In this From the Cutting Room Floor episode, Brian is joined by Jon McCabe, Quality Analyst, and Russell Dabbs, Senior Laboratory Assessor. This audio is taken from their discussion on ASTM D 4318 and AASHTO T89/T90. During their recording session, Brian, Jon, and Russ went down some rabbit holes, and while their discussions weren't really relevant to the main podcast topic, we thought there was some value in sharing it with you in a separate episode. So in this episode, they discuss using reliable sources for training, the expectations during the assessment, and the importance of ethical lab practices. Plus, listen to the end to learn how you can be a part of our upcoming Thanksgiving episode!
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 27: From the Cutting Room Floor – Down a Rabbit Hole
Recorded: October 21, 2022
Released: November 8, 2022
Hosts: Brian Jonson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager, and Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guest(s): Jon McCabe, Quality Analyst; Russell Dabbs, Senior Laboratory Assessor, AASHTO re:source
Transcribed by Kim Swanson and MS Teams.
[Theme music fades in.]
[00:00:02] 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.
[00:00:18] Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Swanson and this is another from the cutting room floors episode so. A couple weeks ago, I guess now would be that Brian was joined by John McCabe, a Quality Analyst, and Russell Dobbs, the Senior Laboratory Assessor, and they've recorded a lot of content, didn't you, Brian?
[00:00:37] Brian: We did, and this is why we should never record without Kim Swanson present, because she really keeps us on task. And when I start to veer off on a wild tangent, she brings me back to where we should be. Now, this was really unfortunate because not only did you have me in this episode, but you had Russell Dabbs, who is also someone who can talk for a long time about any topic you give him, and John McCabe, who he also can talk. But he didn't have any room to talk. On this episode.
[00:01:12] Kim: Yeah. No, I will, yeah. No, it was definitely, yeah. It was definitely a very heavy as I was listening to the recording, I was like, OK, Brian and Russ are really going down some tangents. But this original audio, the full audio, you can hear from the main topic of the conversation was ASTM D4318 and AASHTO T89/T90. So, we have a separate episode about that, but in this episode we decided to take some of those tangents and some of the rabbit holes that you've kind of dug your way into throughout the recording and put that into a separate episode.
[00:01:50] Brian: Yeah. Thank you for doing that. Because I liked some of the discussions that we had, but they really were off topic, but it's good to know when you listen to this recording that you're about to hear that it was that the main topic was the plasticity index test. So, when we refer to a test that's specifically what we were talking about there, but we hope you enjoy it.
[00:02:12] Kim: Yep. And so, in this episode, you're going to hear Brian, Jon and Russ discussing using reliable sources for training, the expectations during the assessment, and the importance of ethical lab practices.
[Transition music fades in.]
[00:02:28] Brian: There's plenty of information online to give you more information, but I will caution you that that is not always the best way to find information, especially about test methods. Now, before we had this conversation, I was talking to Jon and we were sharing our experiences with looking at test demonstrations, videos on the Internet. Jon what have you found when you've looked at just a random YouTube videos of people running test methods?
[00:03:00] Jon: Lot of errors. They are great training tools for our new assessors to watch a video and pick out all the errors that the people have made in the different test standards.
[00:03:12] Brian: Russell, have you, have you seen any of these?
[00:03:14] Russel: Yeah, this is one of those test methods on that I have unfortunately typed into YouTube just to kind of see what comes up and what you see is a lot of college students that are doing this in some kind of geotechnical lab. I assume they're doing it for a class, maybe to demonstrate that. You know, here's how you do the test. They’re, pulling the soil up with their fingers and mushing it into the liquid limit device. And they're doing just about everything wrong that they can possibly do wrong. So just a word of caution if you are looking for information on how to perform this test on YouTube. There's a lot of really bad information out there on YouTube, so just be careful. I've seen more bad than good, so that's what I would caution.
[00:04:00] Brian: I would agree with that. I think some people get a class assignment to make a video and post it, and that gets graded. But some people then find that and they don't know that that's what it is. So, they think, oh, this person must know what they're doing. They're from whatever university and they've made this video and it's like, oh, no, that's an undergrad student who has never actually run this test before. They're trying to learn it. But rather than have somebody teach them because maybe they're professor doesn't know how to run it, either they have tried to figure it out and show this video. That's another thing I'll get into. Kim's probably going to cut all this. By the way, Kim Kim's not with us today on the recording, but she still will edit this. What we're going to say, Russ?
[00:04:41] Russel: Well, the other thing about that is you know they're not using the AASHTO or the ASTM standard as a guide for that test. They have a lab manual or something that that they're going by. I actually had a person in a laboratory one time using their old guide when he was trying to demonstrate the test and he missed a lot of steps and he did a lot of things wrong and he kept saying, but this is what my lab manual says to do. I'm like, yeah, that's great. But we're doing the AASHTO and the ASTM test method. That's what I need you to do. He's like, but my manual says this. Like, that's not what the AASHTO and the ASTM standard says. So, I mean, I think it's important to keep in mind that, you know. They're not using the same source information that we are either so. Just keep that in mind whenever you look at those they're amusing to us. I find them hilarious because of all the mistakes that are that people are making and the it's a good source of laughter. But. Not a good source of quality information on how to perform the test, that's for sure.
[00:05:39] Brian: Yeah, the source information topic is good one because it's not just AASHTO and ASTM that writes standards. Right? You've got a lot of different countries have their own versions of the standards, a lot of different state DOTs have their own versions of these standards. Now usually they resemble pretty like in the United States. Those standards are going to resemble the ASTM or the AASHTO pretty closely, possibly even identically. But it is possible that we could have a laboratory assessor go into a laboratory and they say, OK, go ahead and run the liquid limit test and they may run their state method and it may miss some steps. So, it's not that that person isn't competent or doesn't know what they're doing, it's just that they're used to running the state method. So that's initially what they did and it kind of need to get reset and say, OK, go ahead and run ASTM D4318, because that's what you've requested.
[00:06:40] Brian: So yeah, that's a really good point. But back to the whole, like, not trusting the video's conversation. I'd say you find that a lot of people don't know what they're doing in general. So, like, you should always be skeptical when you see videos online. Don't just assume because somebody has, like, if I posted a video of me running a test that I'm not that familiar with, don't trust it because, well, that person works for the AASHTO Accreditation Program. They must know what they're doing. At first of all, I wouldn't post a video of me doing something I wasn't competent to do because I know better. But if you do have a person who doesn't have that awareness, which I'm sure we all know, people, everyone listening knows somebody like that who's like, Oh yeah, I know what I'm doing and you know, they don't know what they're doing and they're perfectly happy to post something like that online and. But you really should be skeptical. And when you want to know the real information, you go to the standard and see what it says. Right? But it's difficult. Like I feel for the lab techs when they go through the assessments. When you see those kinds of mistakes. And Russ, I know you are a real people person. You are aware when people are stressed out and I know you feel it too. What kind of techniques do you use when you run into a situation where it just seems like somebody's really nervous?
[00:07:59] Russell: Well, you know it’s going to depend on the person. There are a lot of people who can't talk and work at the same time. A lot of times I like to just talk to people to try and, you know, help put them at ease, find some common ground, something that we can both talk about, sports or hobbies, something like that. Just something to take their mind off of the task at hand. But there are a lot of people who can't talk and work at the same time. And so, you ask them a question, they immediately stop what they're doing to answer your question. So, in those cases. It's really a matter of just communicating in the letting them know that you're aware that they're nervous and you empathize, take a step back, take a breath, and we'll get right back to it. I think alleviating the pressure and giving them that moment to kind of regain their composure, put their thoughts in order and then step right back into it and then letting them know that you know this is this is an assessment. It's not a pass-or-fail situation. Mistakes are common. We expect there to be mistakes. We don't expect anybody to be perfect and a lot of times that takes the pressure off as well because a lot of times people think it's an actual test and that they can fail and that's not the way we look at this. It's not a test. So, we're there to offer advice on how they can perform the test better based on what we see. That's really what we're there for. So, if you can establish that first thing and really emphasize that during the assessment, then I think that makes people a lot less nervous because you're not the boogeyman evaluating them, you're there to help them. Do their job better.
[00:09:43] Brian: I also want to point out we are we are responsible for making sure that they know what they're doing. So, like not making them know what they're doing, but identifying where they don't, right, [Russell: Right.] so that they can take corrective action. So, I don't want while I feel like this test, in particular, lends itself to us kind of helping them understand how to do it because they're there is such a subjective aspect to this test. I think we probably are more hands-on and helping them with this. But when it comes down to it, I think there's sometimes as a misunderstanding about our role and that we should like. I've heard this from frustrated customers before. You're here to make us better. I'm like, well, not necessarily. You're there to make yourself better. Like, that's your job. We identify what those areas are, where you need help. Only you can help yourself though, so do not put it on the assessor and do not put it on the quality analyst to do that part of the process like that is that is the laboratories responsibility. Jon, do you ever run into those conversations?
[00:10:52] Jon: Yeah, I mean the assessors are there to, I mean they are there to help you, but we're not there to, to hold your hand through the process. You know, we're not the lab manager. The lab. We're there just to make sure that you guys are meeting the necessary specifications of the standards that you're requesting. I always tell Labs it's not my responsibility to create something for you. It's my responsibility to make sure that that whatever you're coming up with is going to meet the specifications.
[00:11:19] Brian: Yeah. Yeah, that's right.
[00:11:21] Russell: We identify the opportunity for improvement, but it's up to them to actually put that into action for sure.
[00:11:28] Brian: Correct. Yeah. That. So, I wanted to make sure we address that point. I've been for some reason, I don't know what's going on lately, but I've been running into that conversation quite a bit as of late, where there are some of our customers that just don't really understand what this process entails, and they're disappointed because they looked at us as more like a consulting firm than accreditation body. But one thing I like to think of, and I don't often have to get into this part of the conversation with people, but think about it as a taxpayer, as the traveling public, you want to make sure that the laboratories that are working on the projects that your tax dollars are funding to be competent, right. You don't want it to be just anybody who has no idea what they're doing, that what was going through this thing and then all of a sudden it was made to look like they're in conformance like they know what they're doing when they don't, you want to make sure they've been vetted. You want to make sure they're at least meet some minimum level of quality of competency to carry out their work because you are paying the bill whether you know it or not. for that work, so that that is a big part of our responsibility, as well as making sure that you don't have companies that are not. Going to dedicate themselves to doing good work, making sure that they are not accredited as much as we want to make sure the ones who are accredited if they are going through our process, that the converse of that is true as well. So that is something to consider.
[00:13:05] Jon: The number one thing that people automatically understand is when you start talking about money and you start explaining it in that way that you know, hey, you know, we're there to make sure that you're meeting the specifications because our tax dollars are going to you to, like, help build this road or to test this material. So, we have to make sure that's all good there. I mean, there's cases all the time over labs don't have accreditation or they fake a test result and then they'll get sued. And I mean a lot of state, a lot of state certification exams you have to sign something that says if you fake test results, it is a class, whatever felony doing that. I mean, this is a serious thing. I mean, people's lives can be at risk for the job that you're doing. I mean, you think? Ohh, hey, we're just testing soil, but yeah, it might be going for a retaining wall. It might be going for something extremely important at the end of the day.
[00:12:39] Brian: If you don't think that's true, look up some news stories about failures where either bolt failures have caused issues or concrete strength. Test results were fak ed. I mean, these consequences can be more serious. I know some people don't understand. The this seriousness of that. But you don't have to go too far on the Internet to find stories where there have been tragedies as a result of falsified. I would say inspection, it probably more commonly than testing, but both apply.
[Transition music fades in.]
[00:14:33] Brian: Alright, now that we've cheered everybody up with that conversation, we are going to shift our focus to something a little bit more positive. We are planning for our end of the year episodes, and we try to be topical when we can and when we remember it's a record on time. And in the United States, Thanksgiving is coming up soon. So, Kim had a great idea that we should talk about some things that we are thankful for.
[00:15:05] Kim: Yeah. So hopefully we can get your help as listeners. We want to know, what are you thankful for within the construction materials testing (and related) industries? It could be a new(er) test that replaced an old, cumbersome test. A change or revision, or something that makes your job easier or testing easier. Something that has really made an impact on your industry, or really anything in that vein. Again, whatever it is, but we want this for our Thanksgiving episode at the end of November. So, if you could call us or even e-mail us if you want to just write in, that's fine too. But you can give us a call and leave a voicemail and we might use your audio on the recording of that episode. So, we'd love to hear from you.
[00:15:48] Brian: Yeah. So how if somebody is so inclined to send us a recording or to leave a voicemail saying what you're thankful for related to the construction materials industry, you can call 240-436-4807 and get our very own Kim Swanson's voicemail and we will keep that recording and Kim will piece it together with the episode. But like Kim said, you could also just e-mail us and say what you're thankful for and we'll read it on your behalf. So, any way we can get the information, we're happy to do so. And the e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can e-mail Kim or me if you know our emails, but it's just for Kim, it's email@example.com and mine is BJohnson@aashtoresource.org. So pretty easy. We hope to hear from you. It's going to make that episode better and it might be fun for you to hear your own voice on here.
[00:16:51] Kim: Yup. So, if you can send us things that you're thankful for in the construction materials testing realm by let's say, November 16th, that's a Wednesday. Then we can get it in our episode that will air, hopefully Thanksgiving week or there abouts here in the US. So, we hope to hear from you again. You can call and leave me a voicemail at 240-436-4807 or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Theme music fades in.]
[00:17:22] Announcer: Thanks for listening to AASHTO re: source Q & A. If you'd like to be a guest or just submit a question, send us an email at email@example.com or call Brian at 240-436-4820. For other news and related content. check out AASHTO re:source's Twitter feed or go to aashtoresource.org.