Section 3: Quality AssuranceAnchor: #i1000551
Quality Assurance Overview
Effective Quality Assurance procedures are based on objective, quantitative data. Qualitative information is anything not represented numerically, and can include general observations, personal comments, and subjectivity or bias. Quantitative data is represented numerically; it can be summarized and used for independent analysis and comparison. Examples of quantitative data are the specific number of errors per bridge inspection, or the difference in a condition state rating between the most recent routine inspection and an independent Quality Assurance review of the bridge inspection.
Characteristics of comprehensive Quality Assurance programs also include provisions for corrective actions and mechanisms for continual improvement. Corrective actions directed at the source of the variability, inconsistency, or misunderstanding will raise the level of quality throughout the bridge inspection program. Corrective actions may be very specific, such as changing the description or definition of an inspection term to provide clarity, or more general such as changes in personnel descriptions and qualifications. Corrective actions may be systemic such as making adjustments to the numbers of bridges included in the review process. Annual review and discussion of the QC/QA program to determine if corrective actions recommended in the statewide activities have actually been implemented is an essential part of the program, and an example of a mechanism for continual improvement.
Quality Assurance activities include the complete inspection program. Quality Assurance activities monitor the process and results of the visual inspections of all bridges by continually reviewing an office and a field component of the consultant submissions, and the District Quality Control reviews of these submissions. The Quality Assurance reviews and discussions focus on the basic understanding of the statewide inspection procedures and practices as outlined by the NBIS, BIRM and this manual. The program contains continuing education requirements, including attendance at periodic district reviews and training session for all inspection personnel. Documentation of personnel and their qualifications can be used to make sure no one is lacking the training and education required. The Quality Assurance program helps with the practical comprehension of the program requirements through open discussions at meetings, through group review of the bridge inspections that are a collaborative event, and through district specific reviews with opportunities for questions and answers.
An important part of this process is the independent review of all documented activities by inspection teams, District Team Leaders, supervisors, and District Engineers to make certain that all levels of the organization are aware of any problems or inconsistencies throughout the bridge inspection program. Quality Assurance procedures validate Quality Control activities and documentation through independent review of a sampling of the Quality Control documentation reports. The Quality Assurance review activities focus on determining if the Quality Control efforts are equally effective across different work groups; all work groups should undergo the same level of review and participate in discussion and re-review with other levels. Documentation of review results at each level should be shared, reviewed and discussed, and any comments should be incorporated. This ensures that needed corrective actions can be identified during the review process and that mistakes in the process are not repeated for lack of awareness. This structure provides redundancy in the process and increases the effectiveness of the QC/QA process at all levels.Anchor: #i1000740
Quality Assurance District Reviews
At least once every inspection cycle (24 months), a Quality Assurance Review will be conducted at each district. Typically, this will be a three day event - one day for an office review, one day for independent on-site field inspections, and one day to discuss the review and findings.
A Quality Assurance Engineer from the Bridge Division will conduct a comprehensive office review of the District Quality Control process and documentation. The TxDOT District Quality Control process is well defined. The Quality Assurance office review will focus on the overall completeness, legibility, and accuracy of the Quality Control review documentation. The Engineer will also review several bridge folders that were part of the District Quality Control to focus on the specific quality of the folder review. Checklists will be reviewed to ensure the folder review is a thorough, thoughtful review rather than a simple visual check of the folder contents. Any questions or discrepancies in the consultant submission discovered by the District can be reviewed and discussed at this time. The QA office review will also determine if the folders include documentation for appropriate action taken according to the follow-up action reports.
The Quality Assurance Engineer also will conduct a new, independent re-inspection of a sample of bridges as determined in advance. The review will use new forms and identify all the elements in the bridge, the appropriate condition states, and the NBI data. This inspection will be a collaboration between the Bridge Division and District personnel, with on-site discussions of elements, condition states, ratings, and any follow-up action recommendations.
The sample of bridges should be from the sample used in the District Quality Control re-inspection. There should be a representation of the different types of bridges commonly found in the District, including a variety of bridge types, complexity, span numbers, and span lengths. Also, consider bridges with critical findings or recommended load ratings and postings, any bridges needing rehabilitation or follow-up actions, and new structures (to check initial routine inspections).
Once the independent field reviews are complete, the Quality Assurance Engineer will schedule a close out meeting with District Bridge Inspection personnel to cover the findings and any recommendations for improvement. The District Bridge Engineer and District Engineer are encouraged to join the meeting. Issues to be covered include how District Quality Control inspection results compare with QA findings and the most recent routine consultant inspections. The comparison will focus on appropriate assignment of elements, reasonable consistency with element conditions, states, and the NBIS condition ratings. Specific limits for the expected consistency between the two inspections should be discussed. Every effort will be made to define the results quantitatively. For example, document the number of errors per bridge inspection when compared to the Quality Assurance review; document the number of coding errors per submission; document the number of errors or omissions per review by the Quality Control review process; document the number of folders missing data for load rating or load posting calculations. The current threshold for "adequate consistency" is two errors per bridge. The original inspection team condition ratings are also considered out-of-tolerance if they vary more than +/- 1 from the condition ratings compiled by the Quality Assurance Engineer. An important item for discussion is to identify the sources of discrepancies and solutions. Another item for discussion is whether the recommended follow-up actions have been addressed - which repairs can be done by in-house maintenance crews, which will need a maintenance contract for greater rehabilitation, and which will require bridge replacement.
A Quality Assurance Report will be written following the review. This report will be forwarded to all participants and the original consultant program managers for review and comment. This report will include the dates of the Quality Assurance review; the names, Districts, and qualifications of the review team members; a summary of the review procedures; a list of the structures re-inspected; office review findings; field review findings; a summary of the quantitative results for the District Quality Control Review and the consultants routine inspections compared to the Quality Assurance Review; and any recommendations for increasing quality of future inspections. Documentation will include a field review checklist sheet and an office review checklists for every bridge inspected. After this report has been reviewed and comments have been incorporated, it will be signed and sealed by the Bridge Division Inspection Branch Manager and sent to the District Engineer and the Administration.Anchor: #i1000898
Quality Assurance Meetings
In addition to Quality Assurance reviews of every District, the Bridge Division will hold periodic bridge inspector's meetings, either in person or via webinar. These meetings will serve as continuing education for TxDOT bridge inspection personnel to increase consistent statewide understanding of the bridge inspection program. Each District Bridge Inspection Coordinator will be required to attend, and all other bridge inspection personnel are encouraged to attend. Consulting firms will be encouraged to attend portions of the meeting to promote more dialogue between consultants, districts, and the Bridge Division.
These meetings will focus on changes to procedures and policies that result from the Quality Assurance process, such as modifications to the bridge inspection manual, consultant contract requirements, etc. The meeting format will allow for interchange between participants regarding the appropriateness and effectiveness of the recommended changes. If the participants agree to these changes, then the changes are implemented for the next cycle of inspections.
Another focus of these meetings will be to discuss various topics such as: inspection practices and ways to reduce variations in results from different teams, consistent implementation of program requirements between districts, the differences between real world inspection practices and the published works on inspection procedures, completeness and clarity of the Bridge Division manuals and inspection publications, and any problems not addressed in the other Quality Assurance activities.Anchor: #i1000993
The safety of highway bridges in Texas depends on the effective management of our 50,000-plus bridges in the National Bridge Inventory (NBI). Critical to our ability to maintain public safety is to accurately and consistently inspect the condition of in-service bridges, evaluate and document deterioration, and create recommendations for maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement so our bridges meet service requirements. TxDOT cannot successfully manage our state bridge inventory in terms of safety and resource allocation without quality bridge inspections. The quality level can be measured, documented, and improved by specific procedures within the QC/QA program. Thus the main focus of the QC/QA program is to identify and correct any deficiencies in the process, while building on the program strengths.