Assure 360

The rise of the independent auditor

Written by Nick Garland on 08/03/2021
 

We’re now nearly two years on from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s revolutionary change to the asbestos licence assessment system. Despite early and significant teething troubles, the word out there is that the new system is largely working OK. As it happens, the evidence based, online system could also have been specifically designed for the 2020 that no one expected.

But if the privations of the last 12 months have combined with the HSE tearing up the licensing regime to create a dark cloud, I’m happy to suggest a rather surprising silver lining: a rise in the need for, and importance of, the independent auditor.

To explain, let me take a step back and look at the importance of auditing in general. In a strong health and safety system, internal audits are crucial, providing critical knowledge of exactly what’s going on on site. Having this information first-hand is fundamental to developing a deeper understanding, learning lessons, and making the improvements you need.

Auditing and the new licence regime

So how does that fit in with the HSE’s licencing shakeup? With a move away from in-person licencing assessments, the HSE doubtless needs more enforcement visits to verify contractors’ evidence-based submissions – and to give itself confidence that the new system is working. The HSE recognises that it needs a lot more boots on the ground to see what’s really happening. But with the budgets as they are, those won’t be lots more HSE boots – indeed, the recent trend in actual visits is down not up.

The pragmatic route around this is for the HSE to require licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) to conduct audits – and lots of them. Specifically, the HSE’s licence renewal evidence guide calls for a minimum of six audits to be submitted as part of the application, split between three internal and three external ones.

This balance between internal analysis and external appraisal is essential. My mantra has always been that there must be a blend of internal and external audits. The former should take the bulk of the load, but the latter is an essential source of balance. Having fresh eyes is essential to uncover any blind spots.

Internal audits

Who should conduct internal audits? I know from experience that the HSE is wary of contract managers ‘marking their own homework’, but in most businesses there are other sources of internal eyes. For example, a contracts manager can conduct peer review audits and supervisors can audit the method statements and whether they are fit for purpose.

Sometimes – particularly in smaller businesses – a contract manager will have to audit their own job, but even this can be useful, especially if they are harsh markers.

Independent audits

Independent auditors are an essential check on the feedback loop of internal audits, but not all auditors are created equal. In my view, independent auditors should be both experts in asbestos legislation, and offer deep experience of construction health and safety. You’d think our industry would create them by the bucket load, but they were a rarity when I started my career, and they’re a rarity now.

Things may be about to change though. Belts are tightening after the past year, and while labour supply agencies saw an immediate hit, in-house health and safety teams are following suit. Sadly that means redundancies, and the additional concern of weakened safety cultures at the affected organisations.

Still, it’s a very ill wind that blows nobody any good. As the HSE outsources its eyes, a pool of experts is likely to be looking for new opportunities, and this is leading to an interesting shift in the industry. The creation of a whole new sector, of amply experienced and qualified independent auditors, is something to be celebrated and welcomed.

I feel this particularly strongly, as In 2004 I made a switch that most consultants never do, and started advising licensed asbestos contractors on health and safety. It was this that really completed my education: without direct experience of both sides of the industry, we professionals can be very blinkered.

I have got a lot out of my career so far, both professionally, but also a personal feeling of value. By working for several removal contractors at once I feel I have been able to help all of them become better. So as this is very much my emotional home, I have a great deal of empathy and want to help those taking a similar route.

For this reason we’ve decided to offer the use of Assure360 completely free of charge to suitably qualified independent auditors. Whether the auditor’s end client is on Assure360 or not, this will be a massive boon. The auditor will benefit from:

  • Big efficiency savings on site – speeding up note taking
  • Elimination of manually drafting a PDF report
  • Access to all the benchmark data from the 10,000+ audits recorded in Assure360
  • Dashboard and reporting tools that allow the auditors to offer sensible, data-driven advice to their clients.

The system is even more appealing if the client happens to be an Assure360 customer. In these cases, all audits will automatically read across to the client’s slice of the system, allowing:

  • Smooth close out of actions and prevention of recurrence
  • Population of client’s trend analysis
  • Population of the client’s individual competence assessments

We already work with selected auditors who use Assure360 to simplify their audits, and improve the depth and clarity of their reporting. Read what they say – and contact us if you’d like to start using Assure360 yourself.

“I just find it so, so easy to use, so simple. It doesn’t take up half the time of my own audit system – where I’m uploading photos, copying and pasting information. It’s none of that, it’s quick. It’s a great app really.”

Chris Pedley, CP Safety

“It’s the benchmark we should all be working to. It covers just about everything you could want on an asbestos audit, along with general health and safety.”

Dave Philips, D&N Asbestos Advisory Services

“I’m an absolute fan. When I turn up on site, I’m not carrying pens, paper and clipboards. It’s just user friendly, it’s so easy.”

Paul Beaumont, BIACS

“My clients aren’t just getting a box-ticking exercise, they’re benefitting from my expertise and feedback, and the software’s ability to help produce actionable information.”

Chris Pedley, CP Safety

“My clients get a full report from me, in that will be the audit, lots of nice photos, and an overview of the site H&S. But there’ll also be graphs and charts from Assure360, which I don’t have to create, and that’s brilliant.”

Dave Philips, D&N Asbestos Advisory Services

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"The new system is better. Obviously it takes a few days to get used to the app, but once you do it's quicker. It's exactly the same checks you'd be doing with a paper system, but you haven't got the folder. You haven't got the paper there, it's just done on a small screen. It's made my job easier."
Mark McGonagle, Major Works Supervisor, Asbestech