There are many and varied standards and documents used by road asset owners and managers. While those documents contain firm foundational guidance, they are often generic and are not easily applied to specific assets, such as bridges.
Australian and New Zealand road managers maintain around 70,000 bridges on public road networks. To assist their work in ensuring bridge assets provide a suitable level of service to the economy and community, Austroads has developed a guideline that applies asset management principles specifically to bridges to address their unique characteristics and needs.
Building on foundational documents, such as ISO 55000 and the International Infrastructure Management Manual (IIMM), the guideline promotes an engineering approach. Barry Wright, Lead Advisor Structures, New Zealand Transport Agency and Austroads Project Manager for the guideline, said, “What we found was a heavy apparent reliance on numerical condition ratings. But the project team considered that this approach had limitations and we needed an engineering-based approach.”
Ross Guppy, Austroads Transport Infrastructure Program Manager, said, “Using engineering principles, knowledge, experience and modelling tools is the only robust approach to understanding the current and future condition and needs of a bridge network.
“Expert structural engineering skills and experience are required to optimise heavy vehicle access, and to generally manage and operate bridges safely and efficiently.”
Significant stakeholder consultation undertaken
The guideline was developed through a national and international literature review and significant stakeholder consultation. Dr Torill Pape represented AECOM during the project development and is now the Director (Structures Design, Review and Standards) at the Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland.
She said, “We knew there were several guidelines and standards in existence for contemporary asset management practices that we could leverage off, but we were ultimately trying to find specific documents to provide a holistic approach related to bridge asset management.
“The literature review confirmed our suspicions that such a document for bridges did not exist in its entirety. “The stakeholder consultation revealed that most bridge asset management practices in Australia and New Zealand adopted varying approaches to bridge asset management, with the majority of them based on bridge inspections and a ‘find and fix’ approach. There was a general consensus that the current system yielded unsatisfactory results and a fresh approach was required.”
Informed, evidenced-based decisions
The learnings from the project shaped a new framework that is intended to offer succinct, practical guidance on applying the ISO 55000 principles of asset management to bridge management regimes.
The framework reflects a holistic approach to bridge management and shows where bridge management should sit in an organisation, with touch points or line of sight to organisational objectives and overarching asset management strategy.
“It is important to note that this framework is not a standard, rules-based or a prescriptive way of thinking, rather the focus is on engineering and making informed, evidenced-based decisions about the management of bridges,” Dr Pape said.
The framework presents a summary of the core asset management elements over the asset lifecycle and their interrelationships for bridges and for other assets. The individual core elements include outcomes, operational policies, processes, decision methods, systems and data.
Linking investment and outcomes, the framework also promotes the concept of formally measuring asset management performance to differentiate success from failure, demonstrate results that illustrate accountability to customers and stakeholders, and identify gaps or needs that can justify funding.
The structure of the guideline reflects the layout and concept progression of the bridge asset management framework. Key concepts are included, and references provided for further reading.
A framework for risk management
In recognition of the role that risk plays in bridge management, the guideline’s Section 3 introduces a comprehensive risk management framework.
Dr Peter Shaw, a Director at FMA Engineering Services and one of the authors of the guideline, said that most road agencies had risk schedules at project level.
“Some had overarching risk management policies and processes, and some had a framework identified. However, none were found to have an actual, fully implemented risk framework specifically applicable for bridges.
“The purpose of the risk management framework is to enable informed decision-making for road agencies in relation to risk. Ideally the bridge risk framework will be a subset of the wider organisation risk framework. It can also be developed in isolation if necessary.”
Dr Pape said, “It highlights that we as engineers should understand and actively manage risks that relate to or affect the performance of bridge assets across their lifecycle.”
The framework is underpinned by risk management protocols in keeping with the IIMM and ISO 31000 and consists of four steps. The first step is to establish the organisational context.
This will involve an organisational policy and statement of risk management objectives. The second step is to identify risks. It is followed by the assessing and evaluating risks step which normally depends on the organisational requirements and may involve a risk matrix to compare the magnitude of an identified risk with the level of risk determined to be acceptable to the organisation. The fourth step of the framework is to select an appropriate treatment to manage the risk.
Risk registers or structure management plans can be used to document identified risks and track how they will be addressed via works programs.
Key guideline messages
Other sections of the guideline cover such topics as understanding the requirements, decision-making methods, maintenance and operational planning, capital renewals planning, financial management and funding, delivery, audit and continual improvement, and bridge management enablers.
In summary, the guideline’s key messages for practitioners to remember are:
- The function of a bridge is to provide a service that should meet customer expectations
- Good asset management should be based on an engineering appreciation of bridges (structural form) not appearance
- Risks and appropriate treatments must be clearly identified
- Decisions for an asset management process should be justified by quantitative data and communicated in simple language for funding applications
To download the Engineering Guideline for Bridge Asset Management or watch the free webinar about the guideline, please visit www.austroads.com.au.