The introduction of NATA Policy Circular 26 in 2009 (now integrated into the recently issued July 2011 revision of the Construction Materials Testing (CMT) Field Application Document, Section 3.5) has already been embraced by Geotech Materials Testing Services.
As committed members of the Association we would like to take this opportunity to share our experience through the processes of implementing the requirements for the supervision policy in the hope that it may be of some assistance to other testing providers who are planning their own change-over.
At Geotech we have been accredited since our establishment in 1993 and we continue to strive towards building on a reputation as a provider of quality construction materials testing services in Western Australia. We now operate out of three base laboratories, fifteen annex testing facilities and employ more than 100 people.
I have to honestly admit that we were apprehensive about investing our valuable time and resources into complying with the policy but, like NATA, we too had real concerns about the emphasis on the Association to formally assess and approve signatories to issue endorsed test reports. We realised that this was restrictive and unrepresentative of how CMT facilities structure and control their operations and we began to understand the reasoning behind this need for a change.
Up to 1 July 2013, accredited facilities, or those seeking accreditation, must either maintain NATA approved signatories covering their scope of accreditation or comply with the new supervision and staff qualification requirements. After this date, facilities must comply with the supervision and qualification requirements as approved signatories shall no longer be recognised by NATA. As we have already made the transition we are now responsible for deeming our own staff to be technically competent in relation to the test methods included in our scope(s) we are accredited to designate signatory status internally. The entire process, from design through to implementation, took us the best part of six months to complete.
Like all other companies involved in this industry Geotech are well aware of the ever decreasing availability of experienced staff and the consequential adverse curtailing effects on the progressive development of our organisation. The introduction of this policy encouraged us to review our own competency determination procedures which have resulted in the formulation of an internal training and assessment department. We now have a structured training programme, designed to be applicable to all our technicians, irrespective of their previous levels of experience and knowledge. This gives us an effective mechanism for the planning and scheduling of staff development and proficiency determination which enables us to create more efficient base laboratory teams and also for the mobilisation of capable staff to our remote annex testing facilities.
We wanted to be as proactive about this conversion as possible, as reflected in our Company’s Quality Policy, to demonstrate our commitment to remain at the forefront of developments within the industry, which incorporates our compliance with the requirements of the accreditation body. Post the initial period of uncertainty in relation to our interpretation of the policy and after obtaining additional clarification, support and guidance from NATA, particularly from Sonja McFarlane (Senior Scientific Officer CMT, in our local Perth Office) we have successfully created and implemented our own “Training, Supervision and Signatory Policy” which empowers us with the ability to offer the provision of a clear and defined career path to current staff. This has also proven to be a very useful tool when attracting and hiring new employees.
We now have the ability to offer continuous vocational development through their enrolment in recognised training awards, this appears to have reduced the turnaround in our staff numbers, which has been a source of great frustration to us in the past. Some of the courses available to us are as follows (please note that the course titles and content may vary slightly depending on the service provider utilised):-
- Certificate III in Laboratory Skills
- Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques
- Diploma of Laboratory Technology
- Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
There are numerous units contained within each of the qualification listed above, examples of some of the typical areas addressed include the application of the quality system and continuous improvement processes, the performance of physical tests, the analysis of data and test report results, conducting an internal audit and the supervision of laboratory operations.
The time taken to complete each of the courses varies greatly from person to person depending on the amount of time and effort invested by the student and any recognition of prior learning, if and when applicable. For more information please contact your local training service provider, refer to the NATA’s website for routine updates and additional information relating to available courses and training providers located throughout Australia.
We’re extremely proud of this achievement and on review there is no doubt that all our hard work and endeavour have ultimately proven to have a beneficial effect on our business, the people that work for us and ultimately the CMT industry. We feel that we have further protected the integrity and technical knowledge within the company to confidently move forward into the future with a stable and more balanced work force. I can say without question that the strategic establishment of our training department has been a rewarding task, at the end of the day our people are our most valuable asset and they deserve this level of support and backing from their employer.
Please feel free to contact myself and/or any member of our Quality Assurance team directly at our Bunbury Head Office, (08) 97216255, if you would like to discuss this matter in more detail.
Geotech Materials Testing Services