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Twelve New Standards for the Construction Industry in Trinidad and Tobago

Standards Body Uses ASTM Documents as Basis for National Standards

by Rodney Harnarine

Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island state consisting of the two southernmost islands of the Caribbean chain, which stretches from Florida in the north to Venezuela in the south. Trinidad sits at the mouth of the Orinoco River just 10 miles [16 km] off the coast of Venezuela. Tobago lies 22 miles [35 km] northeast of Trinidad.

The country (which measures 40 by 60 miles [64 by 97 km]) has had a checkered colonial history, with a strong British influence until the last three decades during which the North American influence became very obvious and dominant. While Tobago is known as a popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, Trinidad is best known for its heavy industries. Industrial development has been fueled by significant natural gas finds mainly off the northern coast of the island. Based on this abundant energy resource, the country has developed a number of industries, including the manufacturing of methanol, ammonia, steel and cement. These manufactured products are traded on the international market, but the United States remains by far Trinidad’s major trading partner in these and other commodities.
Since the 1970s, construction has accounted for between 5 and 15 percent of the gross domestic product of the economy.

New Construction Standards

The construction industry in Trinidad and Tobago utilizes certain products from these heavy industries in the construction of homes and commercial buildings and, indeed, in the development of the infrastructure of the country.

The Board of Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago has recently completed the drafting of a Small Building Code. This code deals with the design and construction of residential buildings and incorporates provisions to deal with hurricane and earthquake threats. For this code to be effective, it must be supported by a regime of standards in the construction industry. In order to address the needs of the industry, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards recently launched standards for the following materials, using ASTM standards as their basis:

• Portland cement;
• Steel bars for concrete reinforcement;
• Aluminum-zinc sheeting for roofing;
• Z-shaped purlins for roofing;
• Steel nails;
• Vertical hollow clay blocks;
• PVC pipes;
• Pre-mixed concrete and aggregates;
• Paints;
• Plywood;
• Electrical cables; and
• Residential security.

Using the normal process of standardization and given the present resources, this project would have taken approximately five years. In addition, with the rapid change in technology today, these standards would already be obsolete in that five years and would need to be revised almost immediately. But by working with ASTM standards, we have been able to develop these documents in a much shorter period of time, approximately 18 months.

(Most of these standards are intended for compulsory status in Trinidad and Tobago because of health and safety issues and hence will need to be approved at a governmental level before they can be implemented.)

Construction Seminar and Exhibition

In order to introduce and promote these standards, three days of seminars were held in June 2003, targeting engineers and technicians in the construction industry.

At the opening ceremony, ASTM President James Thomas presented a talk on “Standardization and Global Trade.” In his presentation he pointed out that in addition to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards, ASTM standards can qualify as international standards because of their consistent use in the global marketplace.

On the first day, steel for the industry was the focal point; to enhance the day’s proceedings, Phillip Speer, of ASTM Committee A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys, delivered a presentation entitled “The Latest Trends in the Steels Used in the Construction Industry in North America.”

On the second day, the focus was on cement and concrete; James Pierce, past president of the American Concrete Institute and past chairman of the ASTM board of directors, presented a feature paper on “The Concrete Industry in North America.” Arun Goyal, chief executive officer of the local cement company, Trinidad Cement Ltd., chaired the proceedings. Trinidad Cement Ltd. is the lone producer of portland cement in the English-speaking Caribbean, with manufacturing plants operating in Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica.

On the third day, Charles Banguert, consultant in the paint industry, presented an overview of the paint industry in North America. He outlined the rapid changes taking place in the industry, particularly with respect to the marketing of decorative paints for houses in North America. Other papers presented that day covered standards for paint, electrical cables, residential security and plywood.

In order to educate the public, an exposition was run in parallel with the seminars on the construction industry. There were more than 40 participating companies representing a good cross section of the manufacturers of the products covered in the standards that were being launched.

The launch of these standards sets the foundation for compliance to the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (or CUBIC) and Small Building Code that is being introduced through the regional corporations in the country.

Standards and Building Codes in the Caribbean

The Caribbean islands face annual risk from hurricanes and earthquakes and for this reason buildings have to be designed to withstand the effects of these two natural disasters.

CUBIC is applicable to the wider Caribbean region and is the product of a range of input over many years. The Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards and the University of the West Indies initiated work on a building code for Trinidad more than 25 years ago. This initial work was used in the later effort to produce a Caribbean code undertaken by a team of consultants including top Caribbean engineers.

To cater to the numerous private individual homes built in Trinidad annually, each with its own peculiar architecture and design, the government, through its planning commission, together with the Board of Engineering and the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards, developed a new Small Building Code for Trinidad and Tobago. This code is now being introduced and will be enhanced by the standards that are being declared.

TTBS and ASTM International

The Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards is 30 years old and has been focusing on the development of standards to suit the national community in almost every field. ASTM International, on the other hand, has been in existence for more than 100 years and has been a major force in the development of standards, including those relating to the construction industry. Trinidad, together with most Caribbean countries, will be party to the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement; hence, to facilitate trade, it is important that we harmonize our standards. It makes good sense for TTBS to work closely with the older organization to achieve its goals. Through a memorandum of understanding with ASTM, we were able to embrace the opportunity to work together in achieving our goal of the timely development of construction standards.

Trinidad has several medium-sized companies that manufacture building materials for the construction industry for both the local and export markets, particularly in the Caribbean region. These exports are made from steel, cement, wood, paints, ceramics and aluminum and cover a wide range of products to meet the needs of the market. Hence the standards developed for these products need to be applicable not only for Trinidad and Tobago but to the Caribbean region as well. This is one area where ASTM has been able to help us in setting up these standards.

Trinidad is known to have one of the two naturally occurring deposits of asphalt in the world. It is said that more than 400 years ago Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship developed a leak while off the coast of Trinidad and he was able to fix it with pitch or asphalt from the lake in south Trinidad. Road surfacing materials utilizing Trinidad asphalt tend to display superior performance characteristics in wide temperature fluctuations. For this reason, airport runways and highways designed for heavy traffic in widely varying temperatures perform better when Trinidad asphalt is used in the surfacing material.

Recently TTBS was required to develop two standards for this naturally occurring asphalt in Trinidad and we were able to deliver these standards in fewer than six months by using relevant ASTM standards as their basis.

Another area of collaboration will be in the area of environmental standards. We have already developed some basic standards in this area, but we need to go further in order to address the heavy industries, particularly with respect to noise and vibration.

Conclusion

Working with ASTM has afforded TTBS the luxury of shortening the time and using fewer resources to develop standards for Trinidad and Tobago and indeed the wider Caribbean. From our experience with the construction standards, we found we were able to reduce the development time down to 20 percent of the normal time.

We are of the firm view that this is a positive step in developing national standards, and it will assist in the process of harmonizing our regional standardization efforts as we prepare for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which is due to go into effect in 2005.

We are very encouraged by this first project and look forward to working closely with ASTM in future projects. //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Rodney Harnarine is head of standardization, Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards.