While the policy on how to publicize your AASHTO Accreditation hasn't really changed, how it is being enforced recently did. We discuss what this means for AASHTO Accredited laboratories.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 4, Episode 33: Enforcing the AASHTO Accreditation Policy on Publicizing Accreditation
Recorded: January 4, 2024
Released: January 16, 2024
Hosts: Brian Johnson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Director; 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.
Transcription is auto-generated.
[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. Now here’s our host, Brian Johnson.
00:00:20 BRIAN: Welcome AASHTO resource Q and A I'm Brian Johnson.
00:00:25 KIM: And I'm Kim Swanson.
00:00:27 BRIAN: Today on the podcast, we're going to talk about an existing policy that has been updated recently and we are actually taking action on in 2024. It's the AASHTO Accreditation policy on publicizing accreditation. Kim and I have been discussing this at length and at the end of our recording. Kim summarized the entire discussion in a very nice clean package, which we are going to play first. And then we are going to get into all the details. So you're going to hear the all that you need to know right away. And then if you want to get the rationale and other explanations, hang on. And you can sit through the rest of it as. Well, if you want.
00:01:11 KIM: So here is the quick summary version of what you need to know about the changes to the AASHTO Policy on Publicizing Accreditation.
00:01:25 KIM: The policy itself has not changed for publicizing AASHTO Accreditation. There was clarification and how it will be enforced and how it will be reviewed by staff. So, the policy in brief again, please refer to the policy is that AASHTO Accreditation is location specific. Your laboratory is accredited. We do not accredit people or products. We do not certify anything, it's all accreditation. So that's kind of I feel like the bulk of it. Is that it's location specific and it's accreditation, not certification or approval or anything like that. So that's the main thing that has not changed, but the policy what has changed is that we are having staff review websites as part of the annual review process for already AASHTO Accredited laboratories. If you happen to notice something, you the listener on somebody's website or on their test reports or at a trade show.
00:02:25 KIM: Or their sales sheet or something like that, that misrepresents their AASHTO Accreditation. Please notify us because we do depend on industry to notify us because we only can do so much. There are limitations within it, so please notify. Like us and we can handle it. And the change that I think started us all was that it is now the policy specifies that an AASHTO Accredited laboratory, if they do not resolve any issues with their statements or misstatements of accreditation can get suspended for that.
00:03:01 KIM: Now that you have the summary, here is the rest of the conversation that led up to that summary. Enjoy.
00:03:09 BRIAN: What I want to talk about today is a policy change. That it we're kicking off in 2024, this is actually our first recording session of 2024. And what I want to talk to everybody about is the we have had this policy on publicizing AASHTO Accreditation for years. It's in the app procedures manual and we have an excerpt of it into a policy and guidance document, or a policy document on our website, and we've added something to it at the end of the year to address how we are going to handle laboratories that are accredited. And are also having issues following. The policy on publicizing accreditation.
00:03:56 KIM: So we did have an episode on publicizing Ash to accreditation back in 2021. It was season 2, Episode 7, where we covered the basics of what wording is allowed and why it's important to do it and all that stuff. And none of that has actually.
00:04:13 BRIAN: Changed. That's right. Yeah, the policy. It's the same. It's the enforcement of the policy that is changing. So let me get to that right away in case people just want to hear that part of this discussion, that the change is that if we find that an accredited. Did laboratory or company that has a bunch of accredited laboratories in our program is violating the policy and we reach out to them and they decide that they don't want to correct the issue or they ignore the request to make changes to come into compliance with the policy? We will actually suspend and eventually revoke the accreditation for their laboratory. Queries if they fail to conform to the requirements.
00:05:02 KIM: That wasn't always the case that they wouldn't get suspended.
00:05:05 BRIAN: It was not addressed, so the policy was more we will list you on the false claims of accreditation page, but it didn't specifically say what we would do if they refused to. [KIM: OK, OK.] Correct it and it really never came up because people always took care of it when we notified them because they wanted to be in compliance. But then we had that one laboratory at the end of last year that was just ignoring all of the reminders. And we said, hey, listen, if you don't take care of this, we're going to have to take action on your account. And then we got Swift's responses after that and everything is fine. So then that experience taught us that, hey, we need to make this more clear in the policy so that everybody understands that you don't just get put on the false claims of accreditation page, which some people may or may not see we actually will take other actions if necessary.
00:06:01 KIM: I guess I just assumed that that's what would have happened and as you explained it, I do recall that it is not specifically stated, but I guess my brain just connected the dots and assumed that's what was going to happen anyway. So, I'm glad we have a policy on that that is specific.
00:06:18 BRIAN: Yeah, yeah, it it's always good to be specific in the policies cause when you and it's kind of funny that's how a lot of these policies evolve. Health is circumstantially, you know you, you say, well, no, our policy already addresses that. And then you read and you say, oh, I guess not, let's get this clarified for everybody else from here on out to make sure that it's clear. But the other? The other part of this that I wanted to discuss is the enforcement, you know, not only is this policy clarified. But in 2024, one of our goals for the AASHTO Accreditation program team is that we are going to do a sweep. Of all of the websites of all of the AASHTO Accredited laboratories, to make sure that they are in conformance with this policy. So starting in January, we are doing this. We notified all the laboratories in December that this was happening. We have gotten some emails from laboratories that were concerned. About what that means and how much time they have to take care of it. So, one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this today was to make, you know, answer some of these frequently asked questions that we've gotten regarding this policy change and the enforcement activities going on right now.
00:07:29 KIM: So historically, how would the AASHTO Accreditation Program be made aware that there was an issue? That they were not publicizing their accreditation correctly.
00:07:40 BRIAN: It would have to be a competitor or a regional competitor of a laboratory that's violating a policy. But most of those were centered around laboratories that were either only participating in the Proficiency Sample Program, or maybe they weren't even customers of ours that were claiming to be AASHTO Accredited. So that's kind of how we were notified about it and occasionally we would notice errors on laboratories website, but we didn't have a like a systematic approach to evaluating this and really one of the things that that is important to us is that we maintain fairness and you know, fairness and objectivity in our program. So, one way to do it is to say, OK. You know, if we're going to look at some of these, we really need to look at all of them. So even though it's going to be very, very difficult and I don't think anyone on the staff was incredibly excited to have this added to their activities, but they all do understand the need for it. So, they're already working on it in January with the laboratories.
00:08:46 BRIAN: Have annual review dates of January. That's the mechanism for this and how we're going to be able to manage this activity throughout the course of the year is we start in January with all the laboratories that have an annual review due in January. So that's when the review is taking place on our end is we have a new question. Added to our internal form that prompts the staff member to look at the website of the accredited laboratory and ensure that it's not violating the policy for publicizing accreditation. And like I said before, though, the good news is that a lot of laboratories, once they got the notification that we're doing this, they jumped in and reviewed their websites right away and didn't want to wait until their annual review to get it right because they may have not been made aware of it before or, you know specifically or just kind of just glossed over that.
00:09:40 BRIAN: Requirement because they weren't really worried about it because they didn't intentionally do anything and that is that is the other part of it is. It's usually not intentional. It's usually a misunderstanding or just a lack of clarification. So, what's going on now is we're getting these emails and the laboratories are being followed up with by the quality analysts and they're making changes where appropriate.
00:10:02 KIM: Since this is an added step in the process, are you expecting the time it takes for quality analysts and staff to process the annual review files to be extended a lot, or is it going to take a lot of time and? Make the draw out that process unnecessarily.
00:10:20 BRIAN: I don't think so. I think it might add a little bit of time and a little bit of delay. I would say like the actual process of reviewing the website, I would say it should take less than a minute. You know you click on the website, you find the page where they advertise their accreditation, you read the little blurb, which is generally only a paragraph long. The last. Or they have like the wrong logo or something like that and you notify the lab say hey, you know you need to fix this before we close out the annual review and then hopefully they just take care of it at that point. So, it really shouldn't add a lot of time, but one of the questions that quality analysts have asked is, you know, what? If it's hard for that laboratory to do this, what if they have to reach out to? Their IT provider to make a website change or something like that and I'd say well, that shouldn't really be a problem because they update their websites. Semi regularly to begin with and my experience over the years is that laboratories can take care of this in less than a.
00:11:19 BRIAN: Week so I'm not anticipating a big change in in how that is handled for laboratories. They like it. They have a website, they must know how they made it. They must have somebody who can do it. They're paying or they're paying somebody to do it, but it it's got to be able to be updated to be accurate. So if a laboratory needs a little bit more time because of some complication or something we didn't even think about, then we'll have to consider that. But. I think it's in expectation that they should be pretty fast about making this correction.
00:11:54 KIM: Well into that point, it already should be accurate, right? Like they should have. It should be right in the 1st place, so that it should. It's not like we're asking any everybody to add something to their website or do something or not. Because I mean, you technically don't have to say that you're asked. Accredited on your website at all. So, I mean I would advise against that. Go see listen to Season 2 episode 7 for reasons why but. You don't have to do anything, so it's not like we're making them do something. It's just ensuring what they have is correct.
00:12:27 BRIAN: That's right. And I think you what you're what your statement also implies is that it's not. We've been talking about the enforcement angle, but it's also an opportunity for the laboratories to better enhance their promotion of accreditation. I mean they work hard, and they pay for the accreditation and they should promote it appropriately. So this is an opportunity for us to share the logo with them that they should. Using or put a link on their website that shows you know their customers or prospective customers can go to their website and jump straight to our directory and pull up their directory listing to see wow. You know, look at all of. These tests that this laboratory has been confirmed to be able to be competent to perform or. Or have been accredited for and wow, look at how long they've been accredited. That's a good indication of a laboratory that I want to do business. So I think it really should highlight the need in the in the value of the accreditation for those laboratories.
00:13:30 KIM: So, for the instances where quality analysts during the review process do come up with an, you know, notice something that is incorrect, that needs to be. Addressed is that handled within our systems? Accreditation event. Thing or is it an outside?
00:13:47 BRIAN: That's part of the change is it's handled within an existing process, so it's not going to be just a series of emails that get lost. It's going to be embedded in that annual review. So I think that will help too, so that we can retain that information and refer back to it later if we.
00:14:05 KIM: Need to I think that's going to be helpful. As I've been, it's various stages of involvement in this in this policy and enforcement of this policy throughout my years here, I think that part will be helpful to keep it within an existing system for the already for the labs that are currently in accredited. So, I do want to stress a point and I don't know if it's a good time here or if I'll add this to. The end that. We still do. Need those kinds of whistleblowers and the public. Like to notify us if they noticed someone's misrepresenting their AASHTO Accreditation status publicly because this new A system or this new addition to this policy is only effective for AASHTO Accredited laboratories are ready. So if there is, like you said, someone that's maybe only. Participating in one of our programs is not accredited or is not participating in any of our programs, but just want to say that they are. We still need the eyes and ears of the people within this industry to notify us about that situation.
00:15:15 BRIAN: And it may even promote that to the laboratories that haven't really been thinking about it because they work hard. Like we mentioned, they work hard for this accreditation. The idea that a non-accredited, even non-participating laboratory. Sorry, could make that claim and have that go unchecked and compete for contracts that they should not be rightfully competing for against laboratories that have invested the time, effort and money into maintaining their accreditation. It's really not fair and it's and it should not happen. So, if laboratories that are accredited. Find out those situations are occurring. They should definitely notify us just like they have been in certain areas and some areas we never hear anything. I don't know if it's just because there aren't that many testing firms in those areas or competitions not very strong, but there are always people willing to do the wrong thing to. To get money. So, so people should be aware of that.
00:16:14 BRIAN: Consideration. One other thing that I wanted to mention that is related to this is I I don't, I still don't have a good handle on how we can engage with those that are reviewing and awarding contracts in all of the various agencies and even with private entities that have big contracts to award to. To contracted labs or subcontractor? It would be great if we could somehow get the word out to those type of people so that they can be more aware of these policies as well and what to watch out for when they get somebody trying to get a contract. You know, how do you look up an accredited directory, you know Accreditation directory to verify the information. And what do all these things on the directory mean? You know what? Like how? How do I know? What do I care about what? C39. Is do I care about what C1077 is? We can help them understand that if they reach out to us, and so if you're out there and you have a job like that and you're listening to this, you can ask us questions anytime and we'd be happy to provide you with information.
00:17:25 KIM: We're here to help and we want people to and entities and laboratories. To express their accreditation. Appropriately and to actually use it and we would want project owners to require a show accreditation clearly, but then to know what that what all that means and what that entails and make it easy for them. So, we do have tools on our website and we'll be happy to go over all of those things with if you are a project owner listening to this or you want to. Or just send a link to a project owner perhaps? We have tools. Available for that and we will be happy to go over the go over that with them for about anything really like. But specifically, about publicizing accreditation and requiring accreditation on projects.
00:18:10 BRIAN: And I didn't even get into what the common issues are that we see. So in case you listen to, you know, like we're talking about this amorphous issue that you have not defined. So I think it's probably time to define. On it. So. So here's I mentioned logos you use of logos before we have a an AASHTO Accredited logo that should be the only logo that the laboratory uses to promote their AASHTO Accreditation. It's not appropriate to use the AASHTO logo by itself. It's not appropriate to use the CRL logo. We have old logos that we used to have. I think you should update it to the new one. It's a lot nicer. What were you going to Say Kim?
00:18:46 KIM: I was going to say it's not. It's important that it's the AASHTOE accredited logo because the AASHTOE accreditation program has a variation of that. Logo and that is not the same. So if you are just kind of copying a logo that you see on our website, probably not great. You actually need to get the AASHTO Accredited logo and you should not be using an. AASHTO resource logo. And not the AASHTO. Logo, not the CCRL logo. Things like that. It's very specific AASHTO Accredited logo.
00:19:22 BRIAN: Beyond that, the other the other common issues we run into are just misstatements, misuse of terms. The important thing to remember about this is that the statement should be tied to accreditation and specifically asked to accreditation. So you could say our laboratory maintains ASH to accreditation, something like that or our laboratory in this location. If you have multiple location maintains ASH to accreditation. It doesn't extend to your job sites unless those are specifically accredited or an extension has been processed to include those project. Websites. It doesn't include mobile labs unless they're specifically accredited. Doesn't include branches that aren't specifically included and have separate listings, so. So that's something to keep in mind. We also want to make sure you don't say that your technicians are certified by AASHTO. That's not a thing that exists. We also are not certifying any products or materials because you're maintaining accreditation and you don't have the, you don't have the right or authority to certify anything based on your actual accreditation.
00:20:31 BRIAN: Either so that doesn't like just because you're a national credit laboratory doesn't mean that people can send you, and you can say this is now certified by the AASHTO Accreditation program or by AASHTO. So you have to be really careful about how you use these terms and. And those are the ones that probably concern me the most is when. Particularly a product or a material. If a manufacturer or a let's say an asphalt plan or an aggregate quarry, if their laboratory is asked to accredited, it is really important that you don't say that your materials are certified in any way by Ashley or by the AASHTO Accreditation program. So hopefully that's been made.
00:21:16 KIM: Yes. And I will say Ashley does have a product and evaluation process and program and that is the AASHTO Product Evaluation and Audit Solutions Program, formerly net PEP. So that is different than AASHTO Accreditation. And if you are confused. Or not. You can reach out to us if you're confused about what the difference is, or go to transportation.org and search product evaluation and audit and. They'll have more. Details about that program and what that actually means, but that is not AASHTO Accreditation.
00:21:53 BRIAN: That's right. So those are the big ones that people should watch out for. But the other thing is I did want to mention the limitations of this change. So we're talking about evaluation of the website content for these laboratories. We're not asking them to send us promotional information or can you send us an example of a bid or anything like that we trust that they have to like when they are educated on this through these interactions that they will carry that on to update the rest of their information that they use. To make sure that they are not making any other false claims. But we are stopping short of going through everything. So if in 2025 somebody reaches out to us and says, hey, I thought you guys took care of this. I just saw this laboratory have a banner at this. Trade show that says that their products are certified. We wouldn't know about that unless you told us. But please do tell us if you do see that because we will follow up with that particular laboratory and make sure they do not do that in the future.
00:22:58 KIM: Is the process for that? Because I think all my experience has been with. False claims of accreditation are for website specifics. Because that's the easiest one to note that we're notify. Side of. But what's the process and have we experienced it when it's been on reports and other things and promotional materials and? Things like that but is. The process the same once we are made aware of it.
00:23:23 BRIAN: It is and it's funny you should ask that because one of the things that happened right after we sent out the notification about this sweep in 2024. Is that somebody said, hey, I'm working with this one laboratory and I have their price sheet and their price sheet has some inaccuracies on it related to actual credit. And they forwarded it to me and I forwarded. I followed up with that laboratory. Now, this one I did outside of the annual review, because that wasn't coming up anytime soon. And it was kind of like I I'd categorize this under the outside of the scope of what we're looking at in that, that sweep, but still needs to be addressed the way we've been doing it up to this. Point. So what I did is I followed up with the laboratory. It got resolved. It wasn't really a big deal and the person took really quick action. So that was good. So yeah, we are doing that and just the way we have.
00:24:14 KIM: Been so would instances that are not attached to the staff's annual review process of the website. Would that be handled outside of the accreditation event system, or would there be a new accreditation event? Triggered because of that that they then we would have records for. So all the great things that we just said about why having it in the system is awesome. Is that going to happen moving forward for those ones that are not necessarily tied to the staff review of it.
00:24:48 BRIAN: Well, you have just identified a potential improvement opportunity for me because I did not create an entry in that laboratories accreditation events to include this back and forth about updating that sheet. I probably would have. Well, actually, I know I would have if they didn't resolve. Of it, because then we would have an accreditation event like I considered it not to be. I didn't. I didn't like intentionally say this is not an accreditation event because nothing happened. I mean I I guess I did, but without thinking it thinking about it that way. But certainly if we had to suspend accreditation, I would have to make an accreditation. That and then I would take all those e-mail interactions and dump them into that. But no, I did not. And I typically do not. Create those when we're dealing with those one offs. Especially that is actually another offshoot of this problem.
00:25:47 BRIAN: Is sometimes laboratories say, well, why don't you list violators in the directory itself? You know, if you find out this laboratory is not even a customer, why don't you put that in the directory? So when I search, I'll when I search the directory that'll come up. Well, the problem with that is I would have to make an account for a non customer and it would have their contact information, their login information. All of this stuff that I don't really want because if they're, if they're willing to. Blatantly make a false claim about being an accredited lab when they aren't even a customer. We certainly do not want them to be a customer of ours, so we don't want to make an account for them and then post it on the website. And we also don't have a mechanism for posting a false claim in the directory itself. Right now it would just be a general suspension. That then leads to a letter that says that they made a false claim of accreditation.
00:26:45 KIM: And then they would also be listed on our false claims of accreditation page on our website. And then we do post. That multiple places as well. When we do have an active listing, which as at the time of this recording we do not have anyone listed on the false claims of accreditation page, but I will be posting links in the show notes to the false claims of accreditation page to the AASHTO Accreditation directory, to the policy we just talked about and. To the. Previous episode that where we talked about in Season 2 episode 7 about publicizing your accreditation directory, so I will post links to all of those things for you so you don't have to go searching for them if you don't want.
00:27:28 BRIAN: That's right. And you may not realize this at home, but Kim, in addition to all of the other things she does actually does, add those to the website herself and then removes them when it's time. So that's one of the many sundry tasks that Kim handles. In her day-to-day activities with AASHTO It is,
00:27:49 KIM: but I will say thankfully. We don't often have false claims of accreditation. I will say the end of last year, 2023, we had an uptick of those. I definitely noticed. I felt like we had a lot more because I remember one or two times a year I'd have to update that page. But I feel like it was a lot at the end of 2023, but I will sometimes forget how to do. It so I'm glad we have. The process documented in her quality manual So I can. Remember the steps I need to take for all of that because. It is such a rare occurrence so.
00:28:19 BRIAN: It is, at least I hope. So I mean, we don't know what we don't know though there could be a lot more of this going on than we are aware of actually did have somebody who had been a regular reporter on these things at one point ask me, you know, why don't we do a better job finding these on our own. And like I don't, I don't know how we would do that. I guess we could do regular accreditation like search the Internet for potential violations.
00:28:49 KIM: So I do have a Google alert for. This term AASHTO Accreditation. But it's hit or miss of whether it is actually useful information or not useful information. But if you don't have that, Brian, maybe you should set that up as well for you, so it's not just me, because sometimes I also just delete that e-mail because I forget that I need to actually. Do something about it, but.
00:29:12 BRIAN: Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Another improvement opportunity identified in this episode. You know, we better stop talking before I get more action items.
00:29:21 KIM: Let's what I'm good for is just be like, hey, what about this? What about that? Did you think of this?
00:29:26 BRIAN: It's always helpful. It really is.
00:29:27 KIM: I'm glad you. I'm glad you think it's helpful and not just like I don't want to talk. About this on. The podcast because Kim’s going to punch. All these holes. In the things.
00:29:36 BRIAN: No, no, it it's, it's really good. And one other thing I was thinking about in this discussion is the use of AI. So, so many people are like, why don't you just? Use AI for. That there's so much misinformation you get. Like, if you do an AI, if you use an AI tool and you just ask questions about things, you get all sorts of nonsense. Back currently, so I would caution people about that, especially if you're asking about specific. Like entities, you know what? Hey, what? What is going on with this? You might get something totally unrelated or some misinformation. So you really have to be careful out there. I'm sure as. As time goes on, we'll probably learn more about how people are using and misusing AI so that we can have an episode. On that, actually, if you're listening to this and you say, hey, I know of something relevant for that, go ahead and send it our way and we'd be happy to explore it on a future episode. It that'd be an interesting topic.
00:30:34 KIM: I think it will be. So I want to do a brief recap here because we kind of talked about a lot of things. And maybe was a little scattered, since this is actually the first episode that we're recording of this of the year. So it might be a little scattered. So I want to do a brief recap just so everyone's on the same page as they end their listening experience. So the policy itself has not changed. For publicizing AASHTO Accreditation, there was clarification and how it will be enforced and how it will be reviewed by. Staff. So the policy in brief. Again, please refer to the policy is that AASHTO Accreditation is location specific. Your laboratory is accredited. We do not accredit people or products. We do not certify anything, it's all accreditation. So that's kind of I. feel like the. Bulk of it. Is that is location specific and it's accreditation, not certification or approval or anything like.
00:31:37 KIM: That so that's the. Main thing that has not changed. But the policy what has changed is that we are having staff review websites as part of the annual review process for already AASHTO Accredited laboratories. If you happen to notice something, you the listener on somebody's website or on their test reports or at a trade show or their sales sheet or something like that, that. Misrepresents their AASHTO Accreditation. Please notify us because we do depend on industry to notify us because we only can do so much. There are limitations within it, so please notify us and we can handle it. And the change that I think started this all was that it is now. The policy specifies that an AASHTO Accredited laboratory, if they do not resolve. Any issues with their statements or misstatements of accreditation can get suspended. For that, did I miss?
00:32:33 BRIAN: You are an excellent listener and I think you can just cut the previous 20 minutes and just post what you just said and we are.
00:32:39 KIM: Done. Maybe I'll put that in the put this in the beginning and say here this is the short thing, but then you can listen to the rambling discussion that.
00:32:47 BRIAN: We had. Yeah, I think so.
00:32:50 KIM: But did I miss anything? In that recap, or was that? All of it.
00:32:52 BRIAN: No, no, that was that was great. That was that was it that that's all that you need to. Know about this?
00:32:58 KIM: That will be the clip I post on social media as the sound bite for that just. Listen to this.
00:33:03 BRIAN: I think that would be great and it would probably be really helpful because people do have the minute and 1/2 or whatever that was. Just to listen to without all of the other stuff. And they don't. Have to hear about my action items that I. Have either. Well.
00:33:16 KIM: Thank you for your time today, Brian.
00:33:18 BRIAN: Hey, thank you. And look forward to getting some feedback on this from people that have listened to it. Hopefully this helps explain the rationale behind these changes and gets people to be able to implement it easier.
[Theme music fades in.]
00:33:34 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call Brian at 240-436-4820. For other news and related content, check out AASHTO re:source's social media accounts or go to aashtoresource.org.