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Articulos escogidos en Español
 February 2005 Feature
Manuel Antonio Lascarro has worked with the Colombian Ready Mixed Concrete Association (ASOCRETO) since 1996 as director of Special Projects and Concrete Housing Program. He has been a speaker and participant of various meetings and workshops about concrete and housing construction in Latin America, including two U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology workshops. He has been a member of ASTM Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates since 2003.
Efforts for Improving the Integration of Construction Industry Standards in Latin America

Latin America, including Mexico, is a region of the world having extensive and long-standing trade relations with the United States. Progress in negotiating a common free-trade zone for the Americas or, at least, the intention of creating one, must necessarily be related, in the near future, to regional standardization, as happened in the European Community. The construction industry is part of this process. Various efforts have already been made to begin to determine common points regarding standardization and those that separate Latin American countries from the United States and from one another. This article will describe some issues that, in my opinion, represent advances in this field and an interesting example of ASTM’s approach to the inclusion of Latin Americans in ASTM Committees C01 on Cement and C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates.

There has long been a desire to develop more and better construction standards throughout Latin America, supported by complementary certification programs for equipment, professionals, and material laboratories.

The frequent fatalities and financial losses caused by nature — from even minor events, such as low intensity winds, to events that demonstrate the true fury of nature — have been a constant reminder of this concern. Nevertheless, with few exceptions, sufficient attention has not been devoted to this matter, because Latin American countries still have many basic needs that must be met in education, health care, and nutrition. As a result, it is not feasible, for example, to make the necessary investments to upgrade all the region’s buildings in accordance with the advances of recent years in seismic and fire protection. What gives the most concern is the fact that, even today, new projects in some countries are built in a manner that, in one way or another, create risks for their users and investors or that are even less safe than old buildings.1

It is estimated that Latin America has a shortage of more than 15 million 2 housing units; this figure highlights the construction industry’s immense social responsibility not only to build the necessary number of housing units but also to build units that ensure an appropriate level of quality and safety.

Perhaps it is not possible to protect our investments against every contingency but, if we were able to ensure compliance with minimum standards in our buildings, we could perhaps minimize financial losses and work toward protecting something as fundamental as human life.

Generating Awareness in Latin America
Unfortunately, we have a long history of disasters from which we could learn but history has sometimes repeated itself. The quality system for a construction project does not just depend on a piece of material, the builder’s experience, or the existence of a code.

The sum total of factors, where every aspect from the design phase to commissioning, must have an appropriate perspective and comprehensiveness. If we want quality in construction, we have to be certain that we have sound building codes and standards, that our designs are good, that we use the specified materials appropriately, and that we hire builders with established quality systems, qualified supervisors, and established and standardized quality control tests.

These are not optional elements, as is sometimes erroneously understood when it is said that meeting two or three of the requirements can ensure good quality. Application of technical standards in the construction industry is a complex system covering many fields. Much work still lies ahead of us to organize the system, despite the significant efforts and advances made in some countries through their standards organizations.

It is the responsibility of everyone who is already aware of this notion of comprehensive quality to begin to make the necessary changes because they cannot be made from one day to the next. Rather, change is something that requires significant adjustments in the industry’s educational and conceptual systems.

It is mainly those builders who have already gone beyond the borders of their own countries who have been able, in many cases, to experience the importance of having quality systems supported by professional and consistent standardization processes.

The immediate and comprehensive adaptation of all our quality systems in the proposed terms is an impossible task, but we must begin to take steps that will standardize the construction industry (codes, materials, laboratories, professionals, etc.) at a regional level in the future. We can begin this task with standards related to materials and their quality control systems.

An Example of Latin American Integration with ASTM Standardization

In September 2004, in cooperation with ASOCRETO (National Ready Mixed Concrete Association of Colombia), ASTM International conducted a workshop on self-consolidating concrete at the Concrete Meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. That event is considered the most important concrete construction industry meeting in the region; some 1,800 people, including more than 100 delegates from 20 countries in the region, attended.

At the event, Martin Vachon, chair of Subcommittee C09.47 on Self-Consolidating Concrete, and James Olshefsky, staff manager of Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates, discussed the state of standardization in that area and explained the possibilities that existed for linking electronically to ASTM committees. In turn, they had an opportunity to hear about the various experiences with this in Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia.

This type of interplay enriches discussions and allows people to interact effectively from a technical point of view in order to make contributions leading to work on future regional standardization.

As a result of the positive evaluation of the workshop, a proposal was made at the meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee of Committees C01 on Cement and C09, held in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, 2004, to develop at least one annual workshop of this type with Latin American participants. A task group will address the details of this proposal.

Use of Standards as Basis for Quality
In the environment discussed in the preceding paragraph, standards mark the start of the road toward safe buildings. The standardization of materials, testing, laboratories, dimensions and tolerances and, in general, of anything that can affect a project, must be a true priority, not only as a way to protect our investments and human lives but also as a means of boosting productivity.

Although standards, such as those from ASTM International, have enjoyed a tradition of use or adaptation in many Latin American countries, as would be expected, there has been little participation by people from the region in developing these standards, and their use in many cases has been partial or has occurred in the absence of knowledge of the principles underlying them. As a result, we sometimes have faced complicated and long local adaptation processes and — truth be told — delays in acquiring knowledge of the state of the art and problems in implementing the standards.

It is frequently heard that some of the standards used often by the construction or materials industry do not incorporate elements related to common practices in countries of the region. However, we do not seriously think very often about the development mechanism of standards, their dynamic nature, or their ongoing and necessary evolution. We do not have adequate knowledge of their origin and therefore it is much more difficult for us to understand them, all the more so when the evolution of standards is ongoing and there is no time to adapt the latest versions. It is not difficult to find some Latin American countries that were using, until a short time ago, adapted versions of ASTM standards that were 10 to 20 years old.

Such adaptation delays for an industry like the construction industry result in the discussed problems of applicability, comprehensiveness and, hence, quality.

How Has This Situation Changed?
There is a vast difference between international standardization today and 10 years ago, when Latin American countries faced a physical barrier that, in some cases, could be a flight of five to 10 hours. This barrier hindered our knowledge, for example, of the state of the art in standardization.

Then the Internet developed, creating a smaller world in the process, and the possibilities for participation in the standardization process broadened. As an example, it is good to remember that ASTM has made effective use of this advancement. A few years ago, ASTM implemented electronic voting, which is a very important effort and represents a revolutionary change by opening up the possibility of participating actively in the organization’s standards development process.

When could we have imagined that we would receive a document for discussion from any part of the world on the same day it was issued, be able to comment on it within a reasonable period of time, and receive the points of view of the drafters of the document or other committee members? What would once have been a fantasy is now a reality known by many, but for the moment, taken advantage of by few Latin Americans.

For those countries where ASTM standards are frequently used as a reference, the ability to participate from the start of a standard’s development will shorten the adaptation times in the region over the medium term by anticipating the points that require expressly local treatment. When applied to the construction industry, this can eventually mean not only significant improvements in the efficiency and safety of our projects but the saving of human lives as well. //

1 According to architect Stephen Forneris, who has been involved in developing the U.S. CASA Act, a recent risk evaluation of some buildings in one Latin American country revealed better safety conditions in older buildings than in newer ones.
2 Figure estimated from data supplied by organizations in each country.

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