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Together on the road to European harmony

QUARRYING

Harmonised standards for asphalt production are set to be published next month. Paul Thompson talks to Colin Loveday, Tarmac's director of technology and quality, about why they are so important

IT IS the Friday before the Whitsun bank holiday weekend and Colin Loveday is sporting the air of someone looking forward to some time off.

The director of technology and quality at materials giant Tarmac is scurrying around his office trying to tie up all the loose ends before he heads off for a week riding around Ireland on the back of a tandem.

It would seem to be a well earned break for Mr Loveday, particularly as alongside his day job he has managed to steer the development of harmonised European standards for asphalt through 16 years of choppy water.

Currently having its t's crossed and i's dotted, the latest addition to the Construction Products Directive is due to be published later next month. It will underline crucial descriptive differences between asphalt products in all the European Community countries and highlight new mix descriptions and measurement techniques.

But the standards harmonisation is not the only benefit arising from the decade and a half of meetings and talking shops between technical committees from all the European member states. According to Mr Loveday - who in his role as chairman of the British Standards B510 technical panel on highway materials was named UK lead delegate to the European technical committee TC227 - the greater benefit to the industry as a whole has been the sharing of ideas and practice between the member states.

This, he says, can be put down to the increased consolidation in the number of materials companies supplying the construction market throughout Europe.

'If you compare the state of the industry and technical practice to how it was when we star ted this in 1989 it is vastly different, ' he says.

'Back then the industry was very insular, but over time the flavour has become much more European.'

He cites Germany and France as two of the countries that have brought in new developments and ideas now widely adopted throughout the EU.

'The European Standards meetings have become particularly useful technology transfers. The Germans first developed stone mastic asphalt and now systems derived from it are in use all over the country. Thin surfacing systems are French and are also widely used now, ' Mr Loveday points out.

But what did the British industry bring to the party? What benef its do the rest of Eu rope stand to gain from the UK highways sector?

'The wisdom, a sense of fair play, cricket, ' he jokes, before expanding: 'The quality control systems and the whole concept of conform ity is much bet ter developed in the UK and that has become embedded in these new standards.'

In European countries such as Germany there is great emphasis on test houses and laborator ies to conf irm the suitability of each product before it is used. Now the emphasis will shift to initial type testing to confirm the material meets its requirements, before ongoing factory production control ensures its conformity.

'The process we go through here and the process that will be introduced under the European Standards has produced a problem for testing houses as there is no particular role for them now, ' Mr Loveday says.

Under the Construction Products Directive every material or product manufactu red must bear the CE mark to show it conforms to European standards. If the mark is falsely declared then company bosses could see themselves spending time in prison. This means the penalties for non-conformity are much more stringent, says Mr Loveday.

'Under the old rules if someone wasn't producing the correct materials it was just a risk on that particular contract.

Unscrupulous suppliers could take the view that if they could get away with supplying defect ive mater ial, they would , because if they were found out on one contract it was only a matter for arbitration on that one deal. Now, with CE marking a legal declaration, the penalty is prison. It puts businesses and personal freedom at risk, ' he says.

With the threat of a spell of forced detention hanging over them, Mr Loveday is convinced suppliers will keep within the rules, but he admits there are some areas that were off limits almost as soon as the technical team began the task in 1989.

'We identified almost straight away that European Standards would not work on a contract basis. Each country has different contract law, responsibilities and liabilities - there is no way we could have produced a harmonised standard capable of standing up to 20 different law systems.'

Mr Loveday cites an example where one of the member states has extremely tight tolerances on the composition of asphalt. So tight in fact that on any given contract just 40 per cent of the material laid conforms to its local standards. The remaining 60 per cent will become part of a legal claim and is factored into the arbitration that will inevitably arise at the end of the contract.

Another extreme example covers the use of studded vehicle tyres. In Nordic countries specifying materials that can take the wear and tear these tyres cause to road surfaces is essential, but in the UK the use of studded road tyres is illegal. So highways engineers need guidance that they do not need to specify these upper performance limits in all the member states.

'That is one of the reasons it has taken so long. It is also one of the reasons we are bringing in national guidance notes to run alongside the standards. The gist of these guidance notes will be 'this is what you need to comply - but you can specify other stuff', ' he says.

Current British Standards will run alongside the document until the end of December 2007. From January 2008 designers and contractors will be using the harmonised European Standards exclusively. The full implementation does not worry Mr Loveday. There is an 18-month run-in per iod that will help the indust ry adapt to the new standards (see box) and many of the benefits have already been taken on by UK producers.

It is the meeting and ideas exchange between member count r ies that Mr Loveday will miss most.

'A lot of the performance benefits we have already taken on board, but the benefit of networking across Europe has been incalculable.'

Changing places 'PEOPLE will want to buy the same material on 1 January 2008 as they did on 24 December 2007, ' says Colin Loveday of the date when British Standards for the production of asphalt will be withdrawn. 'The main changes are in the description of mixes, which is why we will launch at the start of a new year - it gives everyone a break.'

Other factors that influence the timing include the fact that traditionally activity in the industry is low, most people are on holiday and wholesale changes to IT systems can be made relatively easily.

'We have learnt from the introduction of new aggregate standards in 2004. It was no accident that it went smoothly.

The industry as a whole put in a lot of work to ensure that change over went well and the same will be needed for this change, ' he says.