laboratories in conformance and we don't have any idea which would be terrible. So, we don't want to do that.
[00:18:30] Kim: Yeah, and you can find more information about the specifier functionality on our website aashtoresource.org/specifiers, and there'll be a link in the show notes for that. Now, the number 5-way states can get the most out of AASHTO resource’s services and programs is to engage in AASHTO resource’s training materials and events. Care to expand on that?
[00:18:55] Brian: One thing about AASHTO resource is that we put a lot of effort into engaging with our customers, engaging with the industry, engaging with the sponsors, the DOTS and other specifying agencies quite a few years ago, we took, I would say, an extraordinary step. In that direction, by hosting an annual technical exchange which has become an annual event where we have lots of engaging live sessions with people who show up for these events, we have guests, presenters, we have our own staff presenting on all of these topics related to construction materials, testing. Quality. Workforce development. Yeah, I mean, you name it. If it's related to the industry, we try to get somebody to talk about it during these events. We have evening events and ways for people can ways for people to talk to each other and learn from each other. And it's the reception of this has been overwhelmingly positive. We are often just shocked at how much people tell us that they love this event, and they can't wait for the next one. And Full disclosure, I thought it was a terrible idea to have these cause why would somebody take their time? To come to our event and man was I wrong.
[00:20:20] Kim: You were really wrong on that one. We've been hosting the technical exchange since 2017, so, we have a lot of years of experience now that has been quite a while and our listeners can find out more information about the technical exchange at aashtoresource.org/events. But we also, have other events, right? We have other training opportunities that we host, whether it be live and in person or. Live virtually. And we have a lot of different things happening in webinars and even this podcast can be seen as some type of training, event training resource for people.
[00:21:02] Brian: That's right, Kim. We've got webinars. We've got the podcast. We've got training programs occasionally that we offer at our building that that is something we're kind of trying out and have been trying out the last few years. I think there's probably something more there that that will be able to do. And we even offer individual. One-on-one engagement with people who want it, so, if somebody. Wants to have like a Teams meeting to talk about a couple different things. You know, proficiency sample ratings. Nonconformities on assessment reports anything related to what we do. We're happy to set time aside and give you some one-on-one attention. To talk about whatever it might be, so, keep that in mind. We're always looking for ways to engage with people and spread information about, quality, about materials testing, standards, you name it. We're happy to talk to you about it anytime.
[00:22:06] Kim: Yep. And if for those who are interested, our next technical exchange will be held in person in Fort Worth, TX, March 27th through the 30th in 2023. So, you're interested, save the date for that, we encourage not only DOT's and their employees to attend those events, but for all customers and anyone in the industry interested in the quality of construction materials testing.
[00:22:36] Brian: One other thing I want to mention about the technical exchange is that we try to spread it around so, we can get it involvement from people in different regions of the country so. We could come to your part of the country next year, or maybe the year after.
[00:22:52] Kim: Thank you for going through our top five ways. State dot can get the most out of AASHTO resources, programs and services. Brian, thank you for expanding on those.
[00:23:01] Brian: Yeah, no problem, Kim. I'm happy to do it. And if it and I will mention one other thing you thought you were done with me, but we I have been encouraging people on my staff to engage directly with the DOT, so, if you are a DOT and you're listening to this. We are happy to come to your office. And hang out with you all day and talk about whatever you and your staff or your district staff or whoever you have around that wants to talk to us. We will come to you and we will be there and present and answer questions for you all day. So, actually have John McCabe and Tracy Barnhart are going to be going to Virginia DOT here pretty soon to have one such meeting. So, if you're interested in that and you're DOT, let us know and we'll see what we can do.
[00:23:50] Kim: Yep. And if you have any other suggestions on ways to expand our programs or make them more useful for you as a dot, please reach out to us and let us know as well.
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