2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the UK’s total ban on asbestos, and – perhaps – the first tentative signs that asbestos deaths have peaked. Much to celebrate, then, but the year also saw upheaval in asbestos management, with the HSE’s long-overdue overhaul of the licensing regime becoming a talking point for the wrong reasons. Here’s our review of the year.
Back on 24 November 1999, the UK’s ban on importing and using asbestos finally came into effect. This year marked the ban’s twentieth anniversary, but sadly our use of asbestos is far from a historic problem. For a start, it’s endemic throughout our built environment, so in February we asked various industry experts: Is an asbestos-free world possible?
As we discovered, the reality is that there is neither the capability nor the budget to remove asbestos from the entire built environment, but is there a case for selectively removing it? In particular, more than 85% of the UK’s schools contain asbestos. In April we asked whether in this unique environment the current ‘manage in situ’ approach was good enough – read our asbestos in schools article here.
Licensed to ill
Within the asbestos-removal industry, the ban’s anniversary was undoubtedly overshadowed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s plans to overhaul the licensing system. This permissioning regime controls who can perform most asbestos-removal work, and there’s no question that it needed an update – back in 2016 I was one of many calling for a move to a single, three-year licence term, backed up by formal reviews.
In March the HSE made a bold move, introducing a three-year only licensing system in which the onus is placed more fully on the would-be licensed asbestos-removal contractor (LARC) to prove their competence. Instead of inspections, there’s a detailed online form comprising 14 sections – you can read my analysis of it here.
While there were positive elements to the new system, it quickly became clear that LARCs had little guidance on how to complete the form, resulting in huge time overheads as they dug around for information that could be relevant. For the HSE, the form’s open-ended nature meant that no two applications were alike, and LARCs quickly reported a processing backlog in which renewals were taking many weeks to complete.
From the start, I’m proud to say that Assure360 could help LARCs retrieve the proof they needed to demonstrate their competence. We moved quickly to develop a custom module, specifically designed to provide the exact information the HSE needed for each section of the form – at the touch of a button. We’ve now helped multiple clients through renewal under the new regime, and as it begins to mature and improve we’re working with the HSE to further develop our support.
2019 was the first full year for the Assure360 Paperless app, and it’s a pleasure to hear from clients how it continues to help them work more efficiently on site, and eliminate paperwork back at the office. Below we’ve highlighted just some of this feedback below – for each you can click the link to read the full case study.
- “It’s saving me hours and hours and hours of going through paperwork.” – Jonathon Teague, project support manager, Armac Group
- “Instead of going backwards and forwards to my site folder I can now just do it all on the app. Paperwork is all done unbelievably quickly and I can go out and help with the sheeting up.” – Gary Meads, senior supervisor, Sperion
- “When it comes to the licence assessment, Assure quickly enables you to extract the information which will help prove that you are complying with the HSE’s licencing criteria.” – Clinton Moore, director, Sperion
- “Paperless has helped us build smooth processes around our critical site checks and record keeping, and the app will be a fundamental part of helping us maintain quality and efficiency as we scale up.” – Tony Loughran, managing director, Amianto Services
Already, some 15% of all LARCs use Paperless, and more than one in ten licence applications to the HSE are submitted using the Assure360 system, but we’re not sitting still. Unique to Paperless, we’ve introduced a new Personal Monitoring feature that helps LARCs develop real strategies for personal monitoring that reflect operatives’ true exposure levels. Aside from ensuring that monitoring is effective, it ensures that monitoring programmes adapt to reflect what’s actually happening on site, helping minimise and manage exposure risks.
And what of 2020? There’s already a packed event schedule for the year ahead – you can see many of the key dates in our frequently updated events calendar. We’ll be rolling out further improvements to Assure360 and, I’m delighted to announce, introducing Android versions of all three Assure360 apps: Audit, Paperless and Incident. There’s much to look forward to, but for now let me wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy and safe new year.
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