Time for an Audit? Don’t Panic!

Audits are a necessary “evil” that we all must endure when working in a geotechnical testing laboratory. Audits can be from an outside accreditation agency, a client for a specific project or simply an internal audit for quality review purposes. The scope of the audit may be a review of your quality system but it may also include specific tests that your laboratory performs.

Getting prepared is an essential part of a successful outcome of the audit process. Start with the who, what, where, when and why questions – and review the quality documents that cover those answers.

  • Who will work with the auditor? Check their training record for the tests they will demonstrate and make sure it is up to date. 
  • What equipment and materials will be required? Check that the equipment is in good condition and has a current calibration record. Also obtain a test specimen to use that will demonstrate the best possible test. Be sure to include all general equipment to be used including the oven, scale, measuring devices as well as the unique equipment for that test.
  • Where will the demonstration occur? Find a clean appropriate place, within the correct ambient temperature requirements for the test to be demonstrated.
  •  When will the audit take place? Make sure the technician is prepared, has brushed up on the test method and is ready to perform.  
  • Why? Being prepared will better ensure a positive outcome. Don’t be nervous and chat about the test, you might shoot yourself in the proverbial foot.  If you must chat, talk about a trip, sports or the weather – anything else. Answer the questions the auditor asks but keep it short and concise. If you can’t remember or do not know the answer, now is not the time to start inventing or reinventing procedures. Do what you would normally do, look it up or ask advice from an experienced technician or even your manager. Auditors appreciate seeing that you know enough to ask for help, when necessary. Auditors also know that people get nervous while being watched. It will be okay!

Audits can cover the testing procedures, but some will also cover your overall Quality System that you have in place for your daily operations. For these types of audits, remember the auditor is using your Quality Manual to check that your operations are actually “what you say you do,” as outlined; they will ask for records to verify. The Quality Manual follows the guidelines required in oversight documents that recommend how a reputable facility will operate. They cover a wide range of the activities involved in the operation of the business. These include but are not limited to:

  • Contracts
  • Purchasing
  • Non-conforming items
  • Corrective action
  • Preventative action
  • Calibration of Material Testing Equipment (MTE) including intervals
  • Training
  • Procedures
  • Management oversight
  • Management reviews

Check that your documents are readily available and up to date.

As someone who has gone through this process countless times, year after year, my advice in preparing for an audit is as follows:

  1. Relax, you know what you are doing.
  2. Relax, your records are up to date.
  3. Relax, your technicians are experienced and well trained.
  4. Relax, the auditor is always there to help.
  5. Relax, an auditor finding issues will in the long run make your laboratory stronger.
  6. Relax, you will gain knowledge and move ahead more confident than before.
  7. Take the auditor out to lunch and have a few laughs.

Nancy J. Hubbard is a Project Manager for GeoTesting Express and has been with the company for 21 years. Nancy has a BS in Civil Engineering from WPI and a ME(C) in Geotechnical Engineering and Geology from Cornell University. Nancy provides a key role in the lab working with and maintaining the Automated Testing Equipment, Quality System, and provides training, reporting and answering technical questions for employees in both the Acton and Atlanta GTX Labs, and for clients as well. Nancy is an active member of the ASTM D18 Committee which covers Soil and Rock Testing Standards and Methods.

Why is it Important to Monitor Bridges?

Asset management, maintenance, repair, rehab – all of these decisions need to be made about structures using engineering knowledge and available data. When data is insufficient, lacking, or incorrect, decisions can’t be made, costing asset owners money and valuable resources. From my experience, attaining a return on investment through structural health monitoring and instrumentation can be achieved by creating a targeted program to meet the end goals of a structure. In order to assess if monitoring is right for a project, you must work backwards from the end goals by asking yourself:

  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • What data is needed to make an informed decision?
  • How is that data acquired?
  • Who can help design and/or install that kind of targeted system?
  • What is the available budget and how can it be optimized?

Let’s explore a few key areas of monitoring needs of bridges:

Load Rating: According to the infrastructure report issued by American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017, 56,007 of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016. The average age of America’s bridges keeps going up and many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of design life. Load rating is a key indicator required by AASHTO to obtain the actual performance of bridges. Determination of an accurate load rating often requires field measurements in the form of strains and converted stresses at key locations. Load rating leads to objective posting decisions and facilitates continuous uninterrupted commercial traffic, vital to our economy and emergency services.

Adjacent Construction: There are several risk factors involved during construction of structures. One risk is the collapse of one or more major structures adjacent to the foundations or excavations due to failure of the support systems. We have just completed a pre-construction survey on an existing bridge in Kentucky and are currently doing monitoring as the new bridge is being built. Simultaneously, vibration monitoring of surrounding structures can protect building owners’ assets from experiencing excessive disturbances and contractors from claims associated with potential damages. 

Bridge Strikes: Strikes pose major concern for the safety of public roads as well as railroads. Bridge strike notification and warning systems can give real-time information about the safety of a structure following a collision and help make immediate operational decisions by administration staff. Other examples are ship and barge impacts that may have catastrophic consequences even during the construction stage. A sensor triggered smart detection system can quickly recognize such events and provide a complete story of pre and post condition of the structure with graphical records.

Bridge Moves: It is becoming more common to construct new bridges as a single piece close to the construction site, transport them to their final location, and erect them utilizing Self Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs). Automated Motorized Total Station (AMTS) can help track the overall geometry of the bridge when transported and erected as a single piece. Monitoring internal stresses of girders, floor beams, hangers and truss members from when they are cast until after they are placed into their final position tells the entire story if and when there has been any exceedance of allowable limits.

Movable or Pedestrian Bridges: Typical risks associated with movable or pedestrian bridges are excessive vibrations if the operating machinery has interfering components. Looking at the vibration characteristics of the machinery and the moving components of the bridge simultaneously, can reveal the issues regarding both the machinery itself and their influence on the bridge operation in terms of interfering frequencies and damping issues which can be used to avoid fatigue and other long term effects.

Lifetime Monitoring: Structures are now being designed with expected service life beyond 50 years and in some cases 100 years. A great example of that is Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge where we deployed the most sophisticated bridge health monitoring system in the US. A Structural Health Monitoring System (SHMS) can aid in long-term maintenance, enhancing the overall asset management programs by providing key information regarding the performance of the facility.

Whether the monitoring program is initiated at the construction stage or when the structure is already in operation, it is valuable to make daily operation decisions and confirm the safety of the structure. In the long term, it is as important to observe the future behavior of the change by looking at the differences of past and present in each component as well as their interaction with other components and ambient disturbances.

Regardless of their size, civil engineering projects involve substantial risk from the first day of construction and continuing throughout their lifetime. The uncertainties and unknowns of these risks come in different forms from safety to serviceability & budgeting. A carefully planned and economically feasible real-time monitoring program can help reduce these risks and provide considerable savings. It is essential that such programs be undertaken by an experienced and dedicated team with a systematic approach.


Ozan Celik is a Project Engineer for Geocomp’s Illinois office. He has been with Geocomp for three years and holds a doctoral degree in Structural Engineering. He has been leading the project management and business development efforts for SHM projects. He has authored and co-authored several papers and served as a reviewer for several peer-reviewed journals. Ozan is involved with the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and an active member of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) and Transportation System Preservation Technical Services Program (TSP2).

Business as Virtual

It is all but illegal now to shake hands, show an unmasked smiling face, walk into a business establishment and travel. So pretty much EVERYTHING I’m good at and enjoy doing I’m not allowed to do anymore. Panic much?…You bet I panicked! In a new world of “business as virtual” instead of “business as usual” I had to reset most of my techniques.

My strategy for winning new clients before COVID-19 was quite simple: make people like and trust me and convince them that I truly believe in the services I’m selling. I want to make every geotechnical engineer understand that GTX will help them achieve their goals: get top quality testing, meet their deadlines, and make them look good in the process.

Strategy

A key aspect to gaining this kind of trust from people is to be educated about their needs and be able to eloquently discuss how your company can serve them. From years of experience as a geotechnical engineer, I know what happens during drilling, classification, testing, analysis and finally preparing the geotechnical report. I know the challenges they face and am prepared to have a conversation about how I can help my clients avoid anything going wrong. Clients come to you because of the knowledge and experience you have, so use this to make them trust and value you…and more business will come! 

Before March 13th, I did “my thing” through extensive travel and attendance at every imaginable meeting, luncheon, happy hour, seminar or conference. Extensive smiling and mingling with everyone I met at those events was the goal in hooking them as my prospective clients.  After March 13th, I had to figure out how to do all this without the strength of my disarming smile and sincerity of my facial expression.  Now, it’s all about the conviction of my voice and my words.

Smile & Dial

Today, I convey my passion for what I do while on the phone by “smiling at the wall.”  Smiling does something to my voice and speech pattern making me sound more positive and convincing.  I almost always try to say something humorous to break the ice.  It is easiest to speak on the phone with folks you’re not nervous (or scared) to speak with.  So, during COVID-19, my advice to everyone is to focus on the low hanging fruit. Start with clients that you consider to be your “friends;” those conversations will be fun.  Then, proceed to the list of “friendly contacts” you’ve worked with. 

It is always smart to follow up on a project: “Did our report include everything you needed?” “Can we be involved with special inspections when it goes into construction?” Coming off as informed and generously sharing tangible business news also looks good. If you have leads on projects, call and ask: “Have you heard of Project XYZ? Maybe we could team up on it?” Clients who feel well taken care of spread the love. They share positive praise about us and that’s free promo we have to take advantage of.

It’s a little counter intuitive to focus on clients who already do business with you but believe me…people forget!  So now, when it especially matters, we must work at reminding them of ourselves and the services we offer or we risk that they go elsewhere. 

Story Time

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: You run into your old pal Stanley at the grocery store after not seeing him for years. You chat it up excitedly for 15 minutes both oblivious that you’re blocking the isle with your carts. You remember how much you like Stanley and enjoy spending time with him. Then next week, you pull up to the gas pump and there’s Stanley! You can’t believe it! But you both totally lose it when three days later Stanley and his family are walking towards you on a wooded path while hiking! 

For me, this weird cosmic phenomenon is what I count on to happen with my clients; and it does!  When you call, email or run into your previous clients (to remind them you exist) ask them how they’re doing, follow up on a previous project or the report you submitted, or whatever reasonable excuse you made up to call them. Just sit back and wait… A week or two later, chances are you’ll hear from them. Hopefully with a request for proposal. If you have not had contact with a client for more than 6 months, you might as well consider yourself dead to them. The thing to do is to “run into them” by accident, on purpose or via a very strategically placed phone call. 

Finally, think of “bite size” work. Before I really knew what I was doing, I planned on landing the biggest projects ever. The “million dollar” jobs. The ones featured in Forbes magazine or ENR. Guess what? I’m still waiting for those! But while I wait to score one of those, I managed to consistently win many little projects that added up to success and keeping my job for almost four years. Thank you sweet Baby Jesus!  But seriously…be excited to win all projects starting with the little ones. They are easier to win and to complete well and on time and they pay the bills as you strategize about how to win the bigger ones.

Post by: Anna Kotas, Geotechnical Engineer


Anna has been with GTX for almost 4 years doing business development throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. She tells anyone who’ll listen that this is her dream job.  She is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Virginia where she resides with her family. She moved to the US from Canada in 2000 after obtaining her B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan. Since then, she’s been living the American dream. 

Throughout her career, she managed geotechnical projects from the earliest phases including site recon, drilling, lab testing, analysis and report preparation. She rose from the role of staff engineer to branch manager in ten years, appreciating every lesson along the way…most importantly about effectively working with people. She believes her hands on experience in the early years of her career combined with her management roles were invaluable to her current role as a representative of a world-class geotechnical laboratory.

Making a Difference in Your Work

I recently finished the book “Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love” By David Sturt and wanted to share my takeaways relevant to the workforce, regardless of your role or industry.

The book exemplifies that innovation can make a difference in people’s lives (big or small) and can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. The book is a guide that uses scientific research, including years of studies and interesting & inspiring real-life stories to show that people everywhere and at any level can become catalysts for positive change in all aspects of their lives. The book details the key mindsets needed to be a difference maker, including examples of how difference makers think and what difference makers do. The book outlines the five critical skill sets that are necessary to perform great work and make a difference including:

  • Asking the right question
  • Seeing for yourself
  • Talking to your outer circle
  • Improving the mix
  • Delivering the difference

Let me give you an example of how at Geocomp, I’ve seen people making a difference that others appreciate, while working from home because of COVID-19.

Our growing consulting group is very busy with project work, but we’ve faced some challenges related to sharing internal resources to get our work done efficiently.  In the past, we all worked together in the office and shared resources including specialty items like computer software for engineering analyses. When analyses needed to be done, we shared the software “keys” that allow one user at a time to perform an analysis and then physically pass the key to the next engineer when they needed to do another analysis.  A system of key sign-outs was devised to ensure priority project work could be completed and that keys were accessible to all when they needed them.

With staff working from home, this process just wasn’t working and we needed to make a change. Our Consulting Group tried using the keys on a remote computer, but this didn’t make much of a difference since there were several other software packages that were being accessed from the same remote computer. We even tried adding another remote computer, but we still had scheduling issues due to the volume of work we’ve been trying to get done. 

Finally, one of our newly hired engineers suggested upgrading to a network license. He researched the cost and provided a comparably low-cost plan to transfer our original licenses over to new network licenses. Such a small change made such a big difference! This iteration of changes leading up to a final result worked well for the team and was felt by everyone in the group from engineers doing the work, to project managers coordinating the work, to myself as the group leader knowing that we could satisfy our clients and that our team was again happy and engaged with their work.

At a time when negative news is all around us, this book was a welcome diversion.  After finishing this quick read, I was inspired and excited to notice examples of people all around me making a positive difference in others’ lives. I plan to continue to promote a culture at Geocomp of making a positive difference for others by providing this book to my staff and hosting a group conversation. I highly recommend “Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love” to anyone who gets satisfaction from helping others and has big or little tasks that need accomplishing.

Book: Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love, David Sturt, O.C. Tanner Institute Company (McGraw-Hill Education), 2014.

Post by: Dori Ross, Vice President and Manager of Massachusetts Consulting Group


Dori Ross has been with Geocomp for 11 years. She has been instrumental in growing the company and developing strong relationships with key clients by delivering a positive experience at every opportunity. Dori is a registered professional engineer with over 25 years experience in project/program management in the geotechnical, instrumentation & monitoring disciplines.

ASTM International – Get Involved, Be Heard, Make a Difference!

What is ASTM International?

ASTM is the abbreviation for American Society for Testing and Materials. ASTM International is a consensus standard writing organization that is involved with almost every type of material we, as engineers, work with. Soil, rock, geosynthetics, concrete, steel, plastic, etc.  If you’ve worked on a tunnel, highway, deep foundation, dam, waste containment, canal, offshore, commercial development, or any number of other types of projects, you’ve certainly either referenced, specified, or used an ASTM standard. These standards are not just used in the U.S., they are used world-wide. Of the almost 13,000 standards ASTM has published, over 8,000 have been adopted or referenced outside the United States. In fact, 148 countries are represented in ASTM membership.

By collaborating with private businesses, governments, academia and other experts, ASTM harnesses its members’ expertise to produce relevant and technically exceptional standards. The best part about this is that each of us can participate and have a say in shaping these standards. ASTM encourages new members and new voices to be heard.

Joining a Committee

ASTM committees usually meet in person twice per year – but it is not mandatory for each member to attend. However, these meetings are where much of the business in “task groups” gets accomplished. A task group is a group of people who have an interest in a particular ASTM standard. Task groups are led by a task group leader. They facilitate in person meetings and after receiving direction from the task group, draft a new or edit an existing standard. The draft is then submitted to ASTM for balloting. ASTM sends out electronic ballots to its members to vote on standards. This is the real beauty of ASTM – all members of a subcommittee get to vote on the ballot and if a single person votes against the ballot, the ballot is paused and the person who voted against it can explain his/her reasons why. If those reasons are deemed persuasive (by the task group) then the ballot is stopped, and a different approach must be taken. This is how ASTM assures all voices will be heard. 

I’m personally involved with and currently serving as Chairman for ASTM Committee D35 on Geosynthetics. It is an incredibly rich and robust group. Our next meeting was originally scheduled to be in Boston the first week of July but, due to the COVID-19 situation, has been switched to a virtual meeting. We write standards for all sorts of geosynthetic materials including geomembranes, geotextiles, geosynthetic clay liners, geocells, geogrids and more. Endurance, mechanical, and hydraulic properties are just some of the things these standards help measure on geosynthetics. 

So, if you’ve had concerns about specifics of a particular test, have a need that hasn’t been addressed yet by ASTM, or want to help improve the industry and have a hand in shaping the future, you should consider joining ASTM! An extremely economical membership fee also gets you a free ASTM International standard volume of your choice. You will work alongside your peers in the industry, network, and earn PDH credits for your PE license.

Post by: Gary T. Torosian, Chief Operating Officer of Geocomp/GeoTesting Express


Gary T. Torosian is Chief Operating Officer of Geocomp Corporation. He has over 28 years of experience in laboratory and field testing of soil, rock and geosynthetics. For 25 years, he led Geocomp’s testing division, GeoTesting Express – first as laboratory manager then as director. He has authored and co-authored several papers on testing and automation in the laboratory. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Gary has been active within ASTM International’s Committee D35 on Geosynthetics for over 18 years, currently serving as Chairman. He is also a technical contact for several ASTM International standards including ASTM D5321 – Interface Shear, ASTM D6496 – GCL Peel Strength and ASTM D6768 – GCL Tensile Strength.

Top 5 Project Safety Tips

Safety is one component of a project that can be overlooked but shouldn’t be. It’s easy to turn the other way when you see something wrong, but the safety and well-being of you and your co-workers should be a top priority. Not only that, but EMRs (experience modification rates) are often requested in proposals, so it is vital to keep this number low for future project work. As Geocomp’s Health and Safety Coordinator, I have five project safety tips that I use to help every project run smoothly without incident.

Safety Tips:

  1. Be Healthy. Having a healthy mind-set is key to effective work. It’s important that everyone working on the project is physically and mentally well. If you have an injury or don’t feel well, it’s important to let your supervisor know so both of you can work to avoid potential risks.
  2. Plan Ahead. Always plan ahead! If you are installing prisms on a wall, you have to know what size ladder to bring & other equipment according to the project needs. It’s never “one size fits all” for every project. If you can, visit the project site ahead of time to see what conditions you will be working with.
  3. Be Conscious. When you arrive onsite, be alert each time! Have a fresh set of eyes on the scene. Don’t get into a routine of going about your business – When you lose awareness, everything starts to blend together which can be dangerous to everyone involved in the project. Preview the site conditions as they permit to help plan properly.
  4. Survey Surroundings. Before you put the drill to the wall or screw the instrument down, give a quick look around and double check what you are doing. Make sure no one is in a position of getting hurt. To go along with the last tip, be conscious of what you’re doing. Re-work is a huge problem that wastes time and energy and could expose you to hazards. Focus on what you are doing and getting it done right the first time.
  5. See Something, Say Something. If you notice something that doesn’t look right, don’t ignore it! Saying something is really important to prevent injuries. If you are at a project site, did you notice if there are cones set up for machinery? Are extension cords taped down so no one can trip? Fill out a near miss form if you notice any of these inconsistencies so we can improve our practices to remove these. By doing this, we are able to keep a record and report of safety risks that we then discuss weekly to devise ways to prevent future incidents. 

Safety Equipment:

One of the biggest challenges with safety is enforcing preventative measures. All staff on site should be equipped with steel-toed boots, hard hats, safety vests, eye protection, and gloves. For certain projects, it may not always be possible to know ahead of time what supplies will be needed, but Geocomp keeps its vehicles well stocked with supplies in case someone forgets or misplaces safety equipment. We encourage others to do this as well. It’s always better to have back-up equipment than not enough.

Every field project should have a designated team leader who will be responsible to oversee safety precautions for the project on that day. The designated team leader should have the site specific safety plan in their possession, be aware of any special provisions for the project and make sure each team member is properly informed and outfitted for the day.  The designated team leader will also ensure that spare safety equipment is available on site for each day of work. Team leaders should start each work shift with a toolbox safety meeting to review work for the day and discuss safety precautions and work practices.

Another key element that is often overlooked is WATER! The designated team leader should always have water available for workers on site. Dehydration is a risk that could pose potential injuries as well. Make sure your workers are staying hydrated throughout the job at hand.

Every company shoots for zero injuries, but the reality is accidents unfortunately do happen. There are preventative measures to take in helping prevent future injuries. Periodic team meetings should always include a safety segment in which employees can bring up “near miss” incidents like broken glass or a cut extension cord. We can all learn from mistakes and should share our knowledge. Using your voice and sharing our experience is one way we keep each other safe.

Post By: Matt Ham, Geocomp Health & Safety Coordinator


Matt Ham graduated from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts with a BA in Environmental Science in 2013. His first job out of college was the GeoTesting Rock Lab and then moved up to Massachusetts Consulting where he helped out with iSiteCentral management. Since then, Matt has taken the lead on setting up many iSite projects, been heavily involved in instrumentation and monitoring installations and taken on the role as the company’s Health and Safety Coordinator.

3 Best Practices for Shipping Rock Samples

Don’t you hate having to go back and do something a second time because it went wrong the first time around? What if you could have avoided that second time altogether?

Although this idea pertains to many everyday activities, in the world of lab testing, this applies quite simply to packaging and shipping samples, specifically rock samples that require the utmost care. After a drilling program has been wrapped up, you don’t want to be the reason for lost time getting samples to the lab.

There are a dozen ways that a sample can be broken or weakened during shipping. Lack of knowledge and/or care can result in dropping, breaking or tampering with the samples which can also reduce the number of tests that can be performed or eliminate the possibility of testing a sample altogether. But, there is a way to save time, energy and money on preserving and transporting rock core samples to testing labs. These are guidelines and best practices developed by ASTM D5079 that we also recommend and use at GeoTesting Express.

Rock samples are delicate and require consideration when packaging up for shipments. Any rock sample can break, fracture or change physical condition if not properly packaged. If you assume that because a rock is ‘hard’ it won’t fracture, you are mistaken. Regardless of who is handling the sample, it is important to secure the ‘goods’ safely in the first place. If a sample is damaged during shipment, a replacement could possibly be shipped, but if not available, it would be very expensive to re-sample in the field. To avoid the hassle altogether here are 3 best practices to consider when packaging and shipping out a rock sample:

The Temperature

  • For all samples, the initial moisture content of a core should be preserved.
  • It is recommended that the use of a double walled and insulated container, such as a cooler be used to maintain the appropriate temperature of a sample.
  • Negative effects: freezing of pore water in the core may reduce the strength of the rock compromising the test results. Additionally, temperatures alternating between hot and cold may cause moisture migration from the core and weaken the rock due to differential thermal expansion and contraction between the grains.

The Packaging

  • Wrap samples in plastic wrap, air-tight bags or in aluminum foil and wax coating.
  • Standard bubble wrap can minimize vibration during transportation.

The Shipment

  • Once specimens are individually preserved, they can be placed inside the cooler of a ridge walled container for shipping. In some cases, shipping the entire core box is necessary.
  • It is key to fill voids within the container to minimize vibration and shock (samples should fit snug in whatever container you choose to use).

And just like that, you are ready to ship a sample safely to the lab! There is never a guarantee that something won’t go wrong in the shipping process. Sometimes you get the unfortunate lack of care with a reckless driver that hits every pothole imaginable creating vibration of the samples. The best way to avoid the shipping process having an effect on the precious cargo is utilizing the practices mentioned above. GeoTesting Express routinely provides sample transportation from project sites or client’s offices to our laboratory. Taking great care and utilizing special equipment will save your company time and money and get the best and most accurate results!

Post By: Jon Campbell, GeoTesting Lab Manager


Jon Campbell is a Lab Manager for GeoTesting Express. Jon has a B.S. in Geology and started working as a lab technician in GTX’s rock mechanics department back in 2011. As a lab manager, he frequently works with clients on different aspects of their project and address their shipping needs. Jon has helped to implement GTX’s Rock Drillability suite of testing and improve turnaround time within the department. He enjoys working on large and small projects, but his favorite is managing large scale tunneling projects.