We share audio from the November 2022 Q&A webinar, Ask the AASHTO Accreditation Program. Senior program staff answers accreditation-related questions, explaining more about the accreditation process and internal audit requirements.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 35: Ask the AASHTO Accreditation Program
Recorded: November 17, 2022
Released: January 10, 2023
Hosts: Brian Jonson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager; Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guests: Amy Reed, Associate Program Manager; Pete Holter, Senior Quality Analyst; Jon McCabe, Senior Quality Analyst; Joe Williams, Senior Quality Analyst
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.
[Theme music fades in.]
[00:00:02] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO re:source 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.
[00:00:20] Kim: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q&A. I'm Kim Swanson. Today we're going to be sharing audio from a recorded webinar: Ask the AASHTO Accreditation Program. This was recorded in November 2022. In this webinar, our senior accreditation program staff were on hand to answer attendee’s accreditation related questions explaining more about the accreditation process and internal audit requirements.
[00:00:47] Brian: Hey thanks Kim. I'm Brian Jonson. I'm the manager of the AASHTO Accreditation Program also Cohost the AASHTO re:source Q&A podcast with Kim. And this will be very much like a live version of the podcast today.
[00:01:02] Amy: I am Amy Reed. I'm the Associate Program Manager for the Accreditation Program. And yeah, I'm excited. Even though we have a small group today, hopefully that makes a lot easier for some useful conversations and questions.
[00:01:15] Joe: Hi, I'm Joe Williams, a Senior Quality Analyst with the Accreditation Program. I've been with this arm of AASHTO re:source for going on about seven years now. And I'm looking forward to having a conversation and answering any questions everybody may have.
[00:01:28] Pete: Hi, I'm Pete and I’ve been with AASHTO for not as long as Brian, but longer than Joe.
[00:01:34] Jon: I'm Jon McCabe. I'm a Senior Quality Analyst of been with the AAP team for about four or five years now and then with AASHTO re:source as an Assessor since 2012. Looking forward to some questions this afternoon.
[00:01:48] Kim: Again, thank you all for being here and Brian Is there anything that you want to share that's like happening, New and happening with the AASHTO Accreditation Program that might be of interest to the attendees as they think about what questions to ask you.
[00:02:01] Brian: Not really, I have gotten questions though, because some people knew that there was an R18 ballot that went out through the AASHTO Committee on Materials and Pavements, and I there's enough to talk about with that one that I think we're going to have a separate podcast episode, but I will let people know that it takes a long time to get standards updated in AASHTO. They only happened once per year, so it was this particular ballot went out in three stages. There was a large the ballot, that one didn't pass because it received a few negatives. And then there were two other elements of it that did pass. One of them was related to the frequency for calibration or standardization, actually, standardization of the compression machines to get it to match what it says in ASTM E4, which says that it interval should be 12 months, but it can go as far as 18 months. So, that will be updated in the 2023 book for AASHTO, or volume of standards and the other change was an equipment table for steel testing that will be new in 2023. And then what I received back from the committee are comments and negatives on the rest of it. So that's not going to go out like I'll have to put another ballot together and get it to go back out. So long answer there, but at least you know a little bit about what's coming and we will send information out so that people can prepare for the changes when that gets closer. But we're quite a way off from that right now.
[00:03:41] Kim: Well, thanks for the update there.
[00:03:44] Brian: To kind of help facilitate the discussion for any Quality Analyst who wants to answer it, how do you prioritize your workload?
[00:03:54] Joe: It is tricky because what a lot of people don't realize is that, you know, we're not just working with the labs all the time. Each quality analyst kind of has separate projects within our organization that they work on. For instance, I, myself I'm involved with some ASTM standard that I take over and work on. I'm also involved with another group called TFASH, which is a harmonization effort between AASHTO and ASTM for asphalt standards. So, when you say prioritized workload, it's not just what the actual role of the quality analyst is, it's you know other extracurriculars as well. I'd say the first thing just in daily, you know, open the computer and get to work. You know the first priority is emails and voice mails. See what's come in since the afternoon before. After that we have rush files which are typically laboratories that are seeking accreditation. We'll check on those to see if any of those have responded to any findings that they might have had or report. And then after that, there's two ways of looking at it, either we look at files that have deadlines that are coming up soon, or Pete actually has done some really cool coding and he sends us a list once a week of all of the files that we have, and we can actually see how long files have been waiting on a response. So, if a file from a laboratory isn't due in a month and 1/2, but they submitted responses a week ago. We can see that they're waiting on us so we can go ahead and check on them. So, there's a couple of different ways we can do that, and you. Just really have to schedule your time with doing that working with the laboratories and also with doing your extracurriculars as well.
[00:05:38] Kim: Thank you for that insight, Joe. Does anyone have a different style of prioritizing that they want to share? Or is that basically it? Joe covered at all.
[00:05:47] Jon: Yeah, I would say Joe just covered it all. I mean I was just gone for three days doing an assessment and today was my very first day back and that's basically how I organized my work today. I was going through emails. After the emails were done, I did the little bit of stuff I needed to do to turn in my asset. But after that was done, start knocking away at some files and see how much I can get done and hopefully by next week all nice and caught up. But yeah, I mean that that's one of things. I mean, we're always going to prioritize the rush files. I'm going to prioritize phone calls and emails because a lot of times those phone calls and emails have something to do with the report that's already waiting for me. So, you can kind of kill two birds with one stone there. And then you kind of just keep on going down.
[00:06:28] Kim: Thanks Jon. Pete, Amy, anything to add? Or maybe I should throw that question to Brian. See how Brian prioritizes his workload.
[00:06:37] Brian: No one wants to know that one.
[00:06:41] Pete: So, I'm kind of curious if there are any services, we're currently offering that you'd like to see improved in any way, or if we're doing something that you think is not effective and you'd like to see it done a different way. I'm kind of curious if anyone has any suggestions there.
[00:06:57] Kim: I love that train of thought there Pete and I will encourage anyone to just raise their hand if they don't want to type it in - any of the attendees. We are a small group here today so... ohh we have a first person. I'm going to allow you to talk so with your hand raised so politely. So welcome. if you want to introduce yourself and then let us know what you have to say.
00:07:20 Attendee1: Good afternoon, I'm Ghaith from Geo Structures. It's my first time to work on this accreditation and I was a bit confused and had some question about why they are separate. Why we are running assessment for the lab technician, if we have this PSP evaluation for the lab. What's the purpose of sending someone to the lab and check on the performance? Because you don't know if we are bringing someone else to do this test or not. I don't know what's the purpose, the exact purpose of doing? I understand that you need to evaluate how we run this test for, at least for the first time, when we request first time accreditation for adding new test not, but if we were doing this test for like 10 years or more, what's the purpose of keep running on-site or remote assessment for the same test method?
[00:08:30] Brian: Yeah, I think we can answer that one. So, first of all, the assessment and well the accreditation process is about conformance to the quality management system requirements and the test methods. So, when we go in there, we're doing more than just watching one person run a test. We're making sure that over time you're implementing your quality management system policies and procedures. Keeping up with equipment calibrations. Keeping up with training new staff. Keeping up with evaluations and competency of staff over time. Internal audits management reviews. All of these other things that lead to conformance to ASHTO R18, ASTM C1077 and all of the other standards -E 329 and ASTM standard as well. We have to come back repeatedly to make sure that your laboratory is still in conformance. Now that proficiency sample result is another way we monitor, and it does provide some objective determination of how well your laboratory is testing relative to other laboratories that are performing the same test. It can be an indicator that things are going well. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're implementing your quality management system though, so it's a monitoring tool that's used by an accreditation program, but without the assessment and digging into the details of the adherence to the requirements. It's hard for an accreditation program to declare that that laboratory is in conformance. If that does anybody else want to add anything to that on the call?
[00:10:05] Amy: I can add to that when you were first asking me a question. One of the things that came up for me was you said, I believe, that you can just kind of bring someone else in to run the testing for you. And that's something that we really focus on the accreditation side. It's required in the AAP procedures manual that the people that perform testing during your assessment are the staff that are at your laboratory all the time. So it is a requirement. We get a lot better idea that they really are staff at your facility by being there ideally in person. Having conversations with your staff when they're performing the test. And you know, it actually has come up before. When someone's like, Oh yeah, I'm not from this area, I came in to run testing, and that's not what we want. So having those in-person conversations is a really good tool for us as an accreditation program to make sure that the people running the test are the people that actually work at that facility, and then the other thing I did think of and then I'll let it go to you Pete, is that when you're running tests for us, you know maybe you're close to meeting, but there's a couple of small things that could give you even better results with your test.
Seeing and that might not be something that you even worry about if you're getting threes and fours on your proficiency sample scores. But by having someone in there pointing out the small details to you that could be changed, it might help you guys start getting fours and fives on your proficiency samples instead, and a lot you know better results to your customers.
00:11:26 Attendee1: So, as I told you it, it was my first assessment that I do ever. So what I saw, I don't know if it's a people are doing the assessment, they are just working with checklist.
I think that's at least this point, it should be weird for me or for anyone that have been doing lab for several years, to see someone that who doesn't know the test. Don't know how to do to run the test and he has only this checklist OK. Did he do this? OK. He did that? OK. For me, if you want to just check and see if the lab has updated all this quality management system. It's all of this stuff. It's kind of paper. So, we can e-mail it or upload it on the platform and. You may review it. I don't know, it's just I'm just trying to understand this concept for labs that has like 10 years... it should be at certain time you mean first time runs accreditation assessment like, 18 months or 24 months, then next time it should be much longer, maybe to three years, then five years this it's. You can keep reviewing our paper training records, calibration records, all this stuff. You can do it, but doing the onsite assessment, I'm not talking about sending someone to do maybe a check on our equipment. That's OK. I'm talking about being next to us. Ask us to perform the test step by step and we have like 30 test methods that needs to be performed and preparation. I don't know if you see how much time we spend to prepare the lab to prepare the sample to prepare the equipment to stop all the work that we have for the lab and empty the lab and prepare the stuff only to do this assessment.
[00:13:52] Kim: Yeah. So, I think we understand the vein of that question and I see that Jon McCabe - did you have - did you want to address - because I know that there's numerous people on here that can help kind of walk through. Because it is a very – it is a different accreditation process than some of the other international ones, and it is for a reason and. We would like to share that of some of the background on that. Jon, did you want to take?
[00:14:15] Jon: Yeah. I was just going to say, I mean, a lot of the reasons why we do that is because even somebody that's been running the testing for 10 years, you can get into bad habits over time. Or you start getting shortcuts. Or one of the biggest things is the standard may change, the requirements may change. We're checking different kinds of equipment out there. There is a lot of different things that can happen over time during the assessment. So, I mean, this is just a double check to make sure that you are meeting all the necessary requirements. Because I mean, I had seen it when I was an assessor, somebody's been doing some for 25 years and then you know, over time you know you start learning something different, or you start maybe running like a state method instead of the actual ASTM or AASHTO standard and so you're running it wrong. You're getting a couple of different results. So, the whole point of this program is to make sure that everybody across the entire country is running the standards exactly the way that they're meant to be, so all the results that they're getting are going to meet all the necessary specifications, so you know, if this laboratory gets a big tax dollar job or something on a Federal Highway project. You know, it's makes sure that everybody's on the same page. Everybody's doing the testing the same way. That's always the big part of our program of why we come back every two years to do this.
[00:15:31] Kim: Thank you for that explanation, Jon.
[00:15:34] Attendee1: Thank you.
[00:15:36] Kim: Does that make a little bit more sense for you? Did that answer? It is a very complicated process, it can be - it can be overwhelming, especially when you're new to the program. So, I can appreciate that as well and nobody really loves having somebody watch them do their work. I know I don't like that either. So, I definitely can appreciate that, but did that answer most of your questions?
[00:15:56] Attendee: Thank you very much.
[00:15:58] Kim: Perfect. Thank you. And we do have a question popping up in the Q&A - is resource considering adding nondestructive testing to scope of accreditation identified in E329 specifically welded connections to structural steel and liquid... pertinent and magnetic part. – [Brian: Penetrant] Thank you. I'm not. I wasn't going to do it justice. - Thank you for that question and who would like to answer that? Brian.
[00:16:31] Brian: I think I should probably take that one, yeah? So, we have talked about adding NDT and other special inspection aspects to our program over the years. And there was some interest and then there wasn't. And I think if that's something that you would think we could bring value to the industry, I would suggest emailing me or Kim or Tracy and let us know that you're interested in that, because we won't add anything unless there's a lot of interest, and I think something that is generally done in the field, we really would have to have a lot of interest to add that. I mean, we do. Obviously, we have you know concrete field and some soil field tests and SFRM testing that's done in the field. But the majority of the program is covering the lab testing, so if you're interested, please feel free to e-mail us and we'll start looking into that.
[00:17:32] Kim: I forgot that you all the panelists could see, so I didn't have to read and try to read live that question and mispronounce all of the words. So, we do. Have a question from Adam and since everyone can read that question, would someone like to read it and? Then answer it.
[00:17:48] Brian: Our company has struggled along with many in the industry at times with not necessarily performing surveillance but tracking them and performing at specified intervals. Do you have any suggestions or are you willing to share some good practices that you've seen that have worked in tracking surveillances and performing them at required intervals? OK, Adam, I'd like to ask you a follow-up question just for clarification - when you're talking about surveillance, are you talking about competency evaluations for testing technicians? OK Pete, have you seen anything where somebody has found it to work particularly well for keeping up with competency evaluation?
[00:18:30] Pete: A lot of responses we get from labs say an outlook calendar reminder for this or that equipment-related activity and same thing with comp evals. But apart from that I'm not really sure. But I'll also say in connection with the question about intervals is that depending on what a lab is accredited for, they can extend the intervals for these evaluations out to a reasonable span of time. There's no set requirement in R18 itself for how often comp evals need to be performed. And its suggested in there that more experienced technicians could be evaluated at a longer interval. You're going to see in D3740 and E329 specific requirements 2 every two years for technicians and 3740 evaluations every three years in E 329. So, you do have those limitations to how far out you can take that interval, but a lot of labs are under the impression that it needs to be every 12 months or every six months, even based on old examples that were in R18 that were given just as examples but were taken to be requirements and so just thought I'd clarify that.
[00:19:41] Brian: Yeah, thanks Pete. Hey Joe, do you want to add anything to this? Have you seen anything work particularly well?
[00:19:46] Joe: Something that I've seen work a little bit. It was a couple of years ago and it kind of became putting the pressure on the actual technicians and giving some of the responsibility to them and giving some of that delegation to them saying - you know, hey, we need to evaluate you for these tests. Make sure we're doing that. Usually putting them on a monthly. You know we need to evaluate you in March. Make sure we do that. Make sure you come to us. And then that kind of distributes that load a little bit to give some of the responsibility to the technicians and also just bring them in on the quality process as well. And what they're actually doing. Another thing with that is equipment calibration, specifically for field equipment, you know everybody will have their own kit and it's their responsibility to get their own field equipment and standardized and calibrated, not necessarily the responsibility of the supervisor or the manager, and I think really kind of bringing the technicians in on the quality requirements and why you're actually doing this, why it's required doing that that I think that helps out a lot.
[00:20:49] Brian: That's an excellent point. That engagement is really important if you want an effective quality management system. I want to mention another thing in R18, AASHTO R18, it says that the quality management system has to be available to and understood by your staff. And the best way to get that understanding is to get engagement with the technical staff in different aspects of the quality management system, including scheduling, competency evaluations, equipment checks and standardizations, and the like.
[00:21:20] Kim: And I see Nathan has his hand up so welcome, Nathan.
[00:21:26] Attendee2: I had a question about internal audits. I've seen how different places perform things, and I've seen some lab internal audits that have been like one page - check, check, check, check - and then I've seen them that are 6 pages and then I've seen them with a corrective actions. And I'm wondering, in general, when you look at something, do you just look for the one-page cover checklist, or do you really look for the entire all the way through the closeout? Or what I call it, you know it's like OK, you satisfied your internal audit findings. I think it seems to be maybe applied differently from office to office, or that's just kind of a general statement. I don't that could be wrong in me, but that's just throwing that out there. Why have you all looked into like a certain set of like standardization of what you look for or is one page good enough as long as it meets the requirements outlined in the quality standards?
[00:22:33] Kim: Thank you, Nathan. Amy, do you want to take that one?
[00:22:36] Amy: Sure, so we're continually improving our training process here and there's always room for improvement. So, there is a variation sometimes between an assessment at one lab and another lab you know, within the same company or within the same town you know something may be accepted at one location and not in another and there's various reasons for that. From our point of view, though, as an accreditation program we definitely want more than one page. We want your entire quality management system reviewed. We want actual documentation of all the documents that are reviewed throughout that internal audit, and we want some kind of closure. So, you know you're reviewing your proficiency sample results and you see that, oh, you guys have been getting low scores the last two years and no one's been. Performing corrective actions on those, and so they're continuing to happen, and now your laboratory is suspended for it. We want to make sure through that internal audit process that you follow up on it all of those sorts of things just to make sure that the process is effective. Internal audits can take a lot of time. They may take several days at your laboratory for someone to conduct it, but that's good. The point is that your laboratory is growing through this process. It's not that you're just filling a piece of paper out once a year and putting some check marks on there. And that is something that quality analysts are going to send back to the lab if everything is green lit, good to go. And then you have a report with lots of non-conformities and if things are still unresolved, it means that it's just didn't dig deep enough on your internal audit.
[00:24:03] Kim: Thank you for that, Amy. And we'll also say we do have a lot of resources on internal audits on our website on the re:university section. There's a new letter article “Internal Auditing: Just the Fact, Ma'am.” We've done a bunch of podcast episodes about internal audits as well. Did you have anything else to add, Brian, on that topic?
[00:24:25] Brian: I did. Back to what Pete was mentioning about where sometimes the examples didn't really help out too much. I think this is a case where the R18 examples sent people down the wrong path. And it, there's an oversimplified example of an internal audit record, and it's really insufficient. I mean, if you want to have an effective internal audit, it should definitely be more than one page. I don't see how you could do a really good one that actually leads you to a quality improvement by just sticking to that. There's not enough room to write down what you need to write down, and it's just I, I'd say inadequate. So, I think that this is an area of improvement I'd say across the board for people in our industry is getting a little bit better at internal auditing. One of the requirements in R 18 says that they should train the internal auditor, where, I think it says where possible or if possible or something like that. And it's possible to do it, and if you want to do it right, you really should do it. So like Kim mentioned, we have some materials available. So, if you don't have somebody at your company who can train you on internal audits, there are ways to get training on internal auditing. I'd say at a minimum, we have some free resources to people, but there are also plenty of organizations that offer training on internal auditing. And I would say if you really just want to have an idea for it or feel for it just pay attention to the assessor performing the external audit, because really your internal audit should be similar to an external audit, except you know more. About what's going on. So, we're an external auditor is going to cover some stuff. An internal auditor should really be digging in and doing such a good job that when you have that external audit, it shouldn't really reveal any news to you, so I I'd say that's a quick way to know if your internal adds are effective is if you didn't get any surprises during your external audit.
[00:26:23] Kim: We did get another question from Jeff talking of training, and I think I can actually answer this one. I'm excited. Now if I only answer it correctly is that is the question. But the question
Jeff asked - Speaking of training, do you know when the full agenda for the March 20, 2023, AASHTO Resource Technical Exchange will be posted? And I will say - pretty soon is the answer to that. Registration is scheduled to be open in December, maybe even earlier. Fingers crossed, but don't quote me on that. And we will at least have a rough agenda of what sessions will be when it may not include the full description of each session, but we will definitely have something so everyone can know what to expect? But we do have a good agenda. I'm excited about the agenda and I think a lot of the people you see here will you will also see at the technical exchange, so be on the lookout for that and we hope to see you at the technical exchange in Fort Worth. Does anyone on our panel have anything that they want to share before we close this out?
[00:27:27] Joe: I'd say it's something else that I do is I do a lot of the PSP documentation that we do for requirements of participation, so something to keep an eye out for is the Vheem program is being split out into three different programs based on the method of compaction - whether it's the Texas compaction Colorado compaction or the typical California needing compactor that we see. So, if your laboratory is accredited for one of the for one or more of those standards, you want to keep an eye out for that the emulsified asphalt program is being split out into two different ones for unmodified and polymer modified, so keep an eye out for those changes in 2023, those will be coming. And just one more thing before we sign off just a plug for our website and general you can see Kim has been posting a lot of this stuff in this chat. You know she doesn't keep these documents locked away in her back pocket somewhere. All of that's available on our website on the re:university page. A lot of different policy and guidance documents. There's newsletter articles that can be referenced for all sorts of different kind of thing. So yeah, our website isn't just for reviewing your laboratory’s accreditation or where you stand and for submitting responses. There's a lot of good information on there to take a look at.
[00:28:46] Kim: Thank you for that plug, Joe. And I will say we if you want more details about the changes to the Vheem samples that Joe was talking about. I did just post a link to the announcement that was on our website about that. That has a little more details. We also have a podcast, but I was not quick enough to get that link out, right now so. So, there is that. Is there anything else that anybody wants to add any of the panelists?
[00:29:10] Jon: I'd say responding to the nonconformities in your OSA report. I always know a big one that a lot of customers will get upset about is when you know if it's a procedural finding and they submit a corrective action report, and it's really important to know about the wording that you're using for those corrective action reports, because one of the biggest things that we see is saying the technician will be trained. And then the question I have to ask back then has a technician been retrained? And then a lot of times the laboratories will get upset by that. Like, well, I already said that they were retrained as well, unfortunately in the correct report said that they will be retrained and in order to be able to fully resolve that now we need to make sure that the retrain has actually happened. So that's is always one thing I like to tell labs is watch out with the way that you're worrying things you know if you're going to use future tense like that, something will be done, then we're going to have to ask. Well, has it been done? It's something very small, but it will save a lot of time, though in the long run.
[00:30:07] Kim: Thank you for that Jon. Amy?
[00:30:09] Amy: Yeah, so something I come across a lot. Usually, people call me when they're worried or concerned. And one of the big things is certifications because they're like my certification expired for my technician and they can't get into a course for three or four months. We work with labs as much as possible. When you give us confirmations and things like that for an upcoming certification, but it's really important to remember that it takes a several months, typically from when you schedule, or you start the process of trying to schedule a certification until it's taken and your certification is received. And the expectation is that your certifications for your staff, technicians and supervisors, are current at all the time, so if there's a certification that's expiring in four or five months, that's the time you should be signing your staff up for new certifications. You shouldn't wait until it's expired and then start the process. Because then you have staff members that you would like to perform testing for projects that require those ASTM quality management system standards that require certifications, and if your staff aren't certified, it's a very kind of stressful situation for everyone. So just keeping those current, realizing that certifications do sometimes take four or five months from when you start looking for one until you can actually receive your certification.
[00:31:22] Kim: That's a great tip. Thank you, Amy.
[00:31:24] Brian: One thing I think people get frustrated by as well, that I wanted to let people know about is sometimes they'll call and someone won't answer the phone when they call and then they don't get a call back. And that can be frustrating, but a lot of times when we look into it, we find that that person didn't leave a message. So, we'll get a complaint or you know, negative feedback about hey, you know I called and no one answered or no one ever answers the phone. And you know, there's a couple of things that could be going on one thing is we are in the Eastern Time zone and our hours are typically seven to three is pretty common, but we do have some variability. Like Pete has the night shift almost he has little later hours, but we also have a lot of meetings and like right now we're on a webinar and somebody may be trying to get a hold of one of the people on this webinar right now and they're. Not, and then they hang up. But unless you leave a message, you will not get a call back, so we don't know that it's you unless you leave a message. And I usually when somebody calls me and they don't leave a message, I assume they must have called one of the other people on the team and got a hold of who they needed to, so I won't go and look at all my missed calls and call people back. So, if you do need to get a hold of anybody, the phone is a great way to do it. That shows a sense of urgency, but make sure you leave a message with it with details too - your name, what company you work for city and state, because there might be multiple locations. And your callback phone number.
[00:32:55] Kim: But yeah, it's amazing how many times people forget that little part of actually having to leave the message. So, thank you everybody for your time today.
[00:33:05] Kim: If you'd like to see as well as hear the video recording of this webinar, you can find it on the video gallery page on AASHTOresource.org or go to our YouTube channel.
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