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ASTM Construction Standards in Laboratory Accreditation

by Patrick McCullen

ASTM construction standards are used around the world as referenced in the International Building Code. Patrick McCullen, of the International Conference of Building Officials Evaluation Service (ICBO ES), describes just some of the many testing uses of ASTM standards for building construction purposes.

The International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) promulgates the Uniform Building Code, the International Building Code and other model codes widely adopted in the United States by code-enforcement agencies. ICBO is the largest organization in the country representing building regulators. Complementing the services it provides to the regulatory community, ICBO established a subsidiary corporation, ICBO Evaluation Service, Inc. (ICBO ES) in 1986. As a nonprofit, public-benefit corporation, ICBO ES provides technical reports on building products, components, methods of construction and materials recognized as complying with building codes to the regulatory community. The technical reports are based largely on tests from laboratories that are accredited by ICBO ES under international standards. Operating independently of the product evaluation program, ICBO ES provides a laboratory accreditation program that accredits laboratories to perform tests on building products and materials.

The ICBO ES laboratory accreditation program is recognized nationally by the National Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation (NACLA), and is recognized internationally by the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). The test reports from ICBO ES accredited laboratories are accepted widely in Europe and in Asia-Pacific economies. The ICBO ES program is one of only three in the United States to be so widely recognized and endorsed.

Standards Are the Building Blocks
To be used in support of ICBO ES evaluation reports, conventional building products (such as concrete, wood, masonry, steel, and aluminum) and newer building materials and systems (such as carbon fiber composites, foam plastics, and structural composite lumber) must be tested and meet nationally recognized standards set forth in the building codes and ICBO ES acceptance criteria.

Up until 1999, all three model code agencies in the United States published their own proprietary codes, which included in some instances proprietary test standards for the testing and acceptance of building products. In 1994, the International Code Council (ICC) was established and dedicated to developing a single, national code. In 2000, the efforts of the ICC culminated in the publication of the International Building Code (IBC), which places great emphasis on the use of consensus test standards such as those published by ASTM. Because of the IBC, the role of ASTM in the application of building codes has increased, because of the number of ASTM standards and test methods that are referenced in the IBC. Widespread adoption of the IBC and its reference standards, coupled with the dramatic increase in international trade, has heightened awareness of the need for competent, internationally accredited testing laboratories to test products and determine if they conform to the specifications and performance criteria set forth in the ASTM standards. The proliferation of new building materials and systems that are qualified by performance testing emphasizes the importance of the testing laboratory in qualifying construction materials.

Fire Resistance
Early in its program, ICBO ES focused much effort on the accreditation and on-site assessment of construction materials laboratories that conducted fire-resistance testing under ASTM standards referenced in building codes. These standards, like many ASTM standards, were written by the laboratory technicians and engineers who did original fire-resistance research and development, and who also built the actual equipment used in conducting the tests. Often, the standards simply reflected the equipment and procedures that evolved out of this research work. What began as an experiment and evolved into a standardized procedure through the ASTM process, often became law eventually, when the test method was adopted into the building codes.

The accreditation of fire testing laboratories became a major issue with ICBO ES when it was discovered in the late 1970s that certain claims being made by manufacturers, based on tests conducted at little-known laboratories, were suspect or inconsistent with previously accepted data. When no plausible explanation of the suspect test results could be found, it became necessary to examine in detail the test methodologies and the laboratories that conducted the tests.

ICBO ES’s first approach was to enlist the services of experienced fire testing experts to review test reports, visit laboratories and interview laboratory staff. Although this approach brought answers to some of the more obvious questions, it became apparent that a more in-depth approach was needed to definitively resolve test discrepancies. It was at this point that ICBO ES assessors took a closer look at the ASTM test methods and developed detailed checklists based on the standards themselves. Concentrating on parameters in ASTM methods that were critical to ensuring reproducible test results (and to ensuring that the tests were being conducted as intended), the detailed checklists became valuable tools in the hands of ICBO ES laboratory assessors, enabling them to conduct effective technical assessments of laboratories. There are numerous and critical thermal measurements, construction details, sample conditioning and data acquisition requirements in medium- and large-scale fire-resistance and flame spread tests, such as:

E 84, Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials;
E 108, Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings;
E 119, Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials;
E 152, Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies (which was discontinued in 1995); and
E 163, Methods for Fire Tests of Window Assemblies (also discontinued in 1995).

If the requirements in the ASTM methods in these specific areas are not strictly adhered to, large variations in test results will result. This is one reason ICBO ES assessors now use detailed technical checklists to facilitate the evaluation of a laboratory’s test methods, the suitability of its equipment, and the competence of its staff.

Fire Research Project
One example of the effectiveness of this checklist approach was demonstrated in an ASTM fire research project sponsored by the ASTM Institute for Standards Research. Entitled “Interlaboratory Test Program to Validate the ASTM E 84 Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials,” this interlaboratory test program was conducted by ASTM Committee E05 on Fire Standards and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 92. The scope of the research project was to validate the following ASTM standards and several ISO fire performance tests:

E 84, Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials;
E 906, Test Method for Heat and Visible Smoke Release Rates for Materials and Products;
E 1321, Test Method for Determining Material Ignition and Flame Spread Properties;
E 1354, Test Method for Heat and Visible Smoke Release Rates for Materials and Products Using an Oxygen Consumption Calorimeter; and
• Proposed Method for Room Fire Test of Wall and Ceiling Materials and Assemblies.

The objective of the project was to conduct a global interlaboratory test program among volunteer laboratories that were willing to evaluate the fire performance of six materials, utilizing one of the above test methods. There were three goals for the project: (1) to provide precision and accuracy data for each test method; (2) to provide correlation data between the various fire tests in use throughout the United States and Europe; and (3) to obtain a further understanding of the ASTM fire test methods, in order to enhance fire safety through the development of improved ASTM test methods.

In the project for standard E 84, each of the 11 participating laboratories was provided with a comprehensive checklist. This was the same checklist used by ICBO ES assessors to conduct assessments of its accredited laboratories. Completing the checklist was the first phase of the project and a prerequisite to continuing participation in the research project. The project involved the testing of six different building materials selected because of their wide use in construction, and because they represented a wide range of flame–spread and smoke-developed performance. The checklist requested details on each laboratory’s test room, sample conditioning room, test furnace construction, thermal measurement instrumentation, gas supply, smoke photometer system and air flow/draft system.

Results of the project were used to evaluate test data for repeatability and reproducibility. Analysis of the test data was used to develop a precision and bias statement for the method. Use of the ICBO ES checklist data enabled the laboratories to identify several areas where there were deviations from the equipment or the operational requirements of the method, prior to the tests being conducted. As a result of the project, several recommendations were made to refine the ASTM standard, making it more definitive for laboratories conducting future tests.

Protecting the Built Environment
ICBO ES has learned the value of its technical checklists as assessment tools for laboratory accreditation from its experience with the ASTM project. Over the years, ICBO ES has developed a virtual library of checklists to assist in the technical assessment of laboratory tests for several disciplines, including tests for products and materials, related to plumbing, mechanical, structural, electric-al, geotechnical and fire testing. Through this partnership, ASTM and ICBO ES have assisted each other in their efforts to protect the built environment. //

Copyright 2001, ASTM

Patrick McCullen is the manager of the ICBO Evaluation Service, Inc. Field Services Group. He manages the ICBO ES laboratory and inspection body accreditation programs and directs the operations of all field activities for listed products and fabricators under the ICBO ES ANSI accredited certification program.