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Our remote assessment experience – Part 2

Our remote assessment experience – Part 2

Mission accomplished

After much anticipation, our remote assessment with AASHTO re:source went quite well. Like most laboratories, there was that uncertainty of not knowing what to expect even though we have all been through numerous on-site assessments in the past. 

2020 threw a curveball at all of us, and that includes the AASHTO Accreditation Program (AAP), especially when it comes to on-site assessments. Annually, AAP assessors go on-site to over 1,000 labs. They had to move into action fast, and that they did. That said, they reached deep into their toolbox and the remote assessment was born. Literally, weeks later they transitioned into providing remote assessment for laboratories with immediate needs.   

Gameday

Like always, there was an opening meeting but this time with Zoom over our iPhones as we all eagerly huddled around the Bluetooth speaker and listened with much anticipation. Shortly thereafter, the technical staff began to perform tests for each assessor that observed over the next two days.

Key takeaways and comments

We had two assessors that expedited the process. They started on Wednesday at 8 am and concluded Friday morning at 11 am with a Zoom closing meeting. Our last assessment in March of 2018 was conducted with one assessor over 3.5 days. 

Prior to the start of the assessment, we had provided a list of tests (accredited for) and the technicians that were to perform each test. The schedule was then established by the assessors. By providing our QM via R18LabQMS the assessors were able to easily access all documentation required in AASHTO R18, including training records for the laboratory technicians.

It was an interesting experience during the assessment while assessors were observing tests via Zoom. We had one person behind the camera as eyes for the assessor, while constantly being mindful of what the assessor was looking for (camera angles, close-up, etc.), and providing equipment serial numbers, manufactures and any other details requested. You may want to practice this in your lab prior to your upcoming remote assessment.

A major part of the assessment is providing access to your Quality Manual to the assessor going back at least to your previous assessment. There are various options they suggest and provide but can be restrictive and time-consuming. In our case, providing access to our Quality Manual using R18LabQMS is the easiest method for everyone – just grant the assessor access. Read more on this in a recent blog titled Remote assessments and your quality manual.

Internet, equipment, sound and Zoom

A week before the assessment, you will have a 30-minute “dry run” with the assessors to check out internet access throughout the lab. A great internet connection is the single most important part of your remote assessment experience. You can prepare all you want, but if you can’t interact with the assessor there is no assessment, and yes, it’s costly.

Equipment includes: 

  • A communication device. iPhones or iPads are best. 
  • A Bluetooth external speaker can make listening for everyone engaged a lot easier, especially if you’re using an iPad (iPhones aren’t bad). 
  • A tripod/selfie stick. You’ll catch on fast when using it.
  • Most overlooked – get a couple of long power cords for anyone operating the camera

And lastly, you will be using Zoom to connect with the assessors. This may seem simple, but playing around with the settings and actions within Zoom will save you time and money. Be sure you have all Zoom links on your calendar and ready to go. There may be more than one link involved. In our case, we had two assessors, one in the asphalt binder and emulsion lab, and the other in the mixtures lab, so we had two Zoom links. There were also links for the opening and closing meetings.

Closing meeting

After two days of assessment activities in the lab, we wrapped up with the traditional closing meeting over Zoom. The assessor provided us with a copy of the preliminary report prior to our closing meeting via Zoom and did a great job talking us through the report. The final report will come out approximately two weeks later. The laboratory is given 60 days to resolve any non-conformities to maintain its accreditation. 

More info about remote assessment with AASHTO re:source

Details of the remote assessment process can be found by going to their flowchart and checklist. 

The future of on-site assessments

Will there be a return to on-site assessments? This is a question that everyone is asking, and AASHTO’s response is that they plan to get out and be on-site again but no timeline is set. From my perspective, I would think remote assessments will remain in the AASHTO Accreditation Program’s toolbox indefinitely considering how well it has gone.

User question

Q: Is there a way to find equipment procedures that are already in the system that have been created not including procedures we have created for our lab? 

A: Yes, all procedures both system-generated (by the R18LabQMS team), and procedures you have created for your lab can be found by going to; 

  • Manage Lab Tab
  • Click the Equipment Procedure widget
  • View

Resources and training opportunities

Once you work through the setup process, the following links can be found in the lower right hand corner of the application;

  • Support
  • R18 Blog
  • Virtual Training (1 hour or less, no fees), contact us for an appointment
  • Extensive Virtual Training – Fee-based, please inquire.

For all questions regarding your quality management system, whether your lab is accredited or not, please contact us and learn how R18LabQMS can add value to your company.

– Gary Irvine, R18LabQMS Program Manager

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