The American Concrete Pumping Association

The battle over the advantages of pumping concrete vs. other concrete delivery methods has been won, maintains Christi Collins, executive director of the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA). 

“Our industry’s biggest challenge in the 1970s into maybe the early 1990s was trying to get a contractor to understand that the initial upfront cost seems like a lot, but that pumping concrete is actually in the long run more efficient, cost-effective and helps them deliver a better product,” Collins maintains. “That was somewhat of a challenge. There also were challenges in what a concrete pump could do as far as what types of a placement a concrete pump could handle. A lot of people think it’s just for high-rises, but when you start looking at poured vs. block walls, we’re the norm for home foundations.”

In the early days, there also were challenges with the equipment; however, today’s technology has greatly improved the performance of the pumps and systems. Pumps today perform at much higher outputs with little or almost no downtime, and their reach and flexibility can place concrete in even the most difficult of situations.

“Because concrete is such an abrasive material, they had problems pumping many of the mixes, so we had to focus a lot on working with ready mixed on developing mix designs that would be pumpable,” Collins says. “Soil variances – such as those found in Georgia, for instance – can be extremely harsh and wear out pipe much faster than those found in the upper Northwest, where the concrete mix is sometimes like pumping butter.”

Concrete is usually pumped for bridge construction now, she says. About the only type of road construction for which concrete pumping still is not used much is paving, which is still truck-dumped. “However, we are a strong advocate of using concrete in construction – regardless of what method is used to place it – because inevitably, the more concrete that is produced, the more opportunity for it to be pumped,” Collins declares. “We really don’t have to sell the concept of concrete pumping anymore. Contractors are now fully aware of the value of placing concrete with a pump.” 

Association membership currently hovers around 500, of whom approximately 430 own at least one concrete pump, while the remaining consists of manufacturers, suppliers and affiliates. 

Certification Program

One of the ACPA’s most important functions is its programs to safety train and certify concrete pump operators. Although ACPA certification is not mandatory, there is a new safety standard for material placement systems published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME], which includes concrete pumps as well as conveyors. The standard will take effect in March 2015, and one of the requirements specifies that the pumping company must have a third-party operator evaluation program in place, as well as a documented safety training program. ACPA certification fulfills the requirement and is currently the only third-party evaluation for the industry, Collins maintains. “This new ASME B30.27 is going to be a game-changer in our industry,” she says.

The ACPA certification program was developed in the early 1980s. “It has really progressed, especially over the last seven years, with substantial increases in the education requirement and operational evaluation for first-time certification,” Collins reports. “Contractors are also increasing their demand for the use of certified operators on their jobs, and as a result, this year we will process more certifications than ever before.

“The ASME standard is basically about increasing safety on the job,” Collins explains. “If the concrete pumper, ready mixed provider and concrete contractor each adhere to their assigned responsibilities, the jobsite with a pump will be much safer. But in the unfortunate situation of an accident or an incident on the job, that’s also where the standard will come into play. Each party will become accountable for their responsibilities.”

Operators must be recertified every two years, and Collins estimates that approximately 3,000 operators have been certified in the last two years. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of our members have certified operators, but clearly, we’re moving in that direction,” she says.

A benefit of ACPA membership is the sizable reduction in the price of each certification, from $225 to $60. Operators also are required every two years to attend a half-day safety class, or if one is not offered close enough to them, to take the course on DVD. 

Advancing Advocacy

Another important function of the ACPA is advocating on behalf of its members. Last September, the association was instrumental in obtaining legislation – The American Concrete Pump Tax Fairness Act of 2014 (HR 5474) – which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Its goal is to change the way concrete pumps currently pay fuel tax by establishing a user-based system of on-road vs. off-road use. An industry study has demonstrated that on average, more than 55 percent of the total fuel consumed by a concrete pump is consumed while in jobsite operations, but they are taxed on 100 percent of the fuel purchased. 

The bill would replace the current tax on diesel fuel for concrete pumpers of 24.4 cents per gallon with a user fee of 5 cents per mile for pumps weighing less than 60,000 pounds, and 7 cents per mile for any pumps heavier than 60,000 pounds. If passed, the bill will allow concrete pumpers to stop paying nearly double the taxes per mile charged to other commercial vehicles, such as mobile cranes and agricultural vehicles.

Another advocacy win was the ACPA’s spearheading of efforts to eliminate the retail excise tax on purchases of concrete pump chassis. “That was probably the biggest feather in our cap since I’ve been here,” Collins says. “The IRS wanted to change the classification of concrete pumps from mobile machinery to ordinary over-the-road highway vehicles because in their opinion, a concrete pump chassis can be reconverted to a vehicle which can carry a load across the highway. Not only is this not possible, but clearly it’s just not feasible.”

Mobile machinery is exempt from several highway use taxes, one of which is the retail excise tax, which would have averaged around $14,000 per chassis. Another was the over-the-road use tax, which averages approximately $550 per vehicle. “ It was several years of fighting back and forth, but last year, we were able to prevail, and by doing so saved our members million of dollars every year,” she reports.

Additional Programs

The ACPA also has created a program that establishes benchmark figures for various financial aspects of operating a concrete pumping business. Obtained from members’ financial statements which were sent to a third-party accounting firm, the program will indicate which operations are most profitable for members and what typical expenses for a concrete pumping company are. This in turn will enable pumping companies to price their services accordingly to make a profit.

The association also issues a digital and printed magazine quarterly and is staging its World of Concrete 2015 expo from Feb. 2 to 6 in Las Vegas and its educational conference April 10 to 11 in San Antonio, Texas. It celebrated its 40th anniversary in April at its spring board meeting aboard the Queen Mary luxury liner in Long Beach, Calif., where concrete pumpers, manufacturers and distributors met on March 1, 1974, to form the association.

Collins foresees continued progress with the association. “Certainly this new standard ASME has coming up is going to be a game-changer in our industry,” she predicts. “It is going to elevate safety, and it’s going to add a certain degree of professionalism that maybe was not there before, because it’s going to require companies big and small to have established safety and maintenance programs.”

She praises the tenaciousness of the association’s members. “They’re very passionate about what they do,” she emphasizes. “They’re very involved. They are going to make the association succeed. They do what they can. They all pitch in and work very hard at making sure the industry continues to progress and is a success.” 

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