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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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Taking responsibility for concrete onsite

Surface mining industry association (ASPASA) says its members, who supply sand and aggregates, as well as readymix concrete to the construction industry, are alarmed at the lack of responsibility taken for concrete used on construction sites.

This is increasingly leading to disputes onsite where the blame is often incorrectly placed on the shoulders of the material suppliers. They then carry the burden of proving materials were delivered as specified and prescribed.

ASPASA director, Nico Pienaar, says many of the country’s sand and aggregate producers also operate readymix concrete plants on their sites and are calling for fairer practices when it comes to proportioning blame when things go wrong.

“During recent construction industry-wide discussions it was evident that those involved throughout the construction supply chain do not want to take responsibility and would prefer it stays with the concrete supplier – even despite various onsite factors that can affect the quality of concrete,” explained Pienaar. 

He further explained that there needs to be a clear cut-off at every stage where the responsibility changes from the supplier to the contractor and site engineers. 

“A good example of this is where readymix trucks wait for long periods of time to offload concrete with potentially significant effects on the quality, consistency, and workability of the concrete. In these events, the suppliers should be absolved of liability and it should fall squarely on the shoulders of the engineer in charge,” Pienaar added.

According to Pienaar to avoid future problems, members and suppliers in the industry take their time to carefully negotiate all the requirements of the supply agreement upfront. 

“When a contract is being negotiated there should be a meeting with the client, the engineer, the contractor, and the suppliers to set out the rules and to agree on the various issues,” Pienaar said. 

“Agreement needs to be reached on specifications, material requirements, testing methods onsite, as well as delivery and timeframes for the placement of the concrete. Laboratory procedures also need to be discussed and methods used internally, as well as by accredited laboratories that will test the quality of the materials. With these types of agreements in place, ASPASA hopes to see fewer disputes in future,” added Pienaar.

He concluded that the association is also taking a further, proactive approach to preventing disputes with the compilation of a site meeting guideline and process documents to be used by members when accepting supply contracts. These will be made available from the association when completed.

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