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Colin's blog - All change for Asphalt

Tarmac's director of technology and chairman of the British Standards Committee for highways materials, Colin Loveday, believes that new European asphalt standards can be adapted to painlessly, provided action is taken now.

This month we will see the withdrawal of the existing British Standards for asphalt and their replacement with new European Standards. This represents a change for the road-surfacing sector on an unprecedented scale.

Because this change is driven by European Directives, we don't have the option of staying as we are - everyone is legally obliged to switch to the new standards.

Daunting? It could have been, but, thankfully, a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to soften the impact. Over many years, as part of the British delegation to European Standards, we have worked hard to make sure that the materials we traditionally use in the UK were included and also that terminology changes were kept to a minimum.

It is, however, more fundamental than just a change of descriptions as it involves a different approach to conformity and the introduction of CE marking. This has implications for material approval and the assessment of compliance in contracts.

There are significant positives in the new standards: they are much more performance based and also facilitate recycling much more than the standards they replace.

The industry has already undertaken much of the preparatory work and guidance papers are available from the Quarry Products Association. New UK documents have also been produced to facilitate implementation:

- A BSI Guidance Document – PD 6691 containing specifications for all existing UK materials in the new format.

- A British Standard for laying and compaction – BS 594987.

- A full revision of the 900 series of the Specification for Highway Works, which will be issued as an IAN in November. This will include significant changes to enhance pavement durability.

Tarmac has been heavily involved in setting these new standards through our involvement with the Quarry Products Association. We have also been working hard behind the scenes since the beginning of 2007 to help smooth the transition to the revised standards for customers.

Staff have received extensive training so that they can help advise customers through the change; IT systems and databases have been updated in anticipation; literature and asphalt 'converters' have been created; marketing and training sessions for clients to explain the new requirements are being organised; quotations, delivery tickets and invoices are already showing the new mix designations alongside the old ones; and laboratories have been reequipped to validate against the new requirements.

There is however a concern on the industry side that the producers are rather more aware than those who draw up documents and manage contracts. With so many elements in the specifications changing at the same time there is a lot of scope for confusion and conflict. It is now important that detailed discussions take place up and down the supply chain so that there are no misunderstandings about what requirements apply in each situation.

During this current revision of the specification for highway works, opportunity is also being taken to incorporate improved asphalt laying techniques to enhance the durability and integrity of asphalt pavements. The advances – developed jointly between the Highways Agency, QPA and the Refined Bitumen Association through a collaborative research project at TRL – are intended to significantly extend the life expectancy of road surfaces.

A new clause 903 will set out specific laying and compaction requirements more onerous than the current ones. There will be greater emphasis on bonding at all interfaces and on the compaction and sealing of joints, and a new clause 930 will introduce EME2 into the SHW.

The changes are extensive and will almost certainly involve additional cost so it will be important to be absolutely clear about what applies on each contract through the transition.

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