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Laboratories costing concrete suppliers dearly

An urgent meeting of the technical committee of surface mining industry association, ASPASA, was convened to address inaccurate and procedurally incorrect laboratory tests that are costing the sand and aggregate industry hundreds of millions of Rands every year.

ASPASA is receiving ever-increasing complaints from its members with readymix concrete subsidiaries about stock returns and even litigations as a result of erroneous laboratory results conducted on concrete. In many of the instance’s tests used in evidence against members have been compiled by unaccredited laboratories or without a proper paper trail.

ASPASA director, Nico Pienaar, said the problem was being compounded by the closure of the Southern Africa Readymix Association (Sarma), which previously championed the fight against incorrect testing procedures, as well as tests from non-accredited laboratories. Whether the proliferation was as a result of laboratories taking chances due to the demise of Sarma, or simply a growing trend could not be established.

Crackdown coming

Pienaar added that laboratories need to understand the excessive costs experienced by suppliers when incorrect results have been submitted. He further added that ASPASA will have to step in to address the problem and take quick action. 

“ASPASA is on a mission to improve the quality of the products that its members produce and is prepared to crack down heavily on laboratories who provide inaccurate results on the products as supplied – especially those who we find to be repeat offenders,” said Pienaar. 

He added that they will be addressing non-compliance issues with SANAS and report any accredited laboratories that have consistently produced suspect results on the SANSA complaints webpage. 

“It is worth noting that the national standards surrounding the testing of concrete are clear and have been around for a long time. It is just that some laboratories seem to be less committed to the drive for quality testing by abiding by these standard requirements,” Pienaar said. 

According to Pienaar one of the challenges that ASPASA will face is holding commercial laboratories responsible if they submit incorrect results. This could result in entire consignments of concrete being rejected by a client.  

Costly exercise

Technical committee chairman, Barry Pearce explained that the onus then lies on the supplier to prove the laboratory’s result are wrong and this can be a difficult and lengthy process. In the meantime, the damage to the reputation of the company suffers and cash flows can become severely constrained particularly in the current marketplace that is highly competitive with very low margins for profit. In some instances, these may even lead to the closure of smaller businesses which is a bitter pill for the association to accept even more so when the results are proven to be incorrect.

In some instances, engineers may even become unwilling victims as these incorrect results influence their decision to accept or reject the constructed works.  In some cases, the use of inferior products has potentially deadly consequences. 

Pearce explained that this could result in engineers accepting incorrect results and the matter will have to be urgently addressed. He added that he found that engineers do not always have sufficient knowledge of what happens in the laboratories to evaluate the results.

“ASPASA is very concerned at the lack of accountability in some quarters of the industry where these material failures occur.  Those at fault look at every means possible to point a finger in someone else’s direction rather than look to themselves to assist in resolving the issue and admit to their own wrong doing,” said Pearce.

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