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The scheme is aimed initially at European Standard test methods for aggregates, but could be extended later to include European Standard test methods for other construction materials (e.g. bitumen, bituminous bound materials, mortar, concrete, clay, and road-marking paint). The scheme will be operated in accordance with the principles given in ISO Guide 43.
The scheme is managed by a team consisting of representatives of LCPC (France), BASt (Germany), KOAC-WMD (the Netherlands), SP (Sweden), and P&S Research (UK). SP are responsible for managing the finances of the scheme.
The Management Team communicates with the participating laboratories through the National Co-ordinators. The National Co-ordinators transmit instructions from the Management Team to the laboratories, help to answer technical queries from the laboratories, disseminate proposals for improving test methods between countries, and communicate with their national standards and laboratory accreditation bodies.
In the scheme, samples of a variety of materials (Materials A, B, C, D and E) are prepared and distributed regularly. The participating laboratories pay for the samples (to cover the costs of preparing and distributing the samples, analysing and reporting the results, and the other work associated with operating the scheme). The sample sizes have been chosen to allow laboratories to carry out duplicate tests according to several tests methods on each sample.
It is important that a Proficiency Testing Scheme operates on a regular basis. Normally, when a scheme is set up, tests are done relatively frequently (several per year), and then the frequency is reduced to two or three times a year as laboratories gain experience. However, one of our goals is that laboratories from as many countries as possible should take part in our scheme, so we are proposing initially to distribute just one sample of each material per year - a level that we hope will be widely acceptable.
Participation in the scheme is entirely voluntary. A participating laboratory should first decide which test methods are of interest, and then choose the materials appropriate to those test methods. Provided a sufficient number of laboratories request samples of a particular material, the samples are then prepared and distributed. The laboratories are required to test their samples and report their results within a given time, so that the organisers can circulate the results promptly. In reports, laboratories are represented by codes so that each laboratory can identify their own results, but no-one is able to identify another laboratory's results. The participating laboratories are able to use the results to see if they need to make improvements to their procedures, and (in later campaigns) to see if their improvements have been effective. When they achieve improvements, they are encouraged to communicate their findings to the rest of the Laboratory Network through the National Co-ordinators and the Management Team.