AASHTO re:source Q & A Podcast

Umbrella Accreditation

February 13, 2024 AASHTO resource Season 4 Episode 37
Show Notes Transcript

AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript

S4 E37: Umbrella Accreditation

Recorded:  January 25, 2024

Released:  February 13, 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.

00:00:21 BRIAN: Welcome to AASHTO Resource Q&A. I'm Brian Johnson.

00:00:25 KIM: And I'm Kim Swanson. And what are we talking about today, Brian?

00:00:29 BRIAN: Today, we're going to talk about a concept that is very misunderstood in our industry and that is the concept. Out of. Umbrella accreditation.

00:00:39 KIM: Yes. Now I know we've talked about parts of this in other episodes, but I don't think we've had one particular episode specifically about it. So hopefully this will help put everything into one episode so it's less confusing for people. At least I hope.

00:00:56 BRIAN: I hope so too, and I hope that people see that and they think. Ohh good, this is going to be the episode where they say we do have umbrella accreditation, but guess what? t's the opposite of that. So I wanna get that out first. So you know the strategy of capturing people's attention is to give them the message 1st and then and then distill it down, you know, explain what's going on later. So the the top level story here is that AASHTO accreditation. That is not an umbrella accreditation that encompasses all other activities that are conducted by a laboratory is very. Like about the location that is on the directory and the test methods and other standards that are listed on the directory listing that you can find on our website.

00:01:44 KIM: I'm confused on why people are confused because I am not familiar with that many other accreditation bodies. So are there other accreditation bodies that do have this concept and utilize the concept of an umbrella accreditation?

00:01:59 BRIAN: I don't know the answer to that. If that is a commonality, but what what I. [KIM: OK.] Do you know is that?  That it is a I don't know if this is the right term, but I I'd say it's more of a self fulfilling prophecy kind of situation where people want that to be true.  And then they've convinced themselves that it is true, and then they they tell people that that's the case, even though it's not.

00:02:24 KIM: No. Is that Mandela effect that everyone thinks that every someone has umbrella accreditation and that's never been a. Thing it might. Be I have no idea either.

00:02:31 BRIAN: I don't know, but I find the same thing happens with certifications, so with personnel. [KIM: OK.] Location is people will say well that person works under me and I'm certified, so then they're certified. It's like that is not a thing that is true in any industry that I'm aware of. But I've I've heard it so many times from people who are new to our program and in my private life. I've heard it so many times. From contractors. Electricians, plumbers, etcetera will say Oh well, that person isn't a certified. Said whatever it is, but they work under me, so they're good and I say well, no, that's not. I'm sure that's not how that works. I'm not going to bust out the code on that, but I understand how this process or this concept works in general, and this is not typically the way it works.

00:03:26 KIM: I certainly have a thought of you.  Busting out the code of like when you have a plumber or electrician in your house and then now you're somehow on a list of like, don't go there, that he's gonna read the code and say you do it correctly. I can just envision that you're trying to assess the the worker as they're doing the work. I'm sorry.

00:03:45 BRIAN: Yeah, that's not too far off from being true.

00:03:50 KIM: All right. Well, now that I have that vision in my head and I'm going to just keep it there, even if it's not accurate, let's get dive into why we don't why the Astro accreditation program isn't considered any form of an umbrella accreditation.  So we've talked about it in the past and that you said it, I think already today that. Astro Accreditation is location specific and specific for what's on the the tests and standards that are on the directory. It does not extend any further than the location and the tests or the scope within what you're accredited is. Your accreditation is listed on the directory.

00:04:30 BRIAN: That is correct, but I I will say there is situation that exists that makes it a little unclear and this this this is a a good question that people ask because some of the test methods and practices that we accredit. [KIM: OK.] The laboratory for are actually field practices.  So those cannot take place within the confines of that building, maintains actual accreditation. They actually take place in the field outside the laboratory, so that you would have those field tests conducted on project sites. So if those activities are dispatched and largely controlled by the.  Laboratory that is accredited. Then those are included in the accreditation process, so the equipment is managed by that.  Facility the technicians are trained and maintain certifications in accordance with all the requirements that we've verified during our assessments and other activities. Then that's OK. But if that organization or entity were to set up a project laboratory.

00:05:42 BRIAN: At the site and conduct laboratory. Yes, those would not be included because you are now performing tests at a site that are not field tests. Those are laboratory tests so that that that requires a separate accreditation, separate assessment, separate proficiency samples.  There could be environmental control issues, there could be equipment issues, because then that would be maintaining equipment that we maybe didn't see when we were performing our assessments or didn't verify that the equipment was calibrated or standardized or.  As required in ashore 18 or the the standard that's used in. So that's where the fuzziness.  Of this stance comes into play, but the field tests and field practices can be an extension of the laboratory. Is that understood?

00:06:38 KIM: I think so, and I can now see where this is fuzzier than I originally thought. Yeah, so I just want to make sure I'm understanding this, that if the field tests if they're home base is the laboratory and the the field technicians.  Go out and perform these field tests. We have already looked at the personnel who are running the field tests. So now do we look at all of the personnel that run the field test or do we just do a? Sampling of that.

00:07:10 BRIAN: It's it's a sampling, so everything with accreditation is a sampling to some degree, so you've got what takes place during the assessment is one person is observed to do that. And what you have to assume and the risk you take on is the accreditation provided. There is that you assume that if all systems were in place to have trained and perform competency evaluations on that person, and they perform well, then it's assumed that the other people, their peers, would have also experienced that. When we do verify the records in that case to make sure that that was taking place.

00:07:44 KIM: OK. Yeah.

00:07:46 BRIAN: You don't necessarily watch every single one of them to verify that that. Process was effective in every case, so if I have 5 field technicians, I'm not gonna watch five of them run the tests. I'll.

00:07:53 KIM: And then. Watch so long. Yeah. And I can see why we wouldn't do that, because they would really muddy the waters if we're certifying technicians. If we actually watched all of the technicians do it, then I could see that would muddy the waters even more of saying, well, then aren't we certified? No, because we're watching.  One technician runs something that doesn't mean that we are certifying that technician can do it. We're saying the processes are in place, that the personnel.  Should be able to run that test because we verified that the processes are in place and procedures.

00:08:27 BRIAN: Right in that line of thinking, it makes it even more preposterous that somebody would think that somebody's certification would convey to another person, right? Because in that case, nothing is the same.

00:08:39 KIM: Yeah, yeah.

00:08:40 BRIAN: So what base? What's the basis of that? Wishful thinking is the answer is wishful thinking. So. So I I have had a a conversation recently.

00:08:44 KIM: Yeah, yeah.

00:08:48 BRIAN: With somebody who's trying to monitor what goes on at A at a test site or project site.

00:08:53 KIM: MHM, MHM.

00:08:55 BRIAN: And we got into this very same discussion is that one of the laboratories in our program in another state. Wanted their accreditation to convey to this other project that is, you know, so hundreds of miles away. It is not reasonable to assume that those field technicians are the same field technicians that we're running those tests now. It's not totally impossible, very unlikely, but it is certainly not the case that the laboratory. On that project site was evaluated in any sort of manner. Even if the technician that ran the test at that other location that is accredited moved to the other one, we have no idea what's going on in the original location anymore. It gets a little tricky.

00:09:36 KIM: Yeah. No, I can see that being tricky for sure. So that leads me, I think to another part of the umbrella accreditation of.  The geographic part of it. So we talked a little bit about different project sites and project laboratories being accredited and I know we can have temporary projects accredit site laboratory accreditation.

00:10:02 BRIAN: That's correct. So that's another another muddy water situation. If you don't read like. How that process works, so I've had people say, well, we extended the accreditation this and they say well, no you don't extend it.  We extend it so we have a process that they have to go through if they want to go through the official extension of accreditation to a project facility, they would have to go through some steps. I'm not going to get too into it here, but basically what the outcome would be is we would list on our directory these project facilities. They're also included in this is their scope of accreditation. So you would look at the main laboratory and you would see this link to another certificate. Of accreditation and that would include the personnel that are working at that project facility as well as the tests that are included. It's. Usually a subset of what the main laboratory has because.

00:10:53 KIM: I'm sure we've talked about this in another episode, but can the temporary because normally it's only like for a year or two. This like this, right?

00:11:00 BRIAN: It has to be a year or less to qualify.

00:11:03 KIM: Oh gotcha. Alright. Is there ever a case where that that temporary extension, that laboratory is accredited for more than the the home laboratory like the main laboratory or is it always just less than?

00:11:17 BRIAN: We had a case once where they had. It was a field test and basically it moved.

00:11:25 KIM: Oh, OK, yeah.

00:11:26 BRIAN: To like they were conducting it in the field at this project. But that's the only one I can think of that was like that. But one of one of the one of the premises is that it had. It can't be more than.

00:11:29 KIM: Got you. OK. 

00:11:37 BRIAN: What we have? Already observed because with that extension process there are measures in place that we take, you know, document reviews proficiency. Sample tests performed, but we don't perform a regular assessment at that project's laboratory to complete the extension process, so we would not be comfortable with that without some sort of assessment. They were trying to do much more than they do in the main laboratory.

00:12:04 KIM: That completely makes sense to me. OK, so we have the temporary extension for Project laboratories, but then there's also mobile lab accreditation that I know is a thing that we can accredit mobile laboratories. And I believe we've had an episode about that. And if we have, I'll put a link to the show in the.  Show notes in it, but how?  I feel like that muddies the water even way more with the mobile lab, because then that. Can move from project to project.

00:12:30 BRIAN: So this is an area of improvement that we need to carry out is to more clearly define what the parameters are for that mobile laboratory accreditation, but right now. The mobile lab gets accredited just like a regular lab gets accredited, so they go through all the same measures that that everybody goes through and the only reason that if you're a an agency verifying information on a directory, you would actually see in the laboratory name Dash mobile laboratory after their name. And that's how you know it's a mobile laboratory.  But they have to do everything that a regular lab would do, but they can move most of the time. It's like a long term.  Move when they get that done and they have to keep up with everything. So like once they relocate, they have to carry out everything that they would if they were relocating to a new building. So we have processes in place for that. We did have a case where there was a a trailer that was accredited, that moves all the time.

00:13:31 BRIAN: And we said, OK, well, you're going to have to have your own measurement standards to perform your own checks on your equipment and your own standardizations because we're obviously not going to be able to keep. Help with your daily or weekly moves and we really don't expect anybody to to do that like to to tell us, hey, we moved to this other project and now we're going to do this. So it it's a good it's a good thing for those mobile labs to make sure that they're able to keep up with everything on their own. That would be one change I would like to make to our.  Policy is to require all those mobile laboratories to have all their measurement standards and and show evidence that they have been keeping up with this because that that that might be a gap that we need to fill right now and in our our own expectations for conformance.

00:14:21 KIM: I think that answered most of my questions. Again. I'm trying to recall back to that other episode, so we don't repeat things unnecessarily so, but also with like geographic. I know on the actual accreditation directory on our website, you can search for laboratories.  From a radius like geographically from you know like that are 200 miles away from, you know, a city or something. But then the example that I feel like you just said or you maybe have just mentioned that like a project was in one state and then like miles away was the like hundreds of miles away was a laboratory and you're like, well, that doesn't make sense that they would be.  Be able to do that, but then why do we want people like what happens in those areas? Like how far does your accreditation actually extend geographically then?

00:15:10 BRIAN: Yeah, we don't set any geographic limitations necessarily. And there have been times where, you know we have this multi site approval process for technical directors and supervisors and. There have been times where we have challenged laboratories because we thought they were pushing it and we thought well, that seems like it's unreasonable to expect that that person's going to drive 3 hours and just one interesting case that we had with this is.  They proved to us that they actually do this and I thought, well, that's.  Tough for that person and we need we need to. I'm not going to say you can't. Do that to your staff. You know, it's like if they're willing to do that as part of their job and they're willing, you know, some areas.  They people just customarily Dr. Far. Like if you're in a.  City you probably have a longer commute than if you're out, you know, somewhere that's not a big city. You know, typically like you, you have a shorter commute and a lot of those areas. But like around the Washington DC area for example, long commutes are customary like, you know, a lot of people who have long drives, you know, hour to two hours.

00:16:22 BRIAN: Some have really like excessively long ones, but they do it anyway because they like living out in the country. For example, even though their job is in the city. So. That does happen. So we we even though we think it's an abnormal or unrealistic situation, maybe it's not, but you just have to prove it. So in this case that person showed us evidence that they really do this and it was compelling. So we said, OK, I guess that's what you do and you seem OK with it, so that's fine.

00:16:50 KIM: Yeah, yeah. You're like, that's great for you. I would not want to do that. But OK, that that works for you. I.

00:16:54 BRIAN: Not yeah, yeah. Guess and and that's the. That's the tough part, right? Cause we have to be objective, right? So like even though my sensibility is like I would never do that and and I know what my limits are, it's like that person seems to be fine with it so.  OK.

00:17:11 KIM: Yeah, yeah. So then what?  About laboratories, let's say that are on either a, you know, a border of state to state jurisdictions, or even, you know, the US, Canada border or US, Mexico border. Are there limitations to accreditation that cross those boundaries of jurisdictions of? You know, state to state or country to country.

00:17:33 BRIAN: Yeah, those limitations.  Those would be things that we wouldn't necessarily get in involved in, but those are things that those laboratories need to be aware of. So different jurisdictions are going to have different requirements, right? So if you're in an area like New England, right, where you've got a lot of states that are packed in and you, you could have projects and you know four states.  For depending on where your laboratory is, you need to understand what those requirements are.  In the states that you're doing work in or cities you know, cities could have different ones, or municipalities could have different requirements. You just have to be aware of what all those are and make sure that you're in conformance with their expectations before you take on that work. And I think that's pretty normal for somebody to do that. They're not just going to say, Oh yeah, we. We're doing this work and we didn't read the contract and nobody checked up on it. I mean, I'm sure that happens.  But that's obviously not a very responsible thing to do and not something we would expect an Ashe accredited laboratory to to do. But I'm not going to say. It doesn't happen. It probably does more than I want.

00:18:38 KIM: To know what other things did I miss?

00:18:41 BRIAN: One extension of this question involves the the personnel.  Right. We're we're talking about personnel. So we, well, we did talk about personal certification a little bit, but I'd also say one thing to watch out for is. If you are a laboratory and you are working in another area, make sure that your personnel that are going to be assigned to that project meet the requisite require. Like those requirements. I guess that's redundant, but the they need to be certified or whatever that state or that city requires. So sometimes you might get surprised at a requirement that that entity or that that it might be a a Planning Commission, or it might be a public works department, or it might be a Department of Education, or it might. I mean it could be some agency you hadn't really thought about when you were. Working in that area, or maybe it was an offshoot or something, or a conglomeration of requirements, it fell on you, but you have to be aware of those and just take the time to do it and make sure that you have the right personnel certified.  To do the work so that you don't get yourself into a situation that that puts you at risk of of some sort of penalties or other problems.

00:20:03 KIM: Are there any requirements within the Astro accreditation program or any of the standards that we accredit for that kind of check to verify that the laboratory or organization has systems in place to?  Double check the requirements for projects that they've been on or anything like that. Or is that way out of the scope and people are just like please? Do not say yes to this question or no.

00:20:26 BRIAN: Well, that that is out of the scope of it of R18. You know when you get into some of the ISO standards, you you're you're talking more about contract review processes that we don't really get into for the typical laboratories, but that would.

00:20:28 KIM: OK.

00:20:42 BRIAN: The not the conversation we would be generally having with the customers that we have that would probably be somebody else in their company that handles that kind of work, but but it is it, it would be it would be a good thing. To make sure that you have a good process in place for that and you're not just like.  Applying for just stuff that you think you can get without actually conforming. Now I know that happens because we do get those desperate pleas from laboratories to say I need to get accredited next week. How do I do? And I and I and I think well, I don't really want this customer in our program because potential customer in our program because they. Must have said that they were AASHTO accredited to even get the contract, if that's what it required, and clearly they do not have it because they don't understand any of the require.  Comments and they have unrealistic expectations for what's going to happen, so that generally doesn't go very well.

00:21:46 KIM: And not saying we say no, you can't be accredited, but you just say, well, this is the process that takes a long time, so.

00:21:53 BRIAN: And it's highly unlikely you're going to get what?  You want out of this?

00:21:56 KIM: As quickly.

00:21:57 BRIAN: As quickly or at all right? But but I think the important thing is for these.

00:22:00 KIM: Yeah, yeah.

00:22:05 BRIAN: The organizations, the agencies that are requiring accreditation to to be aware of these risks also that that may be the the laboratories that you're hiring don't understand all your requirements and maybe you want to give them some time to comply if you're not very clear in the first place. So this is a perennial issue we have is a certain airport. They turned over the contract every few years and that airports expectation is that the laboratory just.  Shows up on day one and they're accredited at that site. Well, that's not possible. So you really need to give them several months. I'd say 3:00 to.  Six months to acquire the accreditation that you're expecting of them, you know, have that built in, have that expectation built into your contract instead of.  Worrying about it after you already awarded it, because then you're going to have conflict and you're going to be operating in a a way that is not in compliance with the the contract you wrote because you wrote an unrealistic expectation.

00:23:03 KIM: So in that scenario, you're talking about that there's an airport that has an on site laboratory that's on that project site and then?  Right. They contract, like have subcontractors and like they contract out that work, but it's an on site thing.

00:23:18 BRIAN: Yeah, they can't get. They can't even get on site until they're.  Award of the contract, but the contract requires them to be accredited, so it's the.

00:23:26 KIM: Got you.

00:23:26 BRIAN: It's impossible. They, despite their best efforts, they can't achieve that. So I think it's good to set realistic expectations.

00:23:34 KIM: Yeah. So then with that a better way of doing that is say that your parent laboratory needs to be accredited and then you have to, you know three months to get this one.  Accredited to or something like that? Or is it just like anyone can do it? You just need to. Filled it in like like like you said.

00:23:55 BRIAN: These agencies have to be careful not to exclude people from the bidding process, so so you don't want to say ohh you have to already be some big multi laboratory company to be able to bid on this contract. So I don't want to say that you shouldn't be able to even compete for the bid, but there should be some way for them to.

00:24:04 KIM: Yeah, that's true.

00:24:15 BRIAN: To see the viability of it. Of that even even happening because you do want it you, you don't want to exclude the smaller companies, but you also don't want to include. Hammers. They don't. Even. They don't even operate in that field, but they just, like, apply for contracts and they're like, well, I just need to get the bid and then I'll sub it out to somebody else and pocket a bunch of cash in the meantime. So you want to exclude those kind of entities because all that does is waste public money, right? Because you're paying somebody who doesn't even do anything. So I I think you I I don't know how you write the contract to do that, but if if you were a contract person out there and you've got a solution that might be a good future.

00:24:53 KIM: OK.

00:25:00 BRIAN: Code of the podcast talk about that process.

00:25:01 KIM: Yes, even. : E-mail podcast at after resource.org if you want to be included on that and have.

00:25:08 BRIAN: Ideas. And I would love to talk to somebody about other things to watch out for. For example, they're sometimes you have, you know, you've got a QC and QA process for material being produced. So you've got the the. Whoever's producing it would test it on the QC level. Make sure that what's going out the door is what it's supposed to be, but then you've got this QA component where you're making sure that that is correct. So you need an objective party at the other end to. That the whoever is working on these contract awards has to be very careful that there's nothing sketchy going on whereby that entity that that you give the QA work to is actually owned by the same company as the contractor that's doing the QC, because that's an obvious conflict of interest. And they're going to be motivated to get those numbers to match up.

00:25:59 BRIAN: And if you're trying to get protect the public interest, that's not gonna get you there. I mean, sure, there you may have a PC that says, oh, yes, I'm. I have integrity. And I'm gonna do what's required. Don't don't trust that necessarily without verification. So that's why it's important to make sure that those you have two.  Divested interest. Interested parties working on either end of that process. Does that make sense?

00:26:28 KIM: I think it does.

00:26:29 BRIAN: OK. So that would be if you are, if you are working in state or federal government, that probably makes sense to you. I hope so. I'd love to talk about that issue more though. So if you're if that resonates with you and you'd like to to be a guest to discuss it, please.

00:26:44 KIM: Let us know for sure, or if you're just part of it and you want to talk about it off the podcast. I'm sure Brian would love to talk to you about that. Just to gain more understanding about the process.

00:26:54 BRIAN: Right. Even if you want to tell me I'm wrong. That would be a good one too. I, you know, I'm not always right.  I know I've experienced certain things and I've I've got my worldview, but if you want to show me how wrong I am I I'd be open to that because then we're always looking to continually improve.

00:27:13 KIM: I think this.  Covers everything with this and I think this umbrella episode is now closed. What do?

00:27:18 BRIAN: You think? I think so. I.

00:27:19 KIM: Think we're done. As a reminder, we have the 2024 AASHTO Resource Technical Exchange, March 18th through the 21st in Boston, MA and.

00:27:29 BRIAN: We would love to.

00:27:30 KIM: See you there. And Brian? Brian would love to see you there. Yeah, I'm not going to be there, but you can meet Brian, get his autograph and then.

00:27:33 BRIAN: I would love to see you there. Yeah, people are. People are clamoring for that.

00:27:45 KIM: Ohh I please. If you're hearing this and you are attending the Astro Resource technical exchange this year in Boston, please ask Brian for an autograph. I would. I want that story when we come back. For season five, I want to hear. About all of the autographs that he had assigned, please do this side quest for me.

00:28:08 BRIAN: Hasn't happened yet, so we'll see.

00:28:11 KIM: Oh, please do it. I'm begging all of our listeners too. If you're at the event, please ask Brian for his autograph and make a big deal out of it. Oh my goodness. I want that so much. OK, well, I think we covered everything in this episode. So thank you, Brian, for your time.

00:28:26 BRIAN: Alright. Thanks, Kim. See you next time.

[Theme music fades in.]   

00:28:30 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 podcast@aashtoresource.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.