Assure 360

A look back at 2023

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday January 11th 2024

We’re just two weeks into 2024, and 2023 already seems like a distant memory. It was an important year, though, so we’ve put together a quick look back at some of the key things that happened.

For me, one of the key themes of the year was a renewed focus on innovation and research. From FAAM taking an active role in researching working methods and techniques, through to the excellent and highly promising product development and fresh thinking presented at conferences, 2023 showed a lot of promise.

In March, FAAM held a unique workshop on the four-stage clearance (4SC), bringing together analysts and licensed asbestos removal contractors to examine the purpose of the 4SC, its potential conflicts, and how the two sides of our industry could learn from each other.

In October I was delighted to also be involved in a second FAAM project, investigating a new gel-pack removal technique for asbestos-lagged pipework. Both were featured in November’s FAAM conference, where my colleague Cat Holmes reported on the findings and actions from our 4SC workshop.

The summer brought some welcome news, as the government climbed down on the sunset clause initially contained within the Retained EU Law Bill. Had this made it into law, might have seen vital legislation – including the Control of Asbestos Regulations – struck from the statute books at the end of the year.

On a more personal level, July saw Assure360 hit the 15,000-audit milestone – an incredible achievement, underlining the wealth of data and experience behind Assure360 and its user community.

The summer holidays also saw a last-minute announcement that multiple schools would not reopen, while long-standing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was assessed. Many schools are still fully or partially using temporary buildings while they wait for affected structures to be made safe. It’s an awful scenario, compounded by the high proportion of school and other public buildings that also still contain asbestos.

The end of the year brought the shock announcement of ACTA – a new trade association with the potential to shake things up – and two highlights of the events calendar: the aforementioned FAAM conference, and the European Asbestos Foundation (EAF) conference. For 2023, another excellent EAF was given even greater credibility by stronger government buy-in – the Dutch state acted as co-sponsor. The presence of policy makers from across Europe added further weight to EAF’s uniquely brilliant approach.

Looking back

As I say, a year of much promise, but in 2024 we need to continue building and improving. Changes driven by the Asbestos Network’s new personal monitoring guidance require us all to adapt – that’s the focus of our free webinar on 16 January.

Beyond that, the EU’s Asbestos at Work Directive, and by the more general push to renovate and refit Europe’s ageing buildings, will require us all to be open and receptive to new ideas. As I reflected at the end of last year, there’s a real danger that we in the UK could be left behind as Europe pushes ahead with better protection for its workers, and continues to be the driving force behind the innovation needed to make that happen. We in the UK must be sure to keep pace.

I couldn’t end without also mentioning our dear friend and inspiration, Mavis Nye, who very sadly passed away in November. I’ll always remember Mavis as one of the warmest people you could ever wish to meet. She led a seemingly miraculous life, being in remission for many years from the hideous disease mesothelioma following immunotherapy treatment. She leaves an incredible legacy in the Mavis Nye foundation, and all she and her husband Ray have accomplished in their campaign for an asbestos-free world.

It’s asbestos, not just RAAC that schools need to be concerned about

Written by Nick Garland on Friday September 1st 2023

The announcement from the government that multiple schools will have to close or partially close due to the long known presence of RAAC has further ramifications. Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete or RAAC was used extensively in public buildings between the 1950s and the 1990s, for those of you that know your asbestos prohibition dates – this is the ‘heyday’ of asbestos use.

Asbestos is frequently hidden in the structure of the building, and can take weeks of planning and careful removal to find and address. In buildings of this vintage, such an issue will be highly likely. This additional delay could extend the school closures, potentially to months. But that is not even the main issue – the urgency of the RAAC question, might lead schools to overlook the asbestos question entirely.

The recent Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee report (April 22) highlighted the specific risk of asbestos in schools. ResPublica have recently stated that 80% of schools contain asbestos. The recent study paper by the National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC) and the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Association (ATaC) has similar figures, with 78% of the buildings they looked at having contained asbestos.

Following the select committee report, the HSE visited 421 schools to inspect their compliance with the regulations. 140 were considered to be falling short and received letters from the HSE instructing them on improvements that were needed in their management of asbestos. Of these, 27 received improvement notices (legal instruction for mandatory specific improvements), and one a prohibition notice (not to enter their boiler room until asbestos was removed). Whilst 33% non-compliance will not be a surprise to the industry, it should be seen as a worryingly high figure.

The Cliff Edge

I recently wrote about the cliff edge the country is heading towards in the race to net zero and the lifespan of system built buildings – deadlines a few years off. Now there is another ultra urgent deadline – repair or replacement of these RAAC structures so the schools can re-open. That is an awful lot of construction work that needs to be done immediately on buildings with clear potential to contain asbestos. The pressing and very public urgency to fix the RAAC problem might overwhelm other considerations – and in particular the asbestos risk.

HSE’s recent findings confirm what has been long suspected, that the model of manage-in-situ is not working well in schools. If the asbestos risk is overlooked now and not factored into the emergency, this latest crisis could be made even worse.

Celebrating our 15,000th audit

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 12th 2023

Ours is a small industry, so I’m incredibly proud to report that last week we hit a huge milestone: the 15,000th audit completed using the Assure360 system. This particular audit was recorded by Asbestech, one of our longest-standing community members. 

Clearly audit information is 100% confidential, but I’m sure Asbestech won’t mind me sharing that it was an unannounced ARCA perfect, A-rated audit that was translated onto the system.

This is an important feature of Assure360. Translating all of their ARCA audits to Assure360 has allowed Asbestech to benefit from the independence that a trade-body audit gives them – but also harness the power of the Assure360 management system. Not only do the ARCA audits now inform Asbestech’s compliance processes, they also contribute to training needs, trend analysis, and even drive the agenda for supervisor meetings

While we believe that the Assure360 Audit 3.0 App is the best on the market by a country mile, Assure360 itself is an all-encompassing health and safety management system. Crucially, we are not protective, or prescriptive as to where the data comes from. The Audit 3.0 App syncs findings directly to your dashboard in seconds. Translation of an ARCA (or ACAD) audit takes approximately five minutes.

Either way, the benefits you get by using the most powerful analysis system are incredible. We even allow independent auditors to use the app completely free of charge. It’s an expression of the underlying principle of what we do at Assure360: simply to help you manage all the information you have in the most efficient and productive way.


“We’ve been a long standing client of the A360 auditing suite; we find it both simple to use to conduct audits and simple to use to interpret the audit findings from all parties. The dashboard and report generating tools allow us to cascade learning points through our business very quickly.”

Phil Neville
Operations Director


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

Dave Philips
D & N Asbestos Advisory Services


“There’s a benefit to auditing based on a consistent process. Fundamentally it means you can’t forget to do something – either on site, or when writing up the audit. With Assure360 it’s got that consistency: the layout’s the same, the information is the same. It’s easy to follow, and it’s easy to identify needs in operatives as well.”

Paul Beaumont

Discover how Assure360 and the Assure360 Audit app could improve your management, understanding and planning of asbestos removal. Get in touch today to learn more or book a free demo.

Summing up the ACAD awards dinner and golf day

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday June 22nd 2023

The ACAD awards dinner and golf day has been and gone, and I have to say it was another triumph. Graham Warren managed to organise excellent weather – a trick he seems to repeat every year.

I don’t golf personally, but apparently it was very tricky – a local golfer told me ominously that the course wasn’t long, but that ‘it defends itself’. Our Phil Bowen, who was on a team with Ashley from SAR, returned a very creditable three under par. We didn’t get close to any of the prizes though.

Back at the hotel, Sam Lord of the Health and Safety Executive presented a technical update on the regulator’s workings. She shared interesting previews of the Asbestos Network technical working group’s focus for this year. The personal monitoring and health records guidance that I wrote about recently is due to be finalised at the next meeting.

After that the most interesting new piece is guidance for supervisors on the four-stage clearance and doing visual inspections. This is partially informed by the excellent work that FAAM did with the joint analyst and supervisor workshop in the spring. FAAM is planning another workshop, probably in the autumn, I am sure we will be sharing the lessons from that to support improved guidance in the same way.

Richly awarded

Assure360 had the honour of sponsoring the Excellence in Audit awards again. The awards go to all members that received a 100% audit – which is impressive to say the least. There is a further award that goes to the team that has a very high standard, but also excels in best-practice innovation on site.

I had the great pleasure of presenting trophies to Amianto, MSS, Omega and Westcross on the night. Other winners not able to make it for the presentation were:

  • Countrywide Environmental Services
  • Edenbeck
  • Fleet Insulation Company
  • Greenair Environmental
  • Integral Environmental Solutions
  • Meta
  • Multi Discipline Solutions
  • Rainham Industrial Services

Congratulations again to all winners. It’s a joy to be acknowledging and celebrating their thorough and exemplary work.

John Barnes was excellent as the after-dinner speaker. He always was a very thoughtful, considered and entertaining sportsman, and in his speech he was able to weave his very interesting life and career into revealing observations on running businesses. He clearly remembered his time at Watford with great fondness, and came out with the amazing fact that Graham Taylor took the team from the old fourth division to top-flight runners-up in just five years. More importantly, the team that finished second to Liverpool that year was 80% the same as the one that started that first season at the bottom.

As I say, a thoroughly enjoyable day and evening, but there was one sadness to it all. Mavis Nye was due to present the Supervisor of the Year award, but unfortunately illness prevented her. I am sure Mavis is in all of our thoughts, and I hope that her sheer determination wins through again in her fight against this horrendous disease.

A look ahead to 2022

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday January 19th 2022

We’re already a fortnight into 2022, the schools are back, and our focus is well and truly on the year ahead. It’s a sad reality that we’re all still living with the risk and disruption of Covid-19, but it does seem likely that this will be the year we move towards living with the virus. And as the policy shifts away from trying to contain it, it’s likely that in some ways this will be a more normal year than 2020 or 2021.

So what can we expect in the construction and asbestos industries? First and foremost, it seems that we’ll see a return of more in-person events. As it stands, most major industry events in 2022 seem likely to go ahead in person, which should bring more opportunities to network and catch up with colleagues we may not have seen for some time.

At Assure360, we’re seizing the opportunity, and kicking the year off with the return of our popular breakfast meetings. If you’re not familiar, these serve as a warm up to selected ACAD regional meetings, and provide an opportunity for existing customers to discuss the future direction and evolution of the Assure360 system. It’s our community’s biggest opportunity to help shape the next stage of Assure360 development.

The meetings aren’t just for existing customers, though. Me and my brother, Rick Garland, will be happy to provide all comers with an overview of the system. We’ll be able to answer any questions and give demonstrations, all while you enjoy a light breakfast. So please do come along to one of the following:

  • 1st March, 8:00am – Cardiff Arms Park, CF10 1JA
  • 2nd March, 8:00am – Meeting Point, 26 & 28 High St, Kegworth DE74 2DA
  • 3rd March, 8:00am – Novotel Manchester West, M28 2YA

Please RSVP via our LinkedIn events pages or by email to so we can confirm numbers for catering.

Other events

It’s hard to predict exactly how the rest of the year will pan out, but among the big events likely to go ahead, the Hazardous Materials Expo is set for 14-15 September at the NEC. Assuming the situation allows for it, expect a return to a much bigger event than has been possible for the last two years.

We also hope that the improving situation lets the 10th international symposium on modern principles of air monitoring and biomonitoring (Airmon 10) go ahead. Originally scheduled for last September, it’s now planned for 7-10 November. As always, we’ll be trying to keep our regular events listing updated as more events are announced or confirmed.

Finally, a reminder that the Work and Pensions Committee is continuing its examination of how the Health and Safety Executive manages the continued presence of asbestos in buildings. After a call for evidence and the first oral evidence sessions last year, the committee will continue its work of examining the risks, how the HSE manages them, and how UK practice compares to the rest of the world.

As we said, it’s hard to predict exactly how the year will pan out, but we can hope that things return more closely to normal as vaccination and other measures help bring Covid under control. However things develop, we wish you all the best throughout 2022 and beyond.

Female analysts and four-stage clearance testing – the need for change

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday December 9th 2021

I normally do a roundup of the FAAM asbestos conference, letting those that didn’t get to attend know some of the more important areas that were discussed by the leading thinkers in our industry. I will be doing that, but this piece is in many ways much more important.

** ​Warning, the content includes an upsetting personal revelation, and some readers may be affected by the issues raised.**

Colette Willoughby’s talk on the second day, Female Analysts and Four-Stage Clearance Testing, was the most raw and personal talk I have ever heard at a conference. The talk was split into two parts – the first a short history lesson on how things have changed during Colette’s distinguished career.

Having started out in 1982, Colette really was at the birth of the new world of asbestos analysis. She entered an industry where – astonishingly – a clearance just meant the contractor dropping a pump off at a lab. She witnessed it change to one where analysts started actually doing tests and – most revolutionarily of all – a visual, where the analyst actually checked the contractor had done what they said they would. My career started shortly after this, where people still talked about what it used to be like. Now this seems more like myth and legend.

The main part of the talk, though, related to Colette’s own experiences, and those of four other women she had interviewed. The interviewees were Jean Prentice, Joanna Parker, Sam Collins and an anonymous analyst still actively doing four-stage clearances (4SCs). The five women between them represent a huge amount of experience, gained from the mid-1960s to the present day.

Colette’s talk frankly and openly discussed the widest range of experiences, from the broadly positive (Sam and Jean), to the worst you can imagine. Colette, despite being one of the warmest and most professional people you could ever want to meet, has experienced some of the most unwelcome experiences possible. From initially not being allowed on site at all, to – after years of campaigning – being told: “OK, but we don’t think you’ll cope”.

What followed was a litany of sexist ‘banter’ from contractors, with comments such as: “You’re a woman, you’re just picky” and “You’re more used to cleaning: no wonder you can do it better.” Yet at the back of Colette’s mind, a traitorous voice insisted that now she’d convinced her bosses she could do the job, this was something she just had to put up with.

The ‘banter’ was shameful enough, but examples of criminal abuse followed. On numerous occasions, naked operatives have intentionally followed her into the decontamination unit (DCU) – the most recent occurrence being only four years ago.

Then came a horrific experience where she was raped on site by the supervisor. As Colette explains: “I was sexually abused and was raped on numerous occasions, but did not have the ability to go back and say anything because I was quite consistently told by him ‘Nobody’s going to believe you. You’re 23/24 years old, I’m a middle-aged man. I’m well respected, you were just asking for it. You’ve come into our environment [and] you’ve got to put up with it’.”

How Colette kept it together after that I will never know.

While spared the full horrors of Colette’s experience, Joanna and the anonymous, still-serving analyst both had multiple examples of threats of, or actual sexual abuse. And they both shared the belief that reporting it would be futile.

The hostile environment

Asbestos is of course part of the construction industry. To put some numbers to the hostile environment that women in our industry endure, Colette turned to a 2017 report, which found that four in 10 women had been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual behaviour, and that one in nine mothers had been dismissed, compulsorily made redundant, or treated so poorly that they left the post. The pay gap was 17.3%, to add insult to injury.

Colette is the chair of NORAC, Principle Examiner for asbestos at BOHS, and Director and Technical Expert at ACL. She is, quite frankly, one of the most impressive consultants in the industry, but the abuse and discrimination that she and other female analysts have experienced left me and the rest of her audience stunned. Speaking personally, I am ashamed of the ignorance that I had been labouring under.

How do we change?

Colette then moved on to what needs to change, and how. The distance we need to travel is vast – but at some levels utterly basic. For example, PPE must by law be fit for purpose and fit for use. But disposable overalls and underwear are all made for the male body shape and don’t fit women. Here, companies are effectively in breach for failing to provide the correct protective equipment.

The DCU poses a particular problem. Construction (Design and Management) regulations state: “Separate washing facilities must be provided for men and women, except where they are provided in a room the door of which is capable of being secured from the inside, and the facilities in each room are intended to be used by only one person at a time.”

DCUs are shared, yet their access is controlled by either a key or a combination lock, both of which are external. Again, this means they’re not compliant. I can only think that DCU manufacturers must be ignorant of the issue, or they would have changed this already.

Finally, Colette stressed two more areas where we need to do so much more. The first is the glaring need for simple respect. It should go without saying, but is clearly, sadly, very very lacking. Male colleagues must do all they can to help here – calling out even the borderline ‘banter’ – never mind the sexist abuse above.

Employers need to acknowledge the differences, and provide training so that female analysts are better prepared for the pressures. Crucially, they also need to offer support, so that analysts are comfortable and secure enough to report and get help when they need it.

As I said, it was a raw and eye-opening talk, and one which I profoundly hope will bring about change. Hearing the testimony were HSE officers, asbestos removal trade organisations, and consultancy business owners among others. It’s an oft repeated phrase that asbestos is the most regulated industry after nuclear – surely there were enough of the ‘right’ people in the room to make a change.

If you’ve been affected by this subject and wish to respond or raise similar concerns, email This is a totally confidential inbox that is monitored by Colette, Jean Prentice and Sara Mason, who are all on the working group set up in the wake of FAAM to address the issue.

FAAM conference review – useful, compelling, and more thought-provoking than ever

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday December 9th 2021

FAAM 2021 was held virtually on the 17th and 18th of November, and was broadly a very interesting and engaging conference again. I say ‘broadly’ in no way intending to underplay it, as all of the talks were fascinating. However, Colette Willoughby’s day-two presentation on female analysts and what they have to endure was so raw and personal that it quite unavoidably dominated the whole event.

I have written about Colette’s talk separately, as it deserves to be considered separately and seriously by us all. However there were many other thought-provoking and informative talks throughout the programme: here are some of the highlights.

The conference started with a fascinating, deep look into the marriage of cutting edge new technologies to tried and tested Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) techniques. Frontier, Ethos and xRapid all had slightly different takes on enhancing PCM with artificial intelligence and robotics, to improve consistency, accuracy and speed.

That today’s PCM process is quite straightforward probably shouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s a technology that predates WW2. For asbestos, the analyst looks down the microscope and carefully looks for any fibres that follow the accepted rules as to what qualifies as asbestos. They count the number that fall within a defined area in the middle of their view (or field), then move this view randomly and make another count, adding to the total. This is repeated a given number of times to give a total number of asbestos fibres in a given number of fields.

The weakest link

That’s the process, but it’s important to look at the problems humans bring to it. I can testify to the first flaw, which is that the mark I eyeball is of varying quality – and my eyes are not what they were. So our ability to see the very fine fibres will vary. The rules as to what ‘counts’ as a fibre are straight forward, but we have to apply them correctly every time.

In addition, humans get tired, and tend to be less competent later in the day. We’re also flawed in that we have desires, and that we can be influenced by persuasion or threats that may consciously or otherwise affect which fields get counted. Add in the time pressures we all need to work under, and you will understand that the accuracy of on-site analysis is different to the work done in a lab with a nice cuppa to hand.

The application of AI and robotics has the potential to eliminate nearly all of these issues. Random is random, the rules are the rules, a calibrated eyeball mark II is accurate to a known degree – and it doesn’t get tired.

Automated analysis is also a lot quicker, at less than five minutes per sample. All of this really does promise a fascinating and exciting change for our analysts. Supported by AI, they will be able to concentrate on the really crucial visual inspection. And when that passes, the computer says no (or yes).

Ethos, based in Scotland, has taken the technology a step further with a kit that can take the sample as well. Currently the size of a pedal bin, the technology incorporates a very powerful pump, cartridges of filters, slides and a robotic microscope. Essentially you position it in the enclosure, press go and it takes the sample, mounts the slide and starts reading it. You can then move it to a new location whilst the analysis is ongoing and repeat.

Ethos says the turnaround for the first sample is only 20 minutes, but the current model is an advanced prototype and has limitations. Not least the fact that it looks heavy – making it a potential challenge for some analysts to heft around.

Rolling moss uncovers the stone?

The next really fascinating talk was a case study of a project being led by Colette. The site is a vast military storage facility, with 60 acres of asbestos cement roofing! All of it is past its anticipated life expectancy, but still, asbestos cement: what’s the problem?

In fact, one of the main issues is moss. As it turns out cement is not some inert binder – but an ideal source of nutrients. Here you can see how enthusiastically the site has been colonised.

Mossy Cement

There is some greenery, but there is also a lot of dead moss that eventually drops off. And with the dead moss comes pure asbestos fibre.

Mossy Cement

This material has contaminated walkways, roads and the nation’s fighting vehicles, and potentially exposed serving personnel. It’s an ideal nesting material for birds, who may have carried it away to contaminate nearby houses. Over the past two and a half years the project has evolved from assessment, to imaginative decontamination techniques.

The ECHA chamber

The afternoon of the first day was devoted to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) subcommittee’s research report on a potential for a new occupational exposure level (OEL) for asbestos.

Just to rewind a bit, the report’s terms of reference were to:

  1. Assess the different types of asbestos fibres and their corresponding health effects
  2. Assess the appropriateness of different limits for different asbestos types (currently there is just one control limit set at 0.1f/ml)
  3. Review or propose revised OELs

It’s an important area for legislation, as different types of asbestos fibre are known to pose widely differing levels of threat. For example, there’s a nearly 500:1 jump in mesothelioma risk with exposure to crocidolite (blue) compared to chrysotile (white) asbestos.

However, the committee seems to have gone off-piste, and has instead chosen to answer entirely different questions with dubious scientific justification. Andrey Korchevskiy and Garry Burdett’s presentations laid bare the problems that would be encountered if the report was accepted.

Its first fundamentally flawed assumption is to assume that operatives won’t know which type of fibre they’re working with. Given that the ‘O’ in OEL stands for occupational, it’s a very sound argument that people working with asbestos rather should know its type. Assuming that, just because there’s a Europe-wide ban, all exposure will be a mixture of fibres will lead to a significant unnecessary exposure risk.

Yet despite this, the committee elected to average out the danger and assume a single risk for all fibre types. The result of this crude approach is to set the level of risk far too high for chrysotile, and far too low for amosite and crocidolite.

Unasked for – the report also discards proven PCM technology in favour of expensive and cumbersome electron microscopy. All the existing lifetime risk assessment data is based on PCM science, and it would be a stretch to apply the new technology to old data. Moreover, if this recommendation were adopted, it would likely also prove unachievable for poorer EU nations.

Day two

As I said, for me day two was dominated by Colette’s talk Female Analysts and Four-Stage Clearance Testing. I had expected this presentation to cover the practical issues that our female colleagues experience, but it was so much more disturbing and worrying than that. Focusing on her own experience and the testimony of four other analysts, Colette left her audience pretty stunned and speechless. I have covered her talk and the issues it raises separately, to give it the attention it deserves.

To sum up, the FAAM conference was yet again incredibly useful and informative. More than ever it was also thought-provoking, and demanding of self-reflection. The overall impression it gave was that change was coming – both due to the positive impact of new technologies, but also I hope in response to the now public darker side of our industry.

FAAM conference preview – don’t miss it!

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 11th 2021

After the roaring success of last year’s virtual FAAM conference, the team made an early, risk-averse decision that this year, FAAM Asbestos 2021 would also be online. We will all be ‘gathered’ for the 17th and 18th of November for an intense and varied programme of speakers that includes industry experts, doctors and academics.

So what ground is the conference covering this year? It starts with a deeper look into the use of AI in reading asbestos slides. You may remember that I wrote about Marvin the robot after Frontier Microscopy’s presentation at the 2019 European Asbestos Forum conference.

We were told how it was used in Australia, where getting analysts to remote places was a huge challenge. Instead, samples are sent to a central lab for analysis, where Marvin uses AI to analyse the samples more quickly and accurately than humans. At FAAM we’re going to hear from Frontier, Ethos and xRapid on where the technology has gone in the last couple of years.

After the morning break, we will be looking at more traditional approaches. But even here there’s a new slant – discussing how certain changes to how we take the sample can give us the opportunity to improve the limit of quantification.

The rest of the first day – with one notable exception – will be focusing on the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) Assessment for Asbestos. You may not be aware, but the ECHA produced a substantial report back in February, seeking consultation on its recommendation that the occupational exposure limits (OEL) be dramatically reduced.

You’d wonder who would argue against this kind of proposal, but in fact it seems that the science behind the move may be flawed, and the recommendations impractical. Andrey Korchevskiy, Robin Howie and John Hodgson are all speaking on the subject then, after the break, Gary Burdett will present the ECHA opinion.

Outside the ECHA chamber

The ECHA exception I mentioned is Dan Barrowcliffe, who will be presenting on the exposure study that he led on removal operative exposure during licensed work. Dan has been very present at FAAM conferences, but has recently taken up a post at the new Building Safety Regulator. I’m sure he’ll be at future conferences, though: we all know there is no real escape from the asbestos industry!

Day two kicks off with a series of talks on the UK’s asbestos legacy, with a focus on mesothelioma and treatment advances – a subject that is ever present in our minds. Before lunch we look at the law, and the role of the expert in asbestos claims. After the gripping mock trial last year I expect this will be a compelling examination of what can happen when it all goes wrong.

We round up the day with site-based issues, ranging from communication between clients and LARCs, and Sara Mason’s talk on the challenges to site analysis. Several talks here sound promising. I’m eager to hear from Dale Timmons of further advances in thermochemical asbestos destruction – a technology that could hold the key to preventing landfilling.

I’m also interested in Graham Warren’s look at the implications of ‘net zero’ for the asbestos industry. And finally, given that the four-stage clearance (4SC) is a topic close to my heart, I’m hopeful that Colette Willoughby will be telling us about some practical solutions to the additional challenges faced by female analysts during the 4SC.

It’s a packed programme, and my experience from last year suggests that – despite the virtual format – the event remains unmissable. You can sign up for FAAM 2021 via the BOHS website. I hope to ‘see’ you there!

Relicensing, and the importance of external audits

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 11th 2021

With the HSE’s electronic licence assessment process now nearly three years old, the original pilot companies are going through the process again. The promise for the new system was that licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) would feel the pain only on their first time through, with all subsequent renewals being much more straightforward. Only time will tell whether the HSE’s view of simplicity matches ours.

But assuming the process has bedded down into an initial, intense assessment, followed by more of an ongoing ‘light touch’, what is certain is that the regulator will be focused on what’s new. This will range from any changes you have made internally, through the findings of any HSE visits, and crucially the results of your own audit programme.

And as anyone that’s been through the licence process will know, while the HSE values a well-managed internal audit programme, external audits are near-mandatory – and huge store is put on their findings.

When internal audits do more harm than good

First off, it’s important to explain that I’m a huge supporter of internal audits. Without looking for yourself, it is easy to fall into the trap of running your company with blinkers on. This wilful blindness will lead to poor practice through ignorance, and a degree of shock when others – such as the HSE – see something that you haven’t.

The key is that these internal audits need to be effective. Significant pitfalls to avoid would be:

  • Always using the same auditor
  • Contracts managers auditing their own jobs

The weaknesses in both come because it is human nature to see what you expect to see. If you always have the same auditor, they’ll always spot the things they’re great at spotting. The things they’re not so good at spotting will always get missed. When marking your own homework it is difficult to spot your own mistakes!

Contracts managers (CMs) who audit their own jobs will be particularly vulnerable to this. The takeaway is not necessarily to (as some would say) avoid CM auditors, it is rather to ensure that you’re aware of their limitations, and that you look for these in the results. Whether audits are conducted by a CM or a regular internal auditor, if they typically don’t find anything wrong, it’s unlikely to mean there isn’t anything to find. In fact, it should be seen as a warning. A blend of auditors makes for a healthy system. A LARC can benefit most from the eyes and interpretation of the CMs, the MD, and even supervisors themselves.

This last group is often underused for auditing, but while they don’t realise it, supervisors audit every job. Often they even record their findings – for example your supervisor’s pre-start check is an audit of the RAMS (risk assessment method statement) against the reality they are faced with.

It’s important to use this data, and so recording it needs to be easy. Assure360 is specifically designed to streamline all aspects of construction safety, so we allow supervisors to complete pre-start checks digitally – with the data automatically contributed to the internal audit system.

Assure360 also allows safety tours, so any time that the CM and MD complete a site visit they can record any issues they see. Again, this flexibility helps record and highlight issues that typically get resolved there and then, and would otherwise be forgotten by the time an audit rolls around. Finally – uniquely to Assure360 – we help avoid the ‘snow blindness’ sometimes caused by over-reliance on internal audits. All our users get to see benchmark data from the many thousands of audits already completed on the system – letting you learn from other people’s lessons.

External sets of eyes

It’s clear that a well-managed internal audit programme is crucial for health and safety. So what does an external expert add? Their key role is to provide a check and balance on your own observations – allowing you to recalibrate.

The HSE knows all too well the limitations of internal audits, and approaches them with a pinch of salt. For the purposes of licence assessment, it needs some sort of external verification of the evidence submitted. In the past this would have been HSE visits – and lots of them. But with budgets as they are, we’re not seeing the dramatic step up in inspections that would be needed. In fact the numbers are down again – continuing the trend of the last four years:

  HSE Annual Report 2017 / 2018 HSE Annual Report 2019/2020 HSE Annual Report 2020/2021
Asbestos visits 1,000 900 860
Inspectors 1,066 1059 1045
Proactive inspection visits 20,000 13,300 14,880

To supplement its own visits, the HSE will therefore be focusing its attention on what other external eyes have spotted – and that means the finding of external auditors.

The first round of the new licence assessment required LARCs to submit three internal and three external audits conducted in the six months before application. With the HSE’s licence assessment now focused solely on what’s new and what’s changed, these audits will take centre stage.

Independent audits

All of which brings us back to a subject I wrote about earlier in the year – the increasing importance of the external auditor. In any healthy auditing ecosystem – and explicitly in the three-and-three minimum outlined by the HSE – the independent auditor presents a vital, fresh perspective on the otherwise closed feedback loop of internal audits.

Fundamentally, external auditors improve the overall quality of an audit system in multiple ways:

  • A fresh pair of eyes – external auditors are fresh to the project, increasing the chances they’ll spot problems that have fallen into your blind spots
  • Different experience and approach – the best auditors have a broad range of experience that may extend beyond yours, helping provide richer or complementary insights
  • They see many different approaches – by auditing multiple companies they will be able to form a view of best practice and pass that on
  • Independence – the external auditor has no skin in the game, and this lends them greater authority

Independent audits should always be seen as a vital check, regardless of how we’re licensed, but the HSE’s increasing reliance on them may well be about to drive up demand as the industry begins its second rotation through the new system. To the handful of existing quality auditors, we need to add other skilled and experienced professionals, able to help protect and improve the safety standards to which we all aspire.

If you know my history, you’ll know this is an area I feel strongly about. Through Assure360 I’m determined to help improve auditing standards in our industry, which is why we’re continuing to offer Assure360 as a free-of-charge service to suitably qualified independent auditors. Whether or not the end client is using Assure360, this means 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’re keen to expand the group of selected, quality auditors who use Assure360 to simplify their audits, and improve the depth and clarity of their reporting. If you’re interested in joining them, why not get in touch to understand more about how Assure360 can support you?

“Assure 360 auditing software has made my auditing process seamless, and provides a quality audit for my clients in an easy-to-read format. The system is very stable. Nick and the team are on hand to provide support when required. It is very rare to find such experts in the field running and operating great software.”

Craig Ablett, Consulo Health & Safety Ltd

“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

The Contamination Expo, and the long road to events as normal

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday October 14th 2021

Cast your mind back 12 months and it was evident the pandemic was far from over. The government had introduced the three-tier system, and events were once again being cancelled and postponed. With this in mind, we should all be grateful that this year’s Contamination Expo was back at the NEC.

As probably the biggest event in our industry, the Expo is our major opportunity to come together, exchange ideas and information, and get a real feel for what’s going on. I was looking forward to being there but then, just a couple of days before, tested positive for Covid.

I’ve written loads about the ability – indeed the need – for firms to have technology that adds flexibility and remote-working capabilities, and it was interesting to get a chance to demonstrate first-hand. Our team leaped into action, helping me film my talk Demystifying the four-hour time-weighted average (4hr TWA) so that I could present it remotely to the conference – almost as planned!


Hopefully the talk still comes over well despite my not being 100% well – I’m happy to report that my symptoms were mild and I’ve recovered now. If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, this summer I wrote in depth about the HSE and personal monitoring, and took a deeper dive into the 4hr TWA.

Looking ahead

Brilliant though technology is, and as much as it’s changing the industry we work in, there’s still no substitute for in-person conventions and events. Things will be more normal by this time next year, and the Contamination & Geotech Expo 2022 will no doubt be bigger and better. Mark out 14-15 September in your diaries!

We list the Expo and all the other occasions we know about in our regularly updated diary of asbestos and construction events. Aside from the regular ARCA and ACAD regional meetings, we’ll keep you posted on the various events and symposiums that accelerate the sharing of knowledge in our industry. Please let us know if you’re organising something so we can add it to the list.

Personally, I’m most looking forward to the next European Asbestos Forum (EAF) conference. Given the ongoing challenges with international travel this has been postponed until 2022, but I’m reliably informed next year’s event will be worth the wait. Given the quality of the 2019 conference, I don’t doubt it for a minute.

Want to see first-hand how Assure360 simplifies the 4hr TWA? Get in touch for your free demo!

Probing the subtleties of the new Analysts’ Guide

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday July 15th 2021

As you’ll almost definitely know by now, in April the Health and Safety Executive finally released its new Analysts’ Guide. I say finally, because as you’ll also know, the update was previously in the works for more than five years.

It’s been a very long road. The original consultation document was optimistically called ‘Asbestos: The Analysts’ Guide 2016 HSG248’. Like many others, I originally sent in my return to the consultation in November 2015. In 2017 I drafted my white paper, which summarised, analysed and commented on it. At the time, I anticipated that I’d be updating that promptly, but the real thing didn’t appear for more than another three years.

Despite this long gestation, the guide still has a few niggles – not least of which are a number of typos, some of which need clarification. I won’t be concentrating on these here, but I do think it’s likely the HSE will be targeting them in a minor revision before too long.

The big changes – and a typo

I’m not intending to focus on the big changes, in part because the majority of them were telegraphed in the original draft doc and then subsequently ‘leaked’ – we’ve had a long time to talk about them. The biggest example of this is the Supervisor Handover Form, which has been in wide but not universal circulation for a while.

However, now that it is in the guidance, for all practical purposes it becomes mandatory for the supervisor to hand one of these, fully completed, to the analyst before they can start on the four-stage clearance (4SC). This will also be something that the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) will be checking when they do their visits to the labs. Assure360 was an immediate adopter of this, so if you’re already using the Assure360 Paperless app you don’t need to do anything.

Discover how Assure360 Paperless helps keep you within the guidelines.

If, however, you haven’t started using the now ‘mandatory’ form, be aware that the template on page 202 of the guide contains a typo. The form asks ‘Has the NPU been switched off and new pre-filter inserted?’ Of course, we all know that this is done by the analyst after they are satisfied that stage two has been passed and they are ready to start the air test.

The asbestos enclosure handover form widely shared by ACAD had this typo rectified – you could contact your trade organisation to get their corrected version. If you do use the one from the guide, be sure to brief your teams on the correct way to use it.

Getting into the subtleties

As I say, I don’t want to focus on the typos, but rather I want to pick up some of the less obvious changes that people might have missed.

Throughout, the Analysts’ Guide stresses the client’s responsibilities with regard to protecting the health of people who work in or on their building. The underlying subtext is that this includes the analyst and the asbestos removal operative. Clients also have fairly extensive duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) to ensure that a project can be carried out without risk – so far as is reasonably practical. The combination of these factors could be that the client’s duties extend to cover previously grey areas.

It seems curious that the HSE is effectively extending the well known position that the client and not the licensed asbestos removal contractor (LARC) should appoint the analyst. The reason for this is that the analyst’s four-stage clearance is the final quality control audit prior to handing back for normal occupation, and any conflict of interest at this point is bad.

So far so normal, but the change comes with the highlighting of less formal conflicts in paragraphs 1.23 and 1.24:

“…where the contractor is a major source of work…” and;

“The analyst should not perform site clearance certification where such shared links exist. However, if shared links are unavoidable, the building client should be made fully aware of them. This should be in writing.”  

Any such links would therefore generate a UKAS-verifiable paper trail. It will be interesting to see what kind of an impact this will have on the industry.

Regardless, the inevitable conclusion that strikes me is that if personal monitoring is mandatory (it is), and the HSE is giving out a very strong steer that the client should appoint the analyst directly, then the client-appointed analyst should be conducting the LARC’s personal monitoring. It would then be inevitable that if they do, it will form part of the health records of that individual, and must be shared immediately with their employer (the LARC).

This might not seem controversial to those of you removed from the coal face, but the reality is that in many cases client-appointed analysts are refusing to share this crucial data with the LARC on the grounds that ‘the client has paid for it – so we can’t hand it over.’ It is my understanding that the HSE’s position on this will be made crystal clear in upcoming guidance on personal monitoring.

Personal monitoring, again

The most significant of the subtle changes in the new analysts’ guide centres around personal monitoring. I first wrote about these based on the final draft version of the guide. In short, a new type of personal sample has been added: the Specific Short Duration Activity (SSDA) test.

It’s this test that most contractors have tried to use in recent years as it has the most immediate, practical effect – i.e. they use it to test the effectiveness of their methods and make changes as appropriate. The problem has been that as it wasn’t listed in the guidance, analysts were tending to only do the 10-minute version, which is useless in all but a few cases.

Now the HSE has given the optimal test a name, LARCs should immediately adopt the terminology, and request ‘SSDA Personals’ whenever they book personal monitoring tests.

There are dark arts involved in the calculation of four-hour time-weighted average (4hr TWA), and LARCs can take another step that will increase the utility of any personal monitoring air testing. Where possible the go-to or standard test should be at least two hours long, and run at a sample rate of two litres per minute. The full 200 fields/graticules should be counted, too. This single test will then qualify for calculating a SSDA, RPE suitability, and the 4hr TWA. Of course, there may be more complex situations, as I explained in my recent deeper dive on the 4hr TWA.

Finally, those of you who have read my earlier posts may remember I pointed out a typo in the late draft of the guide. It specified a four-litre per minute minimum flow rate for the SSDA tests, but this has been corrected in the final version to specify up to four litres.

Want to simplify exposure monitoring? Book a demo today, and see how Assure360 automates the 4hr TWA.

Moving on from Covid’s darkest days

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday May 20th 2021

It’s been a long and difficult 18 months or so. The world has changed markedly since Covid-19 began to take hold, and while it seems the UK is on the way to better times, many regions still face huge and dangerous challenges.

The pandemic has been traumatic in so many ways. Alongside the human costs, businesses have struggled, and the construction industry offers no exception. You can get a simple idea of the impact of the pandemic on our customers’ ability to trade with a simple measure of activity: the number of audits recorded each month.


As you can see, the first lockdown caused a huge dropoff in activity, as firms struggled with new dangers – and limited understanding and resources to help overcome them. The strong recovery as we headed toward the June 2020 end of that lockdown reflects businesses implementing ‘Covid-safe’ working practices.

Being our customer data, it also strongly reflects support from the remote working features of the Assure360 system. After seeing first hand how Assure360 was helping businesses stay open during the first lockdown, we were inspired to try and do more. From July we made Assure360 Paperless available on a three-month free trial.

Paperless was designed from the outset to remove paperwork, maximise productivity  for the supervisor and promote remote management. In normal times this is a huge boost to site efficiency, allowing supervisors to concentrate on the works at hand. It’s also a great way for contract managers to reduce their dependence on site visits to ensure everything is proceeding as planned.

In Covid, these benefits became even more useful. We spoke to customers such as GreenAir Environmental, who had abolished all site paperwork, and were using wipe-clean iPads as their on-site hub: supervising jobs, holding Zoom meetings and communicating the method statement to the team. Asbestech told us how, by doing away with paperwork returning from site, they’d eliminated one vector through which the virus could spread.

The take-up of our free Paperless offer was strong. Not only was this an endorsement of a product we strongly believe in, but it’s made us incredibly proud to know we could do something to help our community through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.

Look again at the graph above and you might notice a marked difference as the UK began to lock down again, from late September 2020, through to the full lockdown in the first months of 2021. By this point, many of us had strong experience of Covid workplace safety measures, and far more of our customers were using Paperless to help reduce paperwork and support remote working. The result was a far smaller drop in activity, with more of our customers able to keep working throughout.

Towards post-Covid times

Despite the success of vaccination and lockdown measures in reducing cases, hospitalisations and deaths, it’s too soon to say that Covid is behind us. Less than half of  the population is fully vaccinated, and we’re still a way off everyone having that first  shot. Even so, we seem to be through the darkest days. So what have we learned?

The first, soberingly, is that the pandemic might not be over yet. While we’re in a far better position than even a few months ago, Covid has already proved its tenacity with additional waves and variants. The government is keen to stress the need for continued caution, even as it removes the restrictions we’ve all been living and working under.

For employers, this makes it even more important to look beyond government or industry guidance, no matter how sensible it is. As I wrote in February, it’s our legal duty to keep employees safe from Covid. If the government is both opening things up and urging caution, it’s hard to avoid an implied transfer of responsibility to the private sector.

We’ve also learned that some of the changes forced on us by Covid have been good. It’s a small ray of sunshine to take from 18 months of awfulness, but it’s clear that changes like reduced paperwork and increased home or remote working are here to stay.

At Assure360 we’ve also seen how many customers who took advantage of the free Paperless upgrade have decided to stay with the product after the three-month period. It really is a system that has to be used to be believed, so we’ve extended the offer: now every new Assure360 Platinum contract will include the first three months free.

What’s changed on the ground?

Finally I wanted to take a quick look at what our audit data can tell us about any changes on the ground. If we compare the non-conformances we were seeing in the first quarter of last year with the first quarter of this, we see:

Non Conformances Identified in Q1 2020 Non Conformances Identified in Q1 2021
Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper) 15 RPE Maintenance – Certificate on site 20
Drawings (accurate) 13 RPE (Monthly) 18
Method Statement (clearly written, site specific and appropriate) 13 Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper) 15
Electricity – Isolation 12 Drawings (accurate) 13
Housekeeping 11 COSHH Assessments 11
Method Statement (appropriate) 11 Electricity – Isolation 11
Welfare Facilities (general) 11 Medical 11
Analyst Recorded (including who contracted to) 9 Method Statement (appropriate) 10
Method (QC) 9 Training 10
PAT 9 Trip Hazards (general) 10

At first glance, it looks like a lot has changed, but if we look at broad trends we start to see some similarities. In 2020, the large majority of issues were related to the method statement, and its suitability and accuracy. Looking at the broader picture for Q1 2020, we can break the top 10 down like this:

  1. Method Statement related issues (70)
  2. Isolations (12)
  3. Housekeeping and trips (11)
  4. Welfare (11)

In 2021 we see four very admin-related issues coming into the top 10: RPE maintenance certificates, monthly RPE checks, and medical and training certificates (not) being on site. Looking at the broader picture we can break the top 10 down like this:

  1. Certification on site 59
  2. Method Statement related issues 49
  3. Isolations 11
  4. Housekeeping and trips 10

This might hint at a picture where admin teams are struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’, or simply that they’ve been furloughed and that some of their responsibilities aren’t getting picked up. However, other than the new challenges of getting the right paperwork to site, the picture painted by data is relatively similar year-on-year. I’d be interested to know if this tallies with your experience. What are you finding on site?

How do we move on?

It’s hard to know just how different – or not – the world will be post-Covid. And again, I’m mindful that for many this nightmare is far from over. But it’s certain that in many ways the changes of the last 18 months will be permanent.

Just like many of you, we’ve spent the last year changing how we do things. First we added Android support to the Paperless and Incident apps. In Paperless we added site diary entries with photographs – a hugely important and flexible tool for all supervisors and contract managers. We’ve been responding to other changes, too. Last month we introduced our solution to calculating four-hour TWAs – something that the industry has been waiting on for 30 years!

We’re still adapting and improving our products as quickly as we can. Next on the list – and coming very soon – is Assure360 Audit 3.0. Just as with Paperless and Incident it will be available for both Apple (iOS) and Android devices. We’ll be refreshing the look, but we’re also taking the opportunity to add in lots of features that many of you have been asking for:

  • Auto upload – the audit is submitted to the Assure360 Cloud Compliance system as soon as the auditor completes the audit. There will also be a function for feedback from management, and the ability for auditors to edit and re-submit after further investigations.
  • A long awaited search function – so you can find the right place in the audit quickly.
  • A simplified module for changing the question sets – allowing us to create bespoke sets much more quickly.
  • Embedded support for the Trusted Auditor Scheme.

To quickly elaborate on the last point, this means that Auditors powered by Assure360 will be able to better cooperate with their clients to help drive through improvements.

As I said, Audit 3.0 is coming very soon. We’re looking for customers who’d like to test the beta release from the end of May. If you’d like to take part, please get in touch below.

And whatever your personal experience of the pandemic, I hope that things are improving for you now and that you, too, are able to look forward. I hope we stand on the verge of a period of rebuilding, growth and – let’s hope – renewed social interaction. May we all make the best of it.

Want to help shape and test the next version of the Assure360 Audit app? Get in touch to join the beta programme.

Defining the environmental clean

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday March 10th 2021

What exactly is an ‘environmental clean? It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and maybe even used many times. But the term has never been defined by any regulation, or in official guidance. And therein lies the problem. Undefined, the ‘environmental clean’ is often used as a get-out, describing a situation that a client, consultant or contractor doesn’t think warrants an enclosure.

As a vague process, the environmental clean could mean almost anything. Some have long pushed at the boundaries of what’s acceptable: in practice environmental cleans reveal a very wide interpretation of what controls are appropriate, from the sensible, down to almost none.

Not surprisingly, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has always hated the phrase, and can get quite cross when it’s mentioned. The HSE has encountered a history of poor judgement by individuals in the industry on whether an enclosure was necessary. No doubt you’ve heard concerns dismissed with “It’s only an environmental clean” – it’s often been used as an excuse to justify cutting corners.

I’ve always counseled licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) never to use the phrase. The alternative is to have it defined in your Standard Procedures. A detailed specification covering the meaning of the phrase, the narrow parameters in which it can be used – and what controls are required – would prevent its misuse. Just writing it down means that it will be reviewed by the team, and by the HSE during your licence assessment. If you define it, you have control.

The HSE takes control

But now the HSE is acting to solve the problem, via the newly renamed Asbestos Network Technical Working Group. Previously known as the Asbestos Liaison Group, and chaired by Martin Gibson until his retirement, the group is now headed up by Sam Lord – very much out of the same mould as Martin. In a new set of minutes, the group is trying to completely reclaim the term ‘environmental clean’.

As you may or may not know, the working group’s minutes are used to share the thinking of the powers-that-be as to how the industry should be doing something. They are highly considered documents, which have been pored over for many weeks and months. The minutes have a fuzzy legal status – they’re not official guidance, but certainly the HSE uses them as part of its best practice model. Ignore them at your peril.

So what do the minutes actually say about the environmental clean? The very first point they make is that all work with an asbestos containing material (ACM) falls under the Control of Asbestos regulations 2012 (CAR), and the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP). Accordingly, there is absolutely no difference between cleaning, removing, encapsulating and so on. It’s all ‘work with asbestos’, and therefore the nature and duration of the task will determine whether it is notifiable, and what controls are required.

This makes it the legal responsibility of the company doing the work to get it right. Getting it wrong could lead to the spread of asbestos. In turn that could lead to severe legal repercussions and very severe civil claim exposure.

So to reiterate the obvious, a job requires a licence if you are dealing with licenseable material as defined in the CAR. The ACoP (Regulation 2) offers this definition:

“Licensable work with asbestos” is work:
(a)  where the exposure to asbestos of employees is not sporadic and of low intensity; or
(b)  in relation to which the risk assessment cannot clearly demonstrate that the control limit will not be exceeded; or
(c)  on asbestos coating; or
(d)  on asbestos insulating board or asbestos insulation for which the risk assessment:
(i) demonstrates that the work is not sporadic and of low intensity, or
(ii) cannot clearly demonstrate that the control limit will not be exceeded, or
(iii) demonstrates that the work is not short duration work.

Note the overlapping use of the words ‘and’ & ‘or’.

So it doesn’t matter what you call the job. It is licenseable work if you are dealing with asbestos coatings, or insulating board / insulation – unless your risk assessment clearly shows that it is short duration (two person hours, once a week as per the ACoP paragraph 31). Even then it would need to be below the four-hour or 10-minute control limits. If the job involves some other ACM, it still requires a licence if the exposure is likely to be over the four-hour or 10-minute control limits.

The minutes seek to further clarify this tight definition in certain areas. For example, if the material was originally insulation, but now is so deteriorated as to be merely unidentifiable trace debris on a floor, how do we establish whether the work requires a licence?

Clarifying the guidance

The starting point taken by the minutes is to try to separate out the grey areas that tend to get covered by an “it’s only a …’ fig leaf. These are the:

  • Environmental clean
  • Re-clean
  • Pre-clean

Table 1

The minutes define environmental cleaning as picking up, wiping up, collecting or vacuuming unattached ACMs. If the ACM is identifiable as coating, insulating board or insulation (either because you can identify if or because the source material is right there) – it will require a licence and must be notified. The exception is if it will be a very short job (see paragraphs 30-31 of the ACoP).

The memo then goes on to recognise that if all you are doing is vacuuming a small patch of asbestos insulation board fragments, then the required controls might not include a full enclosure. This highlights an often misunderstood part of the regulations. Whether something requires a licence and whether it requires an enclosure are two separate questions. The first nearly always triggers the latter, but not always. Your risk assessment must determine what controls you implement. And remember you are looking for the worst case scenario: what if the method goes wrong?

The minutes open clear daylight between environmental cleans and re-cleans. A reclean is where you are revisiting a situation where someone failed to clean properly in the first place. The ACM is often surface residues which were difficult to get at, too hard to dislodge, or simply “missed”. The material is often randomly spread, particularly over imperfect surfaces. Recleans, the memo states, require a licence subject to the ‘very short duration’ caveat. It also implies that, because of the vigour required to remove ‘attached’ residues, the controls are likely to be more onerous (i.e. full enclosure).

Finally the group has addressed pre-cleans. The minutes point you at the Licensed Contractors Guide (HSG 247), paragraphs 6.27-6.28. Here it clearly states that a pre-clean is merely phase one of the licensed removal project. It may include sheeting over plant equipment, ACMs that are to be retained, wet floors and so on. The work may include cleaning minor ACM dust and debris, and it will require appropriate controls such as dust suppression, RPE and PPE. The risk assessment will determine whether or not this can be done in advance of the soon-to-be-constructed enclosure.

Summing up

Far from telling you what an environmental clean looks like in regards to methods, controls and PPE, the aim of the document is to focus you on the starting point of your decision making:

  1. Is the ACM unattached (dust and debris)? If not, it’s a re-clean, and almost certainly needs a licence and full enclosure
  2. Is it licensable work? If so, notify
  3. Do a worst case scenario assessment – and design the controls appropriately

The advice I have always given LARCS stands: what a job looks like in practice (enclosure, decontamination and so on) must still be defined in the working method, and in your Standard Procedures.

These minutes draw attention to the way that a failure to define a procedure, or the use of a ‘folk’ definition, can give rise to confusion. More importantly, they remove one opportunity for less scrupulous players to cut corners and compromise safety. In practice, I believe their biggest impact may be preventing the pressure that’s applied by consultants or clients trying to get a nice quick job, because they perceive it as ‘only a…’.

The rise of the independent auditor

Written by Nick Garland on Monday March 8th 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

Enforcement visits – without teeth, can the HSE clamp down on Covid infringements?

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday February 10th 2021

The Covid pandemic is virtually unprecedented in living memory. And aside from the awful human cost, its impact on the economy will be felt for many years to come. As a health and safety consultant, I’m also fascinated by the challenges it has created around workplace safety, and the effect on employers, employees and the regulator as we all try to stay safe.

And what of the regulator? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been under enormous budgetary pressure for many years. And over the long months of the pandemic, I’ve become increasingly concerned that its lack of resources is hampering its ability to enforce Covid-safe working conditions.

Let’s begin by looking at how the HSE’s budgetary challenges were already impacting its operations before Covid. Looking at the data from the 2017-18 and 2019-20 annual reports, we can see the following:

  HSE Annual Report

2017 / 2018

HSE Annual Report


Proactive inspection visits 20,000 13,300
Prosecutions Not reported 355
INs Not reported 5,000
PNs Not reported 1,900
Asbestos visits 1,000 900
Inspectors 1,058 1,059
Prosecutions 509 355
Construction fatalities 30 40


While the number of inspectors didn’t drop between reports, site visits did very markedly. Even the HSE’s attendance on asbestos sites fell by 10%. In the same period, prosecutions were down by 30%, and construction fatalities climbed by a third.

The tail end of this reporting period also saw the emergence and spread of Covid-19. The HSE recently told the Guardian that it had made 32,000 site visits during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the HSE’s Coronavirus management information dashboard provides this monthly breakdown of covid case notifications throughout 2020-21:

monthly breakdown of covid case notifications throughout 2020-2


If these figures are accurate, they represent a massive surge in activity for an already overstretched body. Despite the recent trend of falling attendance on site and a reduction in prosecutions, there has now been a huge increase in numbers of unannounced visits. But is it having the desired effect?

Soaring infections

Nationally we have seen very worrying increases in the infection rate during the most recent wave of the pandemic, and data from PHE suggests that some of this is coming from workplaces.

The latest Public Health England surveillance data suggests workplace infections surged as people returned to work in January. The number of coronavirus outbreaks in workplaces rose by almost 70% in the first week of the national lockdown, with 175 Covid case clusters reported in English workplaces

The Guardian 16th January 2021

Before continuing, I wanted to provide a short reminder of the levers that the HSE has available when it comes to enforcement. As a starting point, it can issue verbal and written instruction or guidance, which can be as simple as a chat or email from the inspector.

Certainly within the licensed asbestos removal industry, these basic measures have some real weight. If you don’t act effectively on instruction or guidance there can be dire consequences during licence renewal. However, in other less heavily regulated industries I’m not sure whether they provide quite the same imperative to act.

The HSE’s next level of action is quite a big step up. Improvement Notices (IN) give detailed instructions on what improvements you need to make, and by when. They can be appealed, but unless that’s successful you will need to act.

Next come Prohibition Notices (PN), which are very severe – and often also lead to prosecution. A PN essentially stops a certain activity immediately. Again, you can appeal, but the stoppage still kicks in with immediate effect. PNs can be wide-ranging and major: they can shut down an entire construction site or factory.

So, has the surge in HSE visits to companies translated into more of these enforcement actions? Recent news articles would suggest not. According to a January 2021 analysis by the Observer, the HSE had been contacted nearly 97,000 times on Covid-related workplace safety issues – including 2,945 times between 6 and 14 January alone. The newspaper found that overall, just 0.1% of these Covid safety cases received an IN or PN. A simple calculation suggests that’s roughly 97 Covid-related enforcements throughout the pandemic.

A January BBC News article quoted slightly higher figures for complaints during the same 6-14 January period, and suggested significantly higher levels of enforcement. In that week, it says the HSE received 3,934 coronavirus-related complaints, and took action in 81 cases. However, it notes that only one company faced more than a verbal or written warning.

Are offices being overlooked?

A brief look at the enforcement action register suggests that the number of enforcement notices might even be lower than these headline figures. I found eight PNs where the only reason COVID was mentioned was as a justification as to why another misdemeanor was hard to close out. A similar investigation into the INs might show up similar cases.

Further analysis shows another interesting trend – Covid-related enforcements seem to centre on companies in the construction sector. Of the nine remaining PNs I found, five went to just two companies. Of the six companies found at fault, all but one were in the construction sector – and the inspectors’ comments seem to focus on washing facilities.

This seems out of step with reality when, as the BBC notes, the 500 confirmed or suspected office outbreaks in the second half of 2020 were more than those centered on supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafes combined. So why were no PNs issued here?

As others have noted, while workplace safety enforcement in the UK as a whole relies on the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA), Scotland has legally obligated employers to ensure their employees can work from home wherever possible. But is this the most sensible health and safety advice?

HASAWA should give ample powers to the regulators. Since 1974, employers must assess the risks at work and reduce them so far as reasonably practicable. And if they don’t there is the big stick of enforcement action and prosecution. Many of the examples given in the articles above appear to be pretty flagrant breaches.

However, home working or furloughing staff might add financial burdens that are the final straw for a company’s survival. And therein lies the balancing act for an employer. I can imagine situations where, in the face of practical and financial challenges from sending people home, a diligent employer is instead able to make the workplace covid secure. The flexibility of HASAWA allows this to happen. If home working was an employee’s right, imaginative and effective solutions might not exist, and some companies may not survive.

Risk assessment

Obviously, where it’s reasonably practicable, the goal should be to eliminate the risk. In the case of Covid-19:

  • The hazard is transmission of the virus in the workplace
  • Elimination of this risk would be for employees to work from home
  • Mitigation / reduction of the risk might include measures such as masks, regular testing, workplace distancing, one-way systems or increased fresh air ventilation

Elimination may be impossible, or very burdensome, whereas mitigation may bring the risk down to a low enough level for people to remain in the workplace.

Despite this, in many cases cited by journalists it looks like little or no effort has been made. Interviewees speak of working side by side in warehouses, or conducting telephone sales and administration in a very small or poorly ventilated office.

The law is simple: if a company has not done enough to mitigate or eliminate a risk, then they are liable for serious punishment. But only if they get caught. With 33,000 visits, it’s clear that the HSE is making serious efforts to enforce safety during Covid. But with only approximately 80 INs and nine PNs, the evidence suggests that its approach to enforcement might be very light-touch.

Beware relying on advice

An example contained in a second BBC article hints at where we might be going wrong on workplace Covid safety. A member of the public alleges that he works among 30 people on one floor of his employer’s office, that the windows are always closed, and – unbelievably – that they still hot-desk. With five or six covid cases apparently linked to the firm, it seems a clear example of a company not doing enough, or at least taking actions that are demonstrably not working.

The firm states in its defence: “We have worked closely with Public Health England since the start of the pandemic to implement extensive safety measures in line with government advice.”

And for me, that’s the heart of the issue.

During the pandemic, companies are looking to the guidance and – in far too many cases – scratching their heads on how they follow it and still make a profit. What they’re not doing is following the principle on which the HASAWA is built: looking at their underlying duties, and ensuring they take effective and specific actions to deliver a safe workplace.

An employer is compelled by law to ensure that its place of work is as safe as possible. The government also provides helpful advice (guidance) on how employers can fulfill this legal duty. How you go about making your workplace safe is, to some extent, up to you. You can follow the guidance, or craft something else – but the immutable fact remains that your legal duty is to make it safe.

My fear is that the HSE’s approach may be permitting a culture in which companies can point to generic guidance, in place of implementing specific measures that keep their employees most safe in their specific workplace. The HASAWA is beautifully crafted to get the extra mile out of employers – but if there is no enforcement, then an important pillar is missing, and the whole church is at risk of falling down.

Assure360 Audit 3.0 – announcing the latest update to the Assure360 system

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday January 13th 2021

For Assure360, our Audit app has a special significance. Originally launched back in 2014, Assure360 Audit is at the heart of our streamlined and paperless health and safety auditing system. In 2017 we gave it a major refresh, adding more functions and a fresher look. As we pass 10,000 audits, I’m excited to announce that we’re hard at work on version 3.0.

The latest version is going to be brilliant, but before I tease you with the improvements, I thought I’d recap a little on the history of the app, and how it’s tied into our own. The Assure360 system is the result of my nearly 30 years spent working as a health and safety professional, specialising in the asbestos industry. One of our most important product features is that we offer our customers the benefits of everything I’ve learned in my ‘day job’.

The genesis of Assure360 came when I was working as an embedded health and safety manager for several licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs). I was designing audit schemes, completing training needs analysis and competence systems, and undertaking the analysis of exposure results… again and again.

I’d created a series of interconnected Excel spreadsheets to help me complete the work, but there was still plenty of manual work involved. It was repetitive, time-consuming – and prone to error.

A happy accident

In the space of a couple of months I met an app developer and a database company, and had a bit of a lightbulb moment. I realised that I needed an app to record the data quickly, and a database to do the tedious legwork in the background. Most pertinently, I realised that if I needed it, so would other professionals in our industry, and that’s how Assure360 and the Audit app came about.

From the start, the app accomplished most of what I set out to achieve, but our ethos has always been to work with our community to continually make things better. After three years of using the app myself and gathering feedback from our early customers, we updated it to version 2.0 – essentially the version you’re using today.

Version 2.0 had some big improvements over the original. It was better to look at, and added some powerful new functionality. Most importantly we added the ability to craft bespoke audit question sets, giving the app immense appeal to non-asbestos construction firms and specialists like demolition teams. It’s a testament to Audit’s appeal, usability and usefulness that it’s rated 4.5 out of 5 on the App Store.

“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

Community-driven updates

Roll forward another three years or so, and we’re delighted to be working on another major upgrade. Just like with version 2.0, changes for version 3.0 will be the result of our continued experience using the app. And I mean ‘our’. I still use Audit daily in my ongoing work in health and safety, but the whole Assure360 team is tuned in to the feedback and suggestions we get from the ever-expanding Assure360 community.

So what’s new in version 3.0? As with our recent updates to the Assure360 Paperless and Incident apps, one of the biggest new features will be Android compatibility. With the release of Audit version 3.0, the entire Assure360 suite will be available for Android devices for the first time. This lowers the barriers to entry for our system, as Android devices tend to be a fair bit cheaper than those from Apple. Just as importantly it gives our customers more choice and flexibility, for example letting them run Assure apps on rugged tablets in the harshest environments.

Other improvements will include the ability to log multiple photos with an item, and the instant upload of audit findings – helping ensure teams are working with the very latest data.

We’re also excited to be adding new self-help tools that will let users craft their own bespoke audits. Much like when we introduced bespoke question sets, this allows auditors and other users to tailor the app and our system to the exact work they’re doing. The goal is to streamline the process further, and remove any obstacles and manual workarounds that could introduce errors.

“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

Over to you

We’re working on lots of other improvements alongside those main revisions, but like everything we do, the upgrades are a community approach. If you’ve got a feature to suggest, an issue to flag up, or any other idea for making version 3.0 as good as possible, please do drop us a line.

Want to discover more about the refreshed and improved Assure360 apps? Read more about our health and safety and asbestos management apps

Coping with Covid – how we can help

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday October 15th 2020

The last six months or so have been, to put it mildly, challenging. Since Covid-19 first gained a foothold in the UK, the restrictions on businesses and individuals have had a huge impact on the economy. At the same time, the toll on public health has been staggering. As the UK braces itself for ‘Covid winter’, many face an uncertain outlook.

Against this backdrop, there are of course positive stories – there have been boom times for home improvement, furnishings and supermarkets. The construction industry hasn’t been quite so lucky, but it’s not the worst hit. Work continues – and for many asbestos workers, existing stocks and experience with PPE meant that it never stopped.

The pandemic is by no means over of course, and at Assure360 we’re determined to help our customers ride it out as safely and successfully as possible. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the things we’ve been doing to try and help. And, as we prepare for more disruption across the winter, flag up a couple of other things we’ve got in the pipeline.

Improved apps

The first and most important thing we’ve done is to offer a free upgrade to our Platinum subscription level to those who aren’t already on it. Platinum includes the Assure360 Paperless app, designed from the outset to replace a supervisor’s site paperwork with the electronic recording of safety checks and information.

In normal times one of Paperless’ main benefits is a big uplift in supervisor and back office efficiency, but during the pandemic the app’s role in cutting site traffic has become even more important.

Electronic record-keeping reduces the paperwork that has to go back and forth, and provides management with an up-to-date, remote view of any developing issues, helping them manage more effectively with less time on site. As Graham Patterson, director of GreenAir Environmental put it: “Assure360 [Paperless] itself has streamlined the company massively, but it’s helped greatly under the lockdown.”

At the same time we released a new, improved version of Paperless, which now supports Android devices as well as iPads. The most significant change is a completely reimagined Site Diary feature, designed to minimise the amount of text entry by supervisors. Now almost every imaginable entry is covered by drop down menus, and evidenced by photos when needed.

We’ve also updated our system to reflect the changed circumstances we’re all working in. For example, we’ve added Covid-specific audit questions.

More help and advice

We’ve always prided ourselves on the help we offer our customers, both when initially setting them up on the system, and with the day-to-day questions and issues that arise. During the pandemic we’ve been very aware of the difficulty of travel, and the need to cut down on face-to-face meetings, so we’ve been working especially hard to improve our support for those new to the system.

We’ve improved and added to the Assure360 Help Centre, creating more “How to…” videos to support the quick and easy rollout of Assure360 to your team. For customers adopting Paperless as part of their response to the pandemic, these have become a central part of inducting staff.

“One of the things that was a Godsend were the videos on how to use Paperless,” explains Phil Neville of Asbestech. “There’s one for supervisors – like a 10-minute long video – on how to use the tablet on site. It’s very instructional. It runs through from logging on to the system to closing a project down, very succinctly.

“We used that video as the core of our induction because we weren’t able to bring supervisors in and do face-to-face training – because we were avoiding unnecessary personal meetings.”

Phil Neville also explains how the Android tablets bought for Paperless became essential to Asbestech’s ability to support remote working. “We had Zoom put on all the tablets so that we can have training sessions and screen sharing with the supervisors remotely. Alongside Paperless, we added virtual meetings to our toolbox.”

This ability of Android and iPad tablets to support more than just Paperless helps customers increase the return on investment from adopting the Assure360 solution. In addition to the multiple benefits of Paperless itself, the tablets support other ways to work safely and remotely during challenging times. If we assume the average licensed asbestos removal contractor (LARC) has a site team of 10, then the average saving per year is in the region of £10,000 – even when you factor in the costs of Assure360. Even a micro LARC with just one supervisor would save money overall.

Doing more

Despite this, we’re aware that some firms are still struggling to get back on track after a summer of disruption to essential paperwork and administrative tasks. Particularly, there are concerns for some businesses as they approach licence renewal, with paper site records yet to be processed, and vital evidence not available for easy entry on the HSE’s online form.

We’re doing everything we can to help new customers – and those upgrading to Paperless – get their existing data onto our system so it’s available to support licence applications and the proper management of their work. And we’re continuing the free three-month upgrade to the Platinum subscription level for those who aren’t yet on it.

We’re also working on new and improved versions of both the Assure 360 Audit health and safety auditing app, and the Assure360 Incident near-miss reporting app. Like Paperless, the updated versions will be available on Android for the first time, meaning we’ll support a far wider range of devices. And as Android tablets are generally cheaper than iPads, the cost of entry to Assure360 will fall further.

These are difficult times, and we’re not out of the woods yet. We’re working hard to support our industry and communities, but if there’s any way we can help you more, do please get in touch and let us know.

Talking Asbestos – Nick appears on the Asbestos Knowledge Empire podcast

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday March 10th 2020

We’ve long been admirers of the Asbestos Knowledge Empire – a series of podcasts run by Acorn Analytical Services’ Neil Munro and Ian Stone. Speaking to a cross section of health and safety and asbestos experts, the series is helping play an important role in spreading awareness and fostering asbestos expertise. So when Acorn asked if I’d like to participate I jumped at the chance.

In a wide-ranging hour-long chat, we covered subjects as diverse as how I got my start in the industry, the one-time ubiquity of asbestos, and the importance of analysts and removal contractors ‘wearing lots of hats’. We also talked in depth about the Health and Safety Executive’s new licensing regime, the problems it’s solved and the new challenges it’s created.

If you’re interested in what I had to say, or if you’d just like to hear from the industry’s other leading lights, head over to Asbestos Knowledge Empire. There you’ll be able to listen to the latest episode, and find links to follow the series on popular platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed taking part!

Better Asbestos Removal – what to do when perfect isn’t possible

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday February 12th 2020

The Health and Safety at Work Act underpins everything we do in the asbestos sector, yet within it – and in copious Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance – you’ll find unnerving  phrases like ‘so far as reasonably practicable’. These create room for interpretation, with the result that people can be unclear how far they should go when removing asbestos. Even the way that some of the direction is framed can lead us into tricky territory: I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told ‘it’s only guidance’.

So after a recent thread on the HSE’s forum, I thought it would be worthwhile analysing how the regulations are structured, and what we should be doing when designing a job. Particularly, if ‘perfect’ isn’t possible, what do we prioritise?

Chasing perfection

First let’s look at the ideal conditions for asbestos removal. We have an enclosure that is small, but big enough to allow efficient and safe removal of the asbestos. The air in and out is sufficient and balanced. The enclosure is perfectly sealed, and it’s designed in such a way that there’s no working from height. The combination of method, suppression and local exhaust ventilation (LEV) ‘eliminates’ all fibre release at source.

Obviously it’s a rare job indeed where we can get all of our controls by-the-book, so often there’s a need to find compromise. First up, I should stress that compromise should only come with need – you can’t just miss out controls. Where there are good practical or safety reasons why a control isn’t possible, you need to design others to mitigate. 

To track back and answer that common response when people depart from the direction, it is not ‘guidance’; it is ‘Guidance’. Project design should be in line with the ‘Guidance’, or be equivalent to or better than it.

The Health and Safety at Work Act is not a tick box set of regulations. It’s written with an understanding that no two jobs are identical, and is specifically designed to harness our imagination as professionals in ensuring safe working practice in all circumstances. To that end we need to really understand the hazards, the resultant risks, and the controls we implement to eliminate or minimise them.

A clear view of the risks

We, as asbestos professionals, are also guilty of being rather blinkered. We’ve got our specialist subject, so asbestos risk is all too often the first and last thing we think about. But take a step back and reappraise our typical work environment: while asbestos is complex, many other risks such as height or electricity pose a more immediate threat. In other words, we have to think of the whole project.

The particular example raised in the HSE forum was a small-to-medium metal frame shed with an asbestos insulating board (AIB) ceiling, and asbestos cement roof. Roof, frame and AIB were pinned together with J-bolts, and the building was in close proximity to neighbours.

  • The AIB couldn’t be removed in isolation without a lot of breakage
  • Cropping the bolts would uncouple the roof
  • Crosswinds made external sheeting prone to catastrophic damage

The conundrum posed was whether you would build a full enclosure – with the high cost and the risk from crosswinds – or crop the bolts and remove the cement and AIB at the same time with no enclosure, but with perimeter air monitoring. Because of the breakage, removal of the AIB alone was discounted as an option.

Consider the first option. A full scaffold enclosure would create a rather large working at height issue. Just constructing the canopy has a risk, but then sheeting internal ranch-boards would involve working above a fragile roof. This risk is difficult to control and can have an immediately fatal consequence. And if the winds get up, it could all be for nought.

My argument is that the overall risk is lower if we build the enclosure internally, and control the increased asbestos risk that we create. Controls in this case should include strongly over-specifying the negative pressure ventilation (or over-neg if you’re in the industry) . The considerable breakage of AIBs needs to be mitigated with surfactant, shadow vacuuming and increased respiratory protective equipment (RPE) provision, for example air-fed RAS masks. As Paul Beaumont pointed out, there would be the potential of AIB fibre / fragments to become trapped within the corrugated sheeting, too.

The four-stage safety clearance certificate would identify this likely residual risk, mandating further  controls when removing the cement sheets. As this is now a small asbestos risk, we may be able to approach the remaining stages of the project with a roofless enclosure, bringing the cement sheets down into the building.

Balancing the risks

This example distills a common problem, where we are faced with a choice between one or more risks that are potentially controllable, or another that is very difficult to control. I would go with the former – and this extends into all other areas of asbestos removal where we are too used to controlling the asbestos risk at the expense of ignoring or exacerbating others.

There are other examples. A classic is working in a loft in the summer. The new confined space guidance makes it clear that the heat makes this a confined space, yet often what I see when auditing is a cube at the bottom of the loft access, a three-stage air lock, and a negative-pressure unit (NPU) with roving head passed up through the single access point. This gives excellent control of the small AIB debris risk, but massively increases the risk of death from heatstroke.

What to do instead? You won’t find it in the books, so again it’s down to our professional creativity. Why not dispense with the roving head, harness the natural leakage of the tiled roof and over-neg the enclosure? Even in winter, this might be a good idea as the common setup would hinder an emergency evacuation, for example if there’s a fire in the building.

My argument is that the asbestos risk is complex and difficult to control, but we can’t let it blind us to the rest of the job. It must be properly balanced against the other risks of the working environment: addressing one risk in isolation may leave the site team in danger, or raise their overall risk. Training and refreshers for managers should therefore cover all construction hazards and how to control them. It’s important to remember this at the time of auditing or assessing performance: peer reviews must look at all hazards, rather than just how well the manager has dealt with the asbestos.

Indeed, if asbestos is the only hazard that a contracts manager understands, are they truly ‘competent’? I’m sure that being ignorant of other construction hazards would not be seen as a defence.

As professionals we are responsible for looking at the whole project, and balancing the hazards and risks against each other. Our controls should then be crafted to mitigate all of them. Some controls may elevate the risk from other hazards, which then have to be looked at again. Designing safe working environments and procedures requires the application of knowledge, experience, and imagination. As no two jobs are the same, the latter is not only crucial – but demanded by the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Reviewing 2019 – a year of change in asbestos management

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday December 10th 2019

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.

Celebrating Paperless

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.

Taking licence – how the HSE is shaking up asbestos removal

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday June 13th 2019

For some years, there’s been a question mark hanging over the Health and Safety Executive’s licensing regime for asbestos removal. With variable licence periods creating confusion among clients and an unintended hierarchy being created within the industry, attempts to overhaul the system are to be welcomed by everyone.

For those who don’t know, the existing system is a permissioning regime. Would-be licenced asbestos-removal contractors (LARCs) and those who want to renew must demonstrate to the HSE that they have the necessary skills, competency, expertise, knowledge and experience of work with asbestos, together with excellent health and safety management systems. The outcome is either no licence, a three-year licence, or any period between. Additional conditions are sometimes attached.

It sounds simple enough, but there are multiple problems. While nobody is meant to infer anything about competency from a company’s licence term, in practice customers choosing a LARC often treat the full three-year licence as a prerequisite. In addition, LARCs can’t notify a project that extends beyond their licence period – that means that bidding for complex, two-year-plus jobs is effectively restricted to the 35% or so of LARCs with a three-year licence.

Against this, in recent years the HSE has been less inclined to give out three-year licences. Among other things, that’s resulted in an increased workload for inspectors as they conduct more regular licence inspections. There’s a burden for LARCs, too, as there’s a considerable cost and administrative overhead to each licence application.

Time for a change

It’s no surprise that the HSE wants to shake things up. It’s already started to pilot a new regime that shifts the onus away from licence inspections, and more onto LARCs to provide evidence of their competency. In the new system, first-time applicants still get inspected, whereas existing LARCs re-apply via an electronic form.

A couple of years ago I called for an end to the fixed-term licence, and the introduction of monitoring visits. Essentially if you’re good enough, you get a licence. If not – you don’t. it’s recently emerged that in the pilot scheme the HSE are moving towards just that. As ACAD’s Graham Warren explains in a LinkedIn blog post:

“Some eagle-eyed people have been asking ACAD why all renewals [under the electronic pilot scheme] seem to be issued the full three-year term. HSE have confirmed this is not some chance occurrence, but actually how the new system works.”

At renewal, companies either won’t get a licence, or they’ll be licenced for the now-standard three-years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that LARCs that would previously have received a one or two-year licence will be turned down. In all cases where a company is judged competent, the HSE will issue a three-year licence, but it may require a formal review to ensure any improvements are fully implemented. Crucially, this review period will remain confidential, unless the LARC fails to make the required improvements, so it won’t affect the LARC’s ability to compete for contracts.

Improvements, and consequences

The change is virtually what I called for, and it’s a vast improvement. By settling on a single, three-year period, the HSE will reduce the confusion among clients who see one and two year licences as less of a vote of confidence. Moving the major work of re-licencing onto a three-year cycle will reduce the burden for LARCs, allowing them to concentrate on making the improvements the HSE wants to see at the review meeting.

For the HSE, it means less licence inspection work, and a relief from the commercial pressures to grant three-year licences to the biggest contractors, who may previously have needed them to bid for the most complex works. A more centralised approach by the HSE (all applications are reviewed by a single team) will mean much more consistency, too.

As Graham points out in his post, there may be some interesting consequences. With clients no longer able to select LARCs by licence duration, they’re likely to look for other ways to determine which companies are working to deliver the highest standards. Being able to demonstrate fastidious record keeping, management and analysis – for example through membership of a trade body such as ACAD – will become more of a competitive edge.

Assure360 can really help here, too. Our data-based system makes it easier not only for LARCs to manage asbestos removal, but for them to demonstrate the high quality of their training, competency, and analysis of key safety factors such as exposure monitoring.

In fact the new regime fits seamlessly with the Assure360 ethos. Being a health and safety system, specifically designed by asbestos industry experts for the asbestos industry, Assure360 has always allowed you to showcase your expertise. Vast quantities of evidence are now required in advance of the licence assessment, and Assure360 customers can simply provide it by running a series of reports. The database presents all the proof that the HSE could ever ask for. And with the new Paperless solution, even site files can be viewed with real date and time stamps on the certification.

We’ve got a great track record of helping clients prepare for, and excel at licence renewal: under the existing scheme our customers have consistently proven far more likely to achieve three-year licences. Under the new regime Assure360 will streamline the process even further, as our reports are mapped against the questions the HSE are asking.

So if you’re applying for a first-time licence, or preparing to renew an existing one, why not get in touch and see how we can help?

Assure360 will be at the Contamination Expo on the 11th and 12th of September – stand J7, directly opposite ACAD. So if you’re looking for guidance and insight into the new process, pitfalls to avoid and strategies to help – there couldn’t be a better first port of call.

I will also be speaking on the first day – 12:30 – 13:00 at Theatre 21 The subject – you guessed it is the only one that matters right now, the New Asbestos Licencing system and how electronic solutions can help.

Five ways to reduce accident risk in your business

Written by Nick Garland on Friday November 9th 2018

There’s no getting around it: construction is a high-risk industry, and specialist fields such as licensed asbestos removal especially so. In the UK, the ground-breaking 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act has gone a long way toward creating a culture of safety: fatal workplace accidents have fallen six-fold in the intervening 44 years, while employer-reported non-fatal injuries fell by 58% over the 30 years to 2016/17.

Yet the nature of the industry is that accidents, incidents and near-misses still happen, with their associated toll on workers’ health and wellbeing – not to mention the emotional, financial, regulatory and reputational fallout for employers. As a licensed asbestos removal contractor, the most important assets you have are your employees and your license. What should you do to help manage and minimise the risks inherent in your work?

1) Understand your workforce

It’s imperative to identify the strengths, weaknesses and skill levels across your employees, at all levels in the organisation. Not only will it allow you to ensure that projects are staffed with appropriately experienced and qualified employees, it will allow you to support any identified weaknesses with corresponding strengths.

Audit, audit and audit again: only with direct observation can you truly understand behaviour. You shouldn’t just focus your efforts on the supervisors, even though they are the easiest. It’s vital to include the full workforce in a comprehensive health and safety auditing scheme – contract managers, operatives, the admin team, stores and even the SHEQ (safety, health, environment and quality) department all have enormous impacts on the smooth running of a project.  

Clearly this increased observation – not to mention the analysis of the extra data –  is a task in itself, so significant thought should be put making the process as effortless as possible. If the solution is complex or time consuming, it will impose barriers and won’t be implemented effectively.  

2) Tailor your training

Once you know in great detail what you are facing, where the weaknesses of the team are and where you need to add extra support, you can do something about it.

You are now faced with a huge opportunity. If your team is great at A, B and C – but weaker at D and E – then you don’t need to waste time on training the first three. Having a clear idea of current skills lets you plan and deliver more focused and effective training, effectively improving skills and optimising your staff development budget.

3) Learn from your projects

We’re back to auditing – but now we look at the same data from a different angle. All the audits you did to get a comprehensive understanding of your team are an excellent basis from which to learn valuable lessons. Say that X, Y and Z went wrong on a site. Ask Why? What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Are there any trends building up? Are there any linked underlying causes?

Having a dashboard or high-level view that allows you to see your projects globally – or all of your team at a glance – will unmask seemingly discreet linked issues. Strategies can then be designed to get ahead of these issues before they become a major headache.

Everything I’ve been saying so far should be the standard approach for any industry, but the next is particular to asbestos removal. Measuring the exposure to asbestos is another way to test the success of a project. When removing asbestos, it is inevitable that there will be some exposure for the workers you task with the job. As employers it is our moral and legal duty to measure and minimise this.

You can’t be specific enough when it comes to monitoring exposure. And with this detail – so long as it’s recorded correctly – you will be able to directly measure the success or failure of a particular method. Treat any spikes in exposure as an accident. Investigate immediately, find the cause, and change the method. Success can be rolled out to other projects, failure can be learned from to drive change.

The key is that – just like audits – a simple but clear system needs to be designed that allows you to do all of this at the touch of a button. Any obstacles means that at best it is a task that will be delayed. At worst it could be put off entirely.

4)Learn from near misses

The HSE tells us that the average cost per non-fatal injury is £8,200. If you include litigation (private or regulatory), the financial and reputational cost rise exponentially.

Near misses are the accidents and incidents that didn’t quite happen. Rather than a collective sigh of relief and a ‘let’s forget about that…’ we should be gathering and analysing this health and safety gold.

There is considered to be a direct relationship between the number of near misses to the number of minor and major accidents. Heinrich, Bird and the HSE have all produced accident triangles: here’s the HSE’s one:

Accident Triangle

Any accident that didn’t happen is a warning of what might have happened. If we can learn and implement change before something has occurred… well, I don’t need to labour the point.

We first have to get over the natural human response of ignoring a near miss. Who would want to get someone into trouble when no one actually got hurt? However, the correct way of looking at this is: “That was close. Right, what can we do to make sure it can’t actually happen?” It’s an education process. Encourage the reporting of all near-misses through talking, explanation and rewards: regular analysis of the data you receive will allow you to preempt accidents.

5) Cut the paperwork

One huge advantage that every licensed asbestos removal project should have is the supervisor. You have someone on site whose primary role is to ensure the job runs safely and to plan. There are obvious competence questions here that I have dealt with earlier, but the other unavoidable issue is paperwork.

Certainly with asbestos projects there are a multitude of safety-critical checks that have to be completed every day. No one would argue with that. Importantly though, the supervisor has to record that these checks have been done. Whilst this is unavoidable, it does take time away from supervising the works, reducing the supervisor’s impact in helping to prevent accidents.

Streamlining this paperwork will release the supervisor so that they can supervise – shifting their focus more towards overseeing and ensuring workplace safety.

Nail the fundamentals

Asbestos removal combines many common construction dangers with the specific risks of handling a highly toxic material. You can’t entirely remove the risks from such an inherently hazardous activity, but:

  • By knowing your workforce you can immediately mitigate weaknesses
  • By tailoring your training you can eliminate these weaknesses
  • If you learn from past projects you won’t make the same mistakes twice
  • If you can predict accidents before they happen, they’re less likely to happen
  • If you free supervisors from paperwork, they’re more available to ensure safety

Get all five nailed and you have the fundamentals of how to de-risk your business.

That’s exactly what has driven the development at Assure360. With the combination of intuitive apps and a powerful database, our entire solution is directed at streamlining and simplifying H&S effort. Audits are made easy – and the legwork required for analysis largely eliminated. Exposure monitoring is instantly analysed to allow a constructive review of the success of each method. Incidents, accidents and – importantly – near-misses can be reported directly without adding to the paperwork.

All of this gives you unparalleled understanding of your people and your projects, but in a fraction of the time. Now, with the introduction of Assure 360 Paperless – the first out-of-the box solution for the supervisor – we free them to get back to what they do best: supervising.

Want to discover more? Get in touch today to book your free demo.

Audit insights: top 10 site non-conformance issues June & July 2018

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday September 27th 2018

The data collected by Assure360 gives us unique insight into the issues our peers in the safety industry tackle during site audits and tech reviews.

Assure360 is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry. With over a hundred safety professionals using the system – so far they’ve completed 4,355 audits – we are developing real insight into the challenges and issues our clients and peers face and overcome. As a result, Assure360 has the power to genuinely improve the construction industry.

It’s been a great year so far. More than 10% of all licensed asbestos removal companies now benefit from our system. The 4,000th audit was completed by one of our Gold subscribers, and in July we hit a record of 159 audits and competence assessments in a single month.

What kind of data?

If you’re familiar with these posts, and the Assure360 system in general, you’ll know that the data not only incorporates site audits, but records tech reviews during the planning stage. This allows managers to learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

We regularly share the community’s findings with our army of independent auditors through our customer newsletter (scroll down to sign up). Let me walk you through highlights from the most recent findings, covering audits and site reviews in June and July.

The 10 most common non-conformance issues

If we look at the overall top 10 we see that it is very much method statement focused. However, if we look a little deeper I think there are some interesting trends developing, notably around risk assessments – both during the planning and on-site phases.

Assure360 Question count for June/July 18

The top 10 looks like this:

  1. Drawings (accurate)
  2. Method statement (appropriate)
  3. Risk Assessments (site specific)
  4. COSHH Assessments
  5. Spill Kits
  6. Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper)
  7. Housekeeping
  8. Notified (present and accurate)
  9. RA (Live Services)
  10. RPE Daily

I’ve long championed thorough risk assessment, and the latest results see a comparative surge of issues around them. Appearing mid-table, Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper) relates to assessments at the project planning stage. Risk Assessments are all-too-often an afterthought in the asbestos industry, where in fact they should be the first thing written. Logically if you have identified, say, that there’s a noise and vibration issue involved in a asbestos removal project, the method should detail precisely how all three of these challenges are to be overcome.

A familiar example might be where asbestos insulation removal is detailed, with the detail for the actual cutting restricted to “…cut out with reciprocating saw to 1m lengths.” Methods should state the trigger time, task rotation, and when to wear hearing protection.

Risk Assessment (live services) continues to get the attention it deserves. Interestingly this relates to the site level, i.e. where site teams have not followed procedure, rather than where issues haven’t been considered in the plan.

Gold and Platinum

Happily, there’s a new Assure360 development that will help supervisors. All existing Gold subscribers now get access to our new Paperless solution free of charge.

Quite simply the holy grail of the asbestos removal industry, Assure360 Paperless is a secure and powerful system for recording checks. It’s designed to save time for the supervisor, allowing more time in which to actually supervise. Why not contact us to arrange a demo?

Root and branch

Assure360 is not a dumb ‘smart form’ or isolated tablet application – it’s linked to a powerful cloud database. Its sophisticated system of automatic reminders and dashboards, ensures the right people deal with the issues at the right time. Meanwhile, the system encourages you to always examine the data to ask ‘what could we do to prevent this happening again?’. Everything is dealt with – root and branch, and this month’s results suggest that the approach is working.

How could Assure360 help you?

How does this data compare with your own audits? Do you have a tool that can help you monitor and tackle these issues, saving you time and money and keeping everyone on the project up to speed?

Let us know what kind of data you’d be interested in seeing, and if you’d like a demo, please get in touch.

Beyond Grenfell – Welcoming the Hackitt review

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 18th 2018

The Grenfell disaster was, among many other things, a failure of building regulations to protect residents. It’s clear to me that the Hackitt Review had to re-learn the lessons of work health and safety, and with Dame Judith a previous head of the HSE, I awaited her review with some optimism. Here’s why I believe she has grasped the opportunity. (more…)

Audit insights: top 10 site non conformance issues Sept & Oct 2017

Written by Nick Garland on Friday February 2nd 2018

I’m always fascinated by the insight the data gives us into the issues our peers in the safety industry tackle during site audits and tech reviews.

Assure360 is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry. Over a hundred and sixty safety professionals use the system, completing, to date, more than 3500 audits. Assure360 is developing real insight into the challenges and issues all our clients and peers face and overcome. As a result, we have the power to genuinely improve the construction industry.

What kind of data?

The system not only incorporates site audits, but records tech reviews during the planning stage. This allows managers to learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

We regularly share the community’s findings with our army of independent auditors through our customer newsletter.

The 10 most common non conformance issues

This time the issues that the Contracts managers faced mirrored the overall top 10:

The top 10 list looks like this:

  1. Accuracy of the drawings
  2. Appropriateness of the method statement
  3. Welfare facilities
  4. Analyst recorded – who, and who they are employed by
  5. Method Statement – clearly written, less a comment on the effectiveness of the plan, more how effective it was in communicating to the team
  6. Risk Assessment – generic assessments lacking in site specificity
  7. Risk Assessments – whether the identified controls are reflected in the method
  8. Electrical Isolations
  9. Risk Assessment (vibration)
  10. Report QC checks completed – evidence that errors slipped through the net

If we look at the numbers – three of these are clearly related:

·     Risk Assessment – generic assessments

·     Risk Assessments – whether the identified controls are reflected in the method

·     Risk Assessment (vibration)

If we also consider that electrical isolation not being in place could also be connected to a lack of adequate risk assessment – we can see the attention to detail with respect to non-asbestos hazards is by far the most common issue at 27 instances.

Improved general H&S awareness and training for the contracts managers should be considered.

The most common issues for supervisors

Assure360 allows us to drill down and identify issues faced by supervisors. This allows the teams to address targeted issues within supervisor meetings, rather than allowing company-wide concerns to cloud the issue:

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

1.  Access Routes

2.  Housekeeping

3.  Tied (scaffold)

4.  COSHH Assessments

5.  Double hand rails (scaffold)

6.  Scaffold (Fans)

7.  Signing in

8.  Method Statement (briefing)

9.  Scaffold (Boards)

10. Scaffold (Design)

Two main issue stand out for the site teams – housekeeping / safe access routes and scaffolding. Again, these are non-asbestos general construction issues.

Root and branch

Assure360 is not a dumb smart form or isolated tablet application – it is linked to a powerful cloud database. Its sophisticated system of automatic reminders and dashboards, ensures the right people deal with the issues at the right time. As Assure360 always asks – ‘what could we do to prevent this from happening again?’ everything is dealt with – root and branch.

How could Assure360 help you?

How does this data compare with your own audits? Do you have a tool that can help you monitor and tackle these issues, saving you time and money and keeping everyone on the project up to speed?

Project Analyst: a peek at the HSE’s findings

Written by Nick Garland on Friday February 2nd 2018

In 2014 / 2015, the HSE carried out their Analyst Project – or to give it its full name ‘TheAsbestos Analyst Inspection Programme’. Its aim was to examine the performance of analysts in the removal process. At the BOHS roadshow last month, the HSE’s Martin Gibson revealed the initial findings and the first conclusions – perhaps the most surprising is how it might impact on the licensed contractor.

The UKAS accredited lab survey

The HSE contacted all UKAS accredited labs and asked them to complete a questionnaire – the results were extremely enlightening.

  • More than 40% of Four Stage Clearances (4SC) were completed by just 13 labs.
  • 43% of companies stated that 81-100% of jobs required additional cleaning before they could pass it.
  • 76% of analytical companies stated that they fail up to 20% of enclosures first time.
  • Nearly 10% of analytical companies fail under 1% of enclosures first time.
  • Approximately 2% of companies fail 81-100% of enclosures first time.

Of the 145 UKAS accredited labs not everyone responded (obviously) – more than a third of them in fact. But if they thought they would stay under the radar, they were mistaken and the team targeted them for visits just the same.

Targeted four stage clearance visits

Twenty 4SC visits were planned and in all cases the analysts were told to expect the HSE. Whilst this solved the issue of turning up when nothing is happening, it did mean that the analysts would be on their best behaviour.

I have broadly split the findings into the four stages of the process. I have also tried to highlight areas in the draft analysts’ guide that is intended to correct this. A copy of my white paper summarising the guide can be obtained on the Assure360 website.

One general point to be made is that wherever I mention photos – each has to be digital and date and time stamped to prevent forgery. And as usual there is a health warning with this post – this time from Martin Gibson – he stressed that the findings did not apply to all the analysts!

Stage 1: Initial checks

Whilst the analysts were checking that the asbestos had been removed, a detailed review of the surrounding area was a different matter. Whether the general site conditions were fit to start the inspection was often ignored. The worst example was this transit route – strewn with rubble and other non-asbestos material. It should have prevented failed at Stage 1.

The new draft guide has detailed the key inspection areas for the first stage of the process (including the transit routes and the areas surrounding the enclosure). Photographs are now required to demonstrate the adequacy of the situation.

Stage 2: The visual inspection

The HSE’s view is that this is the critical part of the whole process, and raised the most number of issues in the investigation.

Analysts were observed moving randomly around the enclosure. Guidance (and logic) has always had it that a methodical pattern will help avoid missing something.

20% of the analysts wore domestic clothes underneath their overalls. This would have prevented them from decontaminating properly in case of a failure. Any of my regular readers will know that I believe that full decontamination via the DCU should be followed with every enclosure entry.

Formal failure certs were not always issued when an enclosure was rejected by the analyst. Whilst I can understand the instinct not to create paperwork, these failed certs are critical for addressing the root cause – that the LARC didn’t clean it sufficiently and the Supervisor failed to identify the issue. Clearer guidance on when to formally fail an enclosure is included in the new guide.

Two analysts arrived without overalls and two were unshaven. I don’t know whether these were the same individuals, but when you remember that the analysts were expecting HSE attendance – this kind of sloppiness is shocking.

What PPE and what to wear underneath is also detailed extensively in the new guide – the handy table is reproduced in my white paper on page 44.

There were also some startling implications over the amount of cleaning that analysts do – but I will leave that till later in the piece.

Stage 3: The air test

There were incidents that raised questions over basic competence namely calculating fibre concentrations incorrectly (decimal point wrong). This may just be the nerves of being overlooked.

More significant, in my eyes, is that one of the analysts forgot the brush for the disturbance test. Again, when you recall that the analyst knew the HSE would be in attendance, wouldn’t the instinct be to double and triple check your equipment? A photograph of the brush is now needed in the new look Certificate for Reoccupation.

Generally, the HSE found insufficient time was spent on reading the slides – one took just nine minutes to read three slides. This compares with the 10-15 minutes per slide in the current draft analysts guide and the 10-25 minutes in the old version! Just as I was forgiving to the analyst that got the decimal place wrong, to race through this phase of the process when observed by the authorities makes you wonder ‘what normally happens?’. The new look certificate with time and date stamped photos and time declaration at the signature stage should help this.

Stage 4: Final assessment

This is where the final checks are conducted post dismantling the enclosure, but I also include decontamination and PPE.

Frequently the analysts did not wear overalls when conducting the final checks. This is obviously unwise as dismantling the enclosure can reveal hidden problems. Mostly the analysts were entirely unprepared for these unpleasant surprises including not carrying RPE. Whilst the guidance is a little clearer in the new guide – Stage 4 is missed off the handy summary table, and the reader must go hunting in the Appendix. Hopefully the final draft will be amended.

The HQ visits established that practical training for decontamination was lacking. On site this was evidenced by analysts being unsure when to decontaminate and following the incorrect DCU entry/exit procedures when they did. Much more detailed guidance on decontamination procedures is included in the new guide – including training as a core skill.

Personal Air Tests

No apologies for this section, though my regular readers might think that I am a broken record. The project established what we have been seeing with the Assure360 data. Most personals air tests were very short term and usually only 10 minutes. Further, they included no contextual information – just ‘removal works’. To compound this, the analysts often reported the calculated results which were below their own Limit of Quantification (LoQ). This is next to useless to the LARC who is attempting to improve their methods. They need long duration tests, with decent (low) LoQs and detailed information over what was happening during the test. Assure360 has analysed over 5000 personal air tests and even here we are finding that approximately 10% are for only 10 minutes.

More on visuals

This is what I hinted at earlier – something that all analysts will already know – analysts do quite a bit of cleaning as part of the visual. What makes it startling is the implications.

I am very aware that the LARCs have views on analysts and the ‘helpful’ ones are those that pitch in to get the enclosure through the clearance. I counted myself as one of those. In the Project, many analysts stated that they conducted minor cleaning. But what constitutes ‘minor’? Well in one case it was cleaning for over an hour!

The HSE’s view of this is that >15 mins cleaning constitutes licensable work and must not be done by the analyst. What’s more – any such breach is considered, at least in part, the LARC’s fault:


36. (1) Where the commission by any person of an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions is due to the act or default of some other person, that other person shall be guilty of the offence, and a person may be charged with and convicted of the offence by virtue of this subsection whether or not proceedings are taken against the first-mentioned person.

All change for the supervisor?

Whilst the new analysts’ guide (still draft) has been written in such a way as to take some of these findings into account (get a copy of my white paper here), some last-minute changes have found their way in.

  1. Strongly worded guidance – ‘Do not carry out cleaning’;
  2. If >10 mins cleaning is required – the analyst should formally fail the 4SC;
  3. The supervisor is to complete a new handover certificate. A draft version was briefly flashed up at the roadshow and will no doubt get amended further – but key elements include:
  • Have you got access equipment?
  • Have you checked all floor surfaces and ledges?
  • Have all ACMs been removed?
  • Have you checked all rooms?
  • Have you checked all cables and wiring?
  • Time taken on visual.
  • Statement of any defects.
  • Signed by supervisor.
  • Signed by analyst BEFORE 4SC can commence.

The new Licenced Contractor Guide which I understand was complete – just awaiting a slot in the HSE schedule to publish it – will now need a re-draft. Further guidance will be included on

  • Thorough fine cleaning.
  • Supervisor re-inspections (the process).
  • Time for the supervisor’s re-inspection.
  • Supervisor to provide photographic evidence. This had several ‘???’ against it – so we’ll have to wait and see.

“It is very rare that site supervisors carry out an inspection before the analyst arrives.” Analyst – Anon

My experience however is that the good supervisors take their role seriously and complete these visual inspections. However, the required declaration by the supervisor ‘time taken on visual’ may come as a bit of a shock.

The HSE’s view is that the visual inspection is by far the most important part of the whole clearance process. If the responsibility is primarily the LARC’s – a light touch / brief visual by the supervisor won’t be acceptable. The draft analyst guide gives us very detailed suggested times for these visuals.

This table indicates that a small boiler room should be inspected by the supervisor for 2-4 hours before the analyst can start stage 1 of the process. It also begs the question if the Supervisor is conducting a visual and therefore not supervising the rest of the team – does all activity stop?

There will have to be a sea change in expectations.

Audit insights August 2017: top 10 site non conformance issues

Written by Nick Garland on Saturday September 23rd 2017

In my regular feature, I take a look at the data collected by Assure360 to understand the issues our peers in the safety industry tackle during site audits and tech reviews.

Assure360 is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry. With over a hundred safety professionals using the system – so far they’ve completed nearly 3000 audits and competence assessments – we are developing real insight into the challenges and issues our clients and peers face and overcome. As a result, Assure360 has the power to genuinely improve the construction industry.

What sort of data did we look at in August 2017?

The system not only incorporates site audits, but records tech reviews during the planning stage and . This allows managers to learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

We regularly share the community’s findings with our army of independent auditors through our customer newsletter. Here is a taster of the most recent findings we shared covering audits and site reviews from August 2017.

The 10 most common non conformance issues in August 2017

If we look at the overall top 10 we see predominantly paperwork issues, that either are, or can be identified during peer reviews:

The top 10 list looks like this:

  1. Method Statement (appropriate)
  2. CO Detectors (present in the DCU)
  3. DCU certification
  4. Risk Assessments (are the identified control measures covered in the method itself)
  5. Double hand rails
  6. Drawings
  7. Mobile DCUs in good condition
  8. Waste water filtered and sent directly to a foul drain
  9. Welfare facilities (adequate provision)
  10. Asbestos medical certificates on site

Whist the no. 1 spot is still held by the appropriateness of the method statements – there is a dramatic increase in the frequency (up nearly 40%). This may be an indication that new auditors are focusing more in this area due to these Top10s.

The next two are new to this month’s Top10 and reflect current forum threads. The former was an alarming situation:

A client of mine recently enquired why the hired DCU did not have a CO monitor in the clean end of the DCU. I think I suspected that they would say balanced flue, separate sealed unit, not needed… but they actually came back with ‘we took them out because they don’t work due to the humid conditions and the rapid airflow’.

Heres a summary of what they said:

Following an investigation into a CO poisoning case (2 operatives overcome by CO fumes within the shower system), the conclusion was that the CO alarm did activate using the test button but failed to activate when CO was emitted into the system. This malfunction was caused by the water ingression to the sensor field and simply blocked the sensor.

The BS 50292 ( apparently states that alarms should not be installed next to doors, window, extractor fans or air vents – where significant air movement prevents the alarm from detecting CO.

Obviously a concern – a clear hazard (2 operatives overcome by fumes), but the detectors don’t work due to the configuration of the units. Just taking the alarms out doesn’t seem to be a solution.

The most common issues for supervisors in August 2017

Assure360 allows us to drill down and identify issues faced by supervisors. This allows the teams to address targeted issues within supervisor meetings, rather than allowing company wide concerns to cloud the issue:

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

  1. DCU certification
  2. CO Detector
  3. Double hand rails
  4. Mobile DCU in good condition
  5. Medical certification
  6. NPU certification
  7. Scaffold (design)
  8. Vac certification
  9. DCU secure (locked)
  10. Face Fit Test – certificate not on site

Several new areas have been focused on this month with DCUs receiving significant attention. Double hand rails – whilst they have dropped a spot – actually went up in frequency (up 20%).

The most common issues for contracts managers in August 2017

Similarly, contracts managers can focus on their challenges

The top 10 issues for contracts managers are:

  1. Method statement (appropriate)
  2. Drawings
  3. Risk assessments
  4. Welfare facilities
  5. Provision of a canteen
  6. Provision of adequate water
  7. Method Statement – quality control checks
  8. Risk Assessments (Site Specific)
  9. Asbestos survey – present and accurate
  10. Waste stored safely

Obviously the method statement issue dominates here – but if we look in more detail, there are three Welfare questions that are clearly linked. If we take Welfare – general facilities, canteen and provision of water together – they are in a clear second place with 16 instances. I think we are seeing evidence of our construction colleagues teaching us what to look for.

New analyst guidance part 3: reoccupation certificates and clearances

Written by Nick Garland on Monday August 28th 2017

In the third part of my summary of the new draft Asbestos Analyst’s Guide from the HSE – I’m concentrating on reoccupation certificates and clearances.

For those of you who have read either of my first two summaries – this stand-alone article is a continuation. If you want to read the first two instalments:

Part 1 – Appointing the right asbestos analyst

Part 2 – Testing for asbestos

This time I am concentrating on the critical issue of reoccupation certificates, or for the layman – the final validation that an asbestos enclosure has been cleaned well enough.

The HSE have been running a well-publicised investigation into analysts and clearance practices, the findings have clearly informed Martin Gibson’s work here. Ordinarily I tackle bigger sections of the draft guide, but this area has so many changes and is of such significance that I thought it best to concentrate.

When is the finished guide due for publication?

The latest heads-up on a release date for the finished guide, is that it should be back with Martin Gibson (the author) in September. Not sure how that translates to publication – but clearly the tanker is being manoeuvred.

Whilst I am still writing for the layman – this instalment reviews some dramatic changes that all professionals will need to prepare for.

My usual health warning – this is obviously a summary and clearly not intended to replace the Guide. The appendices contain a lot of important detail and should still be studied to gain the fullest picture. Finally, this is a review of the ‘draft for consultation’ – there may well be changes before final publication.

Cleanliness of premises and plant

This is the legal phrasing used to cover the duties imposed when returning an area back to normal use – after some asbestos removal.

You might recall from the previous posts that the guide gives some pointers on when not to test. The one I repeat here is during the 4-stage clearance for external works. A common example would be soffit removal. Historically, this was an area that often confuses removal companies and analysts. External asbestos removal (i.e. no enclosure) still requires a 4-stage clearance (4SC), just not the actual air test section (Stage 3). The Certificate for Reoccupation (CfR) should be completed as normal – but this part would be struck through as N/A.

As an aside – the guidance on roofless enclosures to tackle domestic enclosures is so onerous that it is almost a statement – ‘don’t do it’. The requirement to place tarpaulin on the ground under the scaffold is virtually impossible to comply with. This should extend 2-3m beyond the footprint of the platform. It is a rare (possibly mythical) property that does not have bushes, trees, sheds or the neighbour’s property in the way of this. Guidance being guidance, you are not compelled to follow it exactly, but you must introduce something equivalent or better. Just because it’s hard to do – it can’t be ignored and the designer needs to get imaginative. I would suggest it is probably cheaper and easier to build a bigger scaffold and put a traditional enclosure on top.

The 4-stage clearance process

The process by which an analyst passes off an asbestos enclosure is very familiar:

  1. Preliminary check of site condition and job completeness;
  2. Thorough visual inspection inside the enclosure/work area;
  3. Disturbance air monitoring (see above);
  4. Final assessment post-enclosure/work area dismantling.

All 4 stages should be completed by a single analytical company (accredited to ISO 17020 and ISO 17025), and preferably the same analyst. To ensure the long since required independence it is now “strongly recommended” that the analytical company is employed directly by the building owner / occupier direct.

This is a much firmer stance on the issue and potentially marks time on the removal contractor rolling the clearance into the package and employing the analyst themselves. This has been the advice that all consultants have given for years (me included). I can hardly argue against it now – but it will have a cost impact – contractors always seemed to negotiate very competitive rates from analysts!

The requirement that all 4 stages must be completed and passed, with a failure at any point leading to the issue of an incomplete certificate remains. As does the requirement to carry out a separate inspection and clearance of the decontamination unit used by the asbestos removal workers.

The guide stresses that the analyst should plan the 4-stage clearance ideally at appointment stage, but certainly before work starts. This would involve specific conversations with the LARC about issues that could disrupt or impede the process. Sufficient time must be allowed for the 4-stage clearance and particularly the visual inspection. This last (for the layman) is the detailed hands-and-knees examination by the analyst that all asbestos and even visible dust has been removed.

Changes to requirements for the visual inspection

There are some fundamental changes:

  • High resolution colour photographic evidence of the various steps*. These should be embedded into the certificate.
  • Prediction of the time required for the visual inspection and justification if this differs from reality.
  • All new Certificate for Reoccupation (CfR), to incorporate the above.

* With time and date stamp. The photographs required are quite extensive and would be a minimum of 12, plus one for the DCU. Substantially more for complex enclosures. The unspoken implication is that date and time stamped photos would prevent fraudulently forged certificates.

The guide includes a table in the appendices on suggested times for visual inspection:

If the difference between the estimated and actual visual inspection duration is >20% (longer or shorter), the reason should be recorded on the CfR. However, it does not state what should happen if the reason given is inadequate. I am aware that this was raised during the consultation process, so hopefully it will be clarified later.

The analytical company should build up a data set of estimated and actual times to enhance/improve their service in the future. This should also allow internal (or UKAS / HSE) investigation on the reasons stated for variance. Questions could be asked if significantly lower visual times are recorded. The date and time stamped photos would make massaging of these stats much harder.

Documenting clearance

Separate copies of the CfR should be provided to the building occupier / owner and to the LARC ‘promptly’ on completion of the process. This may cause issues for entirely electronic systems that do not produce completed certificates on site.

The clearance certificate for the DCU is a mandatory part of the process irrespective of who has employed the Analyst. i.e. if the contractor is not employing the analyst directly for the CfR, they do not have to pay separately for the DCU element of the test. Whilst this is a good improvement, it does raise some additional questions – there will be several variants, but I think this example sums it up:

  • Housing estate where there are 2-3 clearances in a day.**
  • DCU stored securely overnight in the central compound.
  • 2-3 DCU inspections in a day?
  • 1 inspection per day – but how do you record it?
  • 1 inspection at the end of the week when the project ends (as is often the case now).

** this number of clearances might not be possible anymore – see below.

Time spent on clearances has dramatically increased (a very good thing indeed!). When I started my career in Manchester in the early ‘90s, four and five visuals in a day were not uncommon. Given the recommended visual times – more than one would be unlikely.

The guide finally ends debate on correct use of PPE – more on this later, but as entry into enclosures for 4SC procedures:

carries a risk of exposure and contamination, the Analysts entering enclosure should only be wearing appropriate RPE and PPE. No other clothing should be worn.

The role of the contractor in clearance

It is not the analyst’s role to supervise or manage the above, but to validate that it has been completed successfully. Cleaning the enclosure therefore remains the responsibility of the contractor. The analyst should not start the 4-stage clearance until the contractor has conducted their own thorough visual inspection and is satisfied that:

  • All asbestos has been removed.
  • The enclosure / airlocks are clean and dry.
  • Sacrificial polythene has been removed.

Sealant / encapsulant should not have been applied at this stage.

I have heard talk that the time spent by the supervisor on this visual inspection should be the same as for the analyst. This was not detailed in the draft guide and I do not know whether this will be in the final version, inserted into the Contractor’s Guide when that comes out – or left out completely. If it is brought forward, it would of course prove to be a dramatic change. Supervisor visual inspections can often be quite cursory – the suggestion that this should increase to 1-2 days for a large complex boiler room, will probably be met in some quarters with incomprehension. Guidance on this key element of the job has been a long time in coming. Clearly it would have a significant cost impact.

The guide makes a brief foray into defining “Environmental Cleans”. I understand that this was met with such opposition in the consultation process that it will be dropped. Martin Gibson (HSE author of the guide), clarified his thoughts at a BOHS seminar. Areas with the occasional tiny spec of suspected asbestos debris should not be considered licensed work, and therefore wouldn’t require a 4-stage clearance. As I say this whole section is likely to be dropped or heavily re-written.

Much, much longer clearances, possible transforming changes to the role of the asbestos supervisor and a courageous definition for environmental cleans. A shorter chapter this time, but I think you’ll agree possibly the one with the most dramatic implications.

Find out more about how Assure360 can help you with asbestos management – book a demo and you could win an iPad.

Audit insights July 2017: top 10 site non conformance issues

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday August 23rd 2017

The data we collect through the Assure360 app gives us unique insight into the issues our peers in the safety industry tackle during site audits and tech reviews.

Assure360 is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry. With over a hundred safety professionals using the system – so far they’ve completed nearly 3000 audits and competence assessments – we are developing real insight into the challenges and issues our clients and peers face and overcome. As a result, Assure360 has the power to genuinely improve the construction industry.

What’s in the July 2017 data?

The system not only incorporates site audits, but records tech reviews during the planning stage and . This allows managers to learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

We regularly share the community’s findings with our army of independent auditors through our customer newsletter. Here is a taster of the most recent findings we shared covering audits and site reviews from July 2017.

The 10 most common non conformance issues

The top 10 list looks like this:

  1. Method Statement (appropriate)
  2. RPE Maintenance – Certificate on site
  3. Drawings (accurate)
  4. Risk Assessments
  5. RPE – Daily checks
  6. Double Hand Rails
  7. Housekeeping
  8. FFT (Full Face)
  9. Permit to Work
  10. Certificate Verification

Changes from last time is that accuracy of the drawings has dropped lower as has double handrails. Dropping out of the top 10 completely COSHH assessments, electrical isolations and firefighting equipment. A new observation – at number 1, is the appropriateness of the method. This is a new question in the App – where the auditor makes a judgement of whether a better, safer, more efficient method could have been designed.

The most common issues for supervisors

Assure360 allows us to drill down and identify issues faced by supervisors. This allows the teams to address targeted issues within supervisor meetings, rather than letting company wide concerns to cloud the issue:

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

  1. RPE maintenance
  2. Double Hand Rails
  3. Housekeeping
  4. HAVS
  5. RPE Daily Checks
  6. Scaffold (Boards)
  7. Certificate Verification
  8. COSHH Assessments
  9. Inspections completed at the right time
  10. Method Statement Briefing

The two interesting additions to the list is double hand rails and housekeeping. Both are traditional H&S issues rather than asbestos specific, and might indicate widening expertise or awareness from the auditors. Also a new question in the system is Method Statement Briefing. This is where a supervisor has had to be moved or replaced – has there been sufficient hand-over and has the new site management taken full charge of the site?

The most common issues for contracts managers

Similarly, contracts managers can focus on their challenges:

The top 10 issues for contracts managers are:

  1. Method statement (appropriate)
  2. Drawings
  3. Risk assessments
  4. Method Statement (clearly written)
  5. Report compliant with guidance
  6. HAVS
  7. RA – Vibration
  8. Risk Assessments (Site Specific)
  9. Accident Records
  10. Amendments

HAVS and the associated vibration risk assessments seem to be an issue at the moment. Also the refining of the question set, with more options with regard to how a method statement is being written – has changed how issues are being recorded. This will help with more detailed root cause analysis.

Audit insights May 2017: top 10 site non conformance issues

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday August 1st 2017

I’m always fascinated by the insight the Assure360 app gives us into the issues we’re all tackling during site safety audits and tech reviews.

Because Assure360 is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry and there are more than a hundred safety professionals using the system we have the potential to really improve safety in the construction industry.

What’s in the May 2017 data?

The system incorporates site audits and records tech reviews during the planning stage so managers can learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

Here is a taster of the most recent findings we shared covering audits and site reviews from May 2017.

The 10 most common non conformance issues

If we look at the overall top 10 we see predominantly paperwork issues, that either are, or can be identified during peer reviews:

The 10 most common non conformance issues in May 2017

The top 10 list looks like this:

  1. Accuracy of drawings
  2. Method statement clarity
  3. Electrical isolations
  4. ASB5
  5. Access Equipment – tagging
  6. Face Fit Test certification
  7. Medical certification
  8. Risk Assessment (Site Specific)
  9. Waste storage
  10. Required plant and equipment on site

Compared to last time we published the data, we can see some differences:

  • Overall instances of non-conformance have dropped.
  • The issue of Risk Assessments being non, site-specific has also dropped – from the third most common issue to the eighth.
  • A new issue is storage of waste.

The most common issues for supervisors

Assure360 allows us to drill down and identify issues faced by supervisors. This allows the teams to address targeted issues within supervisor meetings, rather than allowing company wide concerns to cloud the issue:

The most common issues for supervisors in May 2017

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

  1. Accuracy of drawings
  2. Medical certification
  3. Site security
  4. Live Gas & Flues Marked
  5. Training certification
  6. Access Equipment Tagging
  7. Electrical Isolations
  8. Face Fit Test certification
  9. Method Statement Accuracy
  10. RPE Clean
  • Buddy Vacs (a decontamination technique used in the asbestos industry) and condition of company vehicles have fallen out of the top 10 entirely.
  • New issues that are being identified is the cleanliness of RPE and method statement accuracy.

This last is normally the responsibility of the Contracts Manager, but we can see from this that the auditors are attempting to improve the skills at all levels.

Root and branch

Assure360 is not a dumb ‘smart form’ or isolated tablet application – it is linked to a powerful cloud database. Its sophisticated system of automatic reminders and dashboards, ensures the right people deal with the issues at the right time. As Assure360 always asks – ‘what could we do to prevent this from happening again?’ everything is dealt with – root and branch.

This month’s results would indicate that the approach is working.

How could Assure360 help you?

How does this data compare with your own audits? Do you have a tool that can help you monitor and tackle these issues, saving you time and money and keeping everyone on the project up to speed?

Let us know what kind of data you’d be interested in seeing.

Our new app: evolution or revolution?

Written by Nick Garland on Friday June 2nd 2017

We’ve just released an updated version of the Assure360 app – here’s how it helps to turn auditing into meaningful improvements in safety.

How the Assure360 app helps turn audits into action

Our app was born to help companies manage asbestos removal projects (the most regulated UK industry after nuclear), so compliance is critical. But the structure also encourages the auditor to examine ways to improve. The app identifies good innovation on site as well as allowing the user to record aspirational best practice identified elsewhere. The combination of the app and the cloud database, instantly links audit findings with actions. Whether the observation is something that has gone wrong, innovative best practice, or a lesson learned from external sources –the sophisticated workflow process makes sure no one forgets.

The most comprehensive audits available

The audits completed on the free app are the most comprehensive available, developed by myself over the past decade. They are uploaded directly to a database in the cloud, where the system interprets them for you. Non-conformances are presented to the designated managers for them to close out. It even reminds them if the due date expires. The high-level dashboard not only shows the immediate information required to spot trends, track close-out and develop strategies for improvement, it also allows a structured walkthrough so that you can showcase how you go about managing H&S to clients and regulators. A warts-and-all approach, where ‘challenged’ sites are discussed, becomes real evidence of proactive management.

The whole team involved

Multiple organisations can participate in the process. The company themselves will obviously take the lead – but customers and trade organisations can also complete audits on the free app. The cloud structure can be designed so these 2nd and 3rd parties can view their audits and relevant internal inspections too. As all the audits are on the same system, close-out of non-conformance and learning from best practice is streamlined.

An app that has evolved through real learning and the experience of users

With the help of the army of auditors who use it, Assure360 has been evolving since its creation. As findings are anonymously shared on the central cloud database – this means that users constantly and automatically learn from others in their own sector and beyond.

Assure360 now covers safety auditing in every workplace and is so flexible it can be tailored to any industry, language or country. This flexibility was a key demand from our users who have been an integral part of the research and development. Continuous feedback, active participation, innovation and plain bright spark ideas have allowed us to design the experience to match not just what users need, but what they want.

We are still very close to our roots, but now the asbestos industry can start to learn from other sectors.

Read my feature on LinkedIn to find out more about what needs to change in safety auditing.

Download Assure360 App


Audit insights: what’s causing non conformance issues on site?

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday May 24th 2017

The Assure360 app collects a huge amount of data and this gives us unique insight into the issues our peers in the safety industry tackle during site audits and tech reviews.

Our app is the only community audit and compliance tool available for the asbestos removal and construction industry. With more than one hundred safety professionals using the system – so far they’ve completed more than 2000 audits – we are developing real insight into the challenges and issues our clients and peers face and overcome. As a result, Assure360 has the power to genuinely improve the construction industry.

What kind of data does Assure360 collect?

The Assure360 system incorporates site audits and also records tech reviews during the planning stage. This allows managers to learn from common issues picked up by their peers – before the project goes live.

We regularly share the community’s findings with our army of independent auditors through our customer newsletter (you can sign up to this at the bottom of this page). Here is a taster of the most recent findings we shared covering audits and site reviews from January 2017.

The 10 most common non conformance issues for Jan 2017

If we look at the overall top 10 we see predominantly paperwork issues, that either are, or can be identified during peer reviews:

The top 10 list looks like this:

  1. Method statement
  2. Drawings
  3. Risk assessments
  4. Report compliant with guidance
  5. Analyst recorded
  6. All required plant, equipment and materials on site
  7. ASB5 present and accurate
  8. RPE maintenance – certificate on site
  9. NPU inspections
  10. Post project documentation

Whilst there are some favourites here, Risk assessments (site specific) indicates that the auditors are trying to come to grips with that age-old problem of generic risk assessments. Assure360 will automatically record this with an action to identify and resolve the underlying issues.

Whilst on the surface – ASB5 (present and accurate) seems alarming, I am aware that this is being used to track when teams are not on site when they should be.

The most common issues for supervisors

Assure360 allows us to drill down and identify issues faced by supervisors. This allows the teams to address targeted issues within supervisor meetings, rather than allowing company wide concerns to cloud the issue:

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

  1. RPE daily checks
  2. RPE maintenance
  3. Buddy vac
  4. Consumables stored securely
  5. NPU inspections
  6. Vehicle (external)
  7. Vehicle (internal)
  8. Vision panels / CCTV
  9. All required plant, equipment and materials on site
  10. Amendments – appropriate, sanctioned by senior management recorded

Again, for supervisors there are some familiar hurdles to overcome. But some surprising issues are being targeted as well. Vehicle inspections – when taken together – is the most common issue.

The most common issues for contracts managers

Similarly, contracts managers can focus on their challenges:

The top 10 issues for contracts managers are:

  1. Method statement
  2. Drawings
  3. Risk assessments
  4. Report compliant with guidance
  5. Analyst recorded
  6. All required plant, equipment and materials on site
  7. ASB5 present and accurate
  8. Post project documentation
  9. Supervisor’s name
  10. Air changes

How could Assure360 help you?

How does this data compare with your own audits? Do you have a tool that can help you monitor and tackle these issues, saving you time and money and keeping everyone on the project up to speed?

Let us know what kind of data you’d be interested in seeing and book a demo.