Summing up the FAAM conference, and a look ahead to EAF
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 23rd 2023
Last month’s Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) conference already feels like ancient history – but at the time of writing it’s all of three weeks ago! Below is a brief look at some of the highlights for me. Broadly speaking, the conference’s focus on new research really summed up what FAAM should be about. As an organisation, we really can bring the structure, independence and academic rigour that can help bind our industry together.
In last month’s newsletter I wrote about an incredible piece of research that FAAM undertook to investigate the viability of a brand new removal method. At the conference, FAAM’s earlier research into the working relationship between analysts and supervisors provided a real highlight.
Cat Holmes, a colleague of mine on the FAAM committee and a consultant at ION in North Wales, gave a groundbreaking talk examining our unique attempt to bridge the gap between two sides of our industry: analysts, and licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs), during the period of highest stress and conflict – the clearance of enclosures.
Cat explained the lessons that were learned on the day – the fact that the supervisors can teach analysts a lesson or two in the first stage (completion of the job and condition of the enclosure). But also how the analysts showed their experience in the mocked up second stage (visual inspection), and in particular their ability to find the small things.
The biggest reveals though were the lack of formal training that any supervisor receives in this critical area, or the attention given to it by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). To my knowledge, no LARC has ever been asked to prove a supervisor’s competence in visual inspections.
Cat outlined that the next step will be another round of workshops, this time focusing on how best to deliver that training. These may possibly lead to joint refresher courses for supervisors and analysts. Professional bodies such as BOHS, IATP, ACAD and ARCA have all expressed interest in sharing in that experience.
A sticky subject
The HSE’s Martin Saunders gave a fascinating talk on the regulator’s research into the effectiveness of control measures in asbestos removal. And there were some very useful takeaways. Despite the site teams knowing the HSE was observing them, time pressures tended to lead to poor practice. In one example methodical removal of asbestos insulation board ceiling tiles morphed into uncontrolled breakage (caught on recorded CCTV footage).
Martin also discussed the use of PVA (the white glue we all remember from primary school) in improving asbestos control. It’s actually been used in asbestos removal for many years, as when diluted and sprayed it can act as a temporary binder or sealant for asbestos fibres. There have always been two uses – one bad and one good.
The first is spraying the enclosure liberally before an analyst starts their visual and air test in the four-stage clearance process. This has been quite rightly outlawed for a very long time, as it prevents the analyst from adequately testing the enclosure. The second is spraying the polythene enclosure walls after the third stage (air test). This is good practice but has largely fallen out of favour for some reason – possibly because it’s become wrongly linked to the former nefarious use.
The reason why it is good practice is that when you dismantle the enclosure after a successful clearance, there is a new exposure risk that can be minimised if an effective sealant is applied to the sheeting. As the polythene is disposed of as asbestos waste anyway, sealing any rogue fibres to it is a good thing.
And that brings me to another point raised regarding the reuse of sheeting. All polythene is considered contaminated waste, and therefore shouldn’t be re-used. This includes airlocks: while they are visually inspected by the analyst, they’re rarely if ever air tested, so they are considered waste even more so than the enclosure polythene.
Sam Lord, also of the HSE, gave a great overview of the ongoing HSE school investigation. I say ongoing, because the regulator is about to start on a new series of inspections. Sam’s talks are always worth catching, as she manages to summarise the key information in incredibly accessible language. Two slides encapsulate that perfectly – the first concerned things that are frequently done wrongly:
- No confirmation that actions are completed
- The location of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) was not easily accessible or easy to understand by the users
- No photos of the ACMs for location and easy condition monitoring
- Specific roles and responsibilities often missing – as were deputies and contingencies in case of absence
- No clear plan as to how information is made available to emergency services
Staff and Contractors
- In-house staff not aware of the limitations of the surveys – e.g. which areas have NOT been inspected
- No permit-to-work type system for controlling work on site
- Training for staff with assigned responsibilities
The second summed up key messages to all schools:
- Check your asbestos register for clarity – can you find ACMs using the information on the register?
- Does the register reflect actions you have taken?
- Can the register be updated to add new information on condition, risk or remediation work (e.g. a link to certificates of reoccupation following licensed removal)?
- Has the plan been tested with simulations:
- A realistic emergency scenario e.g. burst pipe damaging AIB ceiling
- Something routine e.g. new fire alarm
- Does everyone assigned responsibilities for asbestos management
- know who they are
- know who the others are
- have appropriate training
- understand the asbestos management plan at the school
- Check that everyone who could disturb asbestos at the school knows where it all is, and what to do if it is accidentally damaged.
And finally a teaser for the upcoming European Asbestos Foundation (EAF) conference. Dr Yvonne Waterman of the EAF gave an overview of the current global state of affairs – a sweeping look at the asbestos bans across the world, and legal cases where some are hopefully being brought to account for their, and their companies misdeeds.
Yvonne has also been able to reveal the incredible news that the Dutch government is co-hosting this year’s conference. This means that the World Health Organisation, along with a wide range of member states, will be sending delegates. The keynote speech is by Gordana Materljan LLM. (EU Commission DG EMPL), who was intimately involved in the new Asbestos at Work Directive.
This critical piece of legislation will have impacts on not only the cleanliness of an asbestos enclosure before it is handed back, but also the nuts and bolts of protecting the worker tasked with cleaning it. Can the respirators available on the market today cope with the new limit and the existing methods of removal? Probably not. Do the methods need to change wholesale? Almost certainly.
If the FAAM conference is the first must-attend conference of the year, the EAF is clearly the other. It’s a two-day event, with the main conference taking place in Brussels on Friday 1 December – I hope to see you all there.
Asbestos, construction and safety events calendar
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday July 27th 2023
Conferences, events, meetings and other get-togethers are the lifeblood of specialist sectors like construction, health and safety, and asbestos. Every one is a chance to make contacts, learn from the experts, and share your own insight and experience. Here’s our list of all the essential meetings, briefings and other dates for your diary.
ARCA regional meetings
7 – 30 November 2023
Regional locations & online
ARCA’s third round of meetings take place at regional locations throughout November. They end with a Zoom-only meeting on the 30th. Click the link below for full details and to register your place.
Find out more
The European Asbestos Forum conference
30 November-1 December 2023
Hotel Marriott Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium
Regular readers will know how highly we rate the EAF conference, and this year it takes place in the historic heart of Brussels. As always, we eagerly await more details of this year’s programme and speaker lineup, but expect a broad church of the sector’s most experienced regulators, removalists, scientists and innovators – together with charities and other organisations representing those who’ve fallen victim to asbestos diseases. There’s also an asbestos photo exhibition by renowned photographer Tony Rich.
Find out more
Personal sampling and exposure webinar
16 January 2024
The Asbestos Network’s personal sampling and exposure memo is the first official guidance the Health and Safety Executive has provided on the subject, and it contains major departures from how contractors traditionally approach it. We’re hosting a free webinar to talk in detail about the changes that the guidance demands. We’ll be exploring practical steps on how to implement them, and demonstrating how you can use Assure360 to achieve full compliance – at the same time as saving hours of work for both your supervisors and admin team.
Booking link to come soon!
Safety, Health and Wellbeing Live – Manchester
23-24 January 2024
Manchester Central, Manchester
Safety, Health and Wellbeing Live (SHW Live) takes place twice a year, from bases in Farnborough and Manchester. Like its southern sibling, the north of England show aims to reconnect regional occupational safety and health communities. It’s set to offer essential educational, networking and procurement opportunities across two days. This free, live event promises the chance to speak to industry experts, learn about the latest innovations and build direct relationships with key suppliers.
Find out more
IOHA 2024, 9-13 June 2024,
9-13 June 2024
The Occupational Hygiene Society of Ireland (OHSI) and the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) are privileged to jointly host the 13th IOHA International Scientific Conference.
The conference theme has been confirmed as – ‘Protecting workers from health hazards: Advancing in this changing world’. The conference aims to promote occupational hygiene and worker health protection by the minimisation of worker exposure to hazardous agents globally through plenary sessions, keynote lectures, parallel talks, workshops, and poster presentations, as well as networking opportunities and social functions.
You can find more information and book your place here.
The Safety & Health Expo (2024)
2-4 December 2024
The Safety & Health Expo’s December 2024 dates come 18 months after the 2023 show, so there should be plenty to catch up on. It’s an unusually late slot for a major conference, and likely to come near both the FAAM and European Asbestos Forum conferences – we hope the dates don’t clash!
The Safety & Health Expo bills itself as the biggest exhibition in the field. Expect strong opportunities to learn, network, and find health and safety solutions for your business.
Find out more
If you’re hosting, postponing or cancelling an event you’d like us to list here, please get in touch.
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.
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
- DCUK FM
- Fleet Insulation Company
- Greenair Environmental
- Integral Environmental Solutions
- 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.
Something new: FAAM’s first four-stage clearance workshop
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday March 9th 2023
Friday the 24th February was a big day for me, albeit one that probably wasn’t on your radar. For some time I’ve been planning a workshop on the infamous four-stage clearance (4SC), and I was delighted to take the lead on delivering this inaugural event for FAAM.
This wasn’t just another P404 – BOHS’ official training course on 4SCs – but a unique attempt to bridge the gap between two sides of our industry: analysts, and licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs).
The very fact that we all understand what I mean by ‘two sides’ hints at the suspicion and conflict that exists between removalists and analysts. It’s been getting worse over the last 20 years, as the pressure increases on the 4SC – and in particular the visual inspection – as the key check on licensed removal work. Today, the 4SC is the cauldron where the pressures of business come up against the mandatory checks of heavy regulation. Improving the process, and adding to everyone’s understanding, is one of the biggest challenges we have.
With fellow FAAM committee members Louis Slattery of Air Surveys, and Cat Holmes of ION, we tried something new – a practical session to bring together experienced supervisors and analysts so that they could learn from each other. While we didn’t know quite what to expect, we hoped they’d each benefit from the strengths of the other, and also that they’d get an insight into each other’s point of view. The ideal outcome would be better communication and ultimately a stronger team attitude.
We used the fabulous facilities at Airborne Environmental Consultants (AEC) in Manchester, where they have full-scale mock enclosures set up. We focused on the first two key stages of the process.
With the attendees placed into analyst / supervisor pairs, they were thrown in to do the preliminary stage one inspection, where we saw the strengths of the supervisors coming to the fore. And while the supervisors obviously felt in their element, it was also great to hear a different viewpoint from the analysts, and see an instant rapport building between the two. The following debrief was also refreshing, with everyone being open in revealing gaps in their knowledge or things that they might have missed.
After lunch were two realistically mocked up enclosures with a host of issues hidden in each. Now the analysts showed their experience – not particularly with the significant failings, as both members of the team easily found those – but more in their ability to find the small things. We had the pleasure of witnessing analysts’ ‘dark arts’: the carefully angled use of a torch to reveal settled dust, or mirrors to inspect behind and under obstacles. It’s an amazing skill set, so crucial in preventing an unsafe enclosure being handed back.
The final debrief was as good as the first. For me personally there were two significant moments in the end-of-the-day chat. While everyone knew that it is the LARC’s duty to ensure that the enclosure is 100% clean, changes to the handover certificate were also brought up – for the first time the supervisor’s name is being attached to this liability, making them more directly responsible.
For me, the logical conclusion of this personal liability is that it should reposition analysts as the supervisor’s best friend. After all, they’re the final backstop before the supervisor’s enclosure is handed back.
This discussion produced another eye-opener for us all. Although it’s always been the LARC’s responsibility to ensure that an enclosure is free from asbestos when handed back, supervisors have never been given formal training in this as part of their initial or refresher training. This is something I’d personally always assumed was included. And if that incorrect assumption runs all the way up to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it would lead to this critical competence issue being overlooked at licence assessment.
I and the other organisers hope that this will be the first of many workshops, with feedback provided to the FAAM conference, and ultimately that our findings will also inform future analyst and supervisor training. The ideal outcome is that joint training in this key competency becomes a routine reality.
I’d like to extend my special thanks to Kellie Naughton of AEC, Ian Halpin of RSK, Liam Bodger of Emchia, Nick Butters of ABP, Aidie O’Neil of East Coast Insulation, Nicola Ratcliffe of TRAC-Associates, John Malloy of RS Asbestos, Neil Hardy of IATP and Phil Roberts of the HSE, who all very generously gave up their time to make this workshop possible.
EAF 2022 review
Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday December 7th 2022
The fifth European Asbestos Forum (EAF) lived very much up to its billing, with a breathless conference programme featuring 21 international speakers. But, as I’ve said before, what sets Dr Yvonne Waterman’s EAF apart is that it is so much more than a conference. The clue to why is in its name – forum.
The conference itself was on Friday 11 November, but the wider event got under way the day before, with a field trip to the Asbestos Museum and the Asbetter asbestos denaturing plant.
The first of these was absolutely fascinating: a private collection showing off a fraction of the vast number of products that have, and still do contain asbestos. From fake (fireproof) Christmas snow, through moulded cement ceiling tiles that looked like carved wooden panels straight out of a Jacobean mansion, to toy Eternet trucks with real asbestos cement pipes! Good Lord.
Next for us was the Asbetter factory. Asbetter is an innovative firm that is attempting to develop commercially viable means to destroy asbestos. Asbestos is known to dissolve in high alkaline solutions. Cement itself is strongly alkaline. Therefore if you add water to a ground up cement debris and heat the resulting suspension (to approx. 90oC), you end up with a cementitious slurry with ostensibly no asbestos fibres remaining.
Such a simple solution would seem to be witchcraft – but the science is sound, and Asbetter has scanning electron microscope (SEM) data to suggest that all of the fibres have dissolved. The company does, however, face challenges in ramping its current pilot plant up to a full commercial outfit:
- SEM is not necessarily the right technique for finding fibres in highly milled material, as near-invisible, tremendously thin fibres may go unobserved
- Grinding up the cement in hoppers present its own fibre release issues
- The initial packages of asbestos waste aren’t limited just to cement, but also used overalls, plastic, metal fixings and wood. All of these will remain as contaminated waste that still needs to be disposed of
- The process produces a slurry that is highly alkaline. Unless Asbetter can sell that back to the cement industry (of which it is hopeful), it will probably represent an insurmountable financial obstacle
I wish the business good fortune, as the world very much needs a solution for asbestos that isn’t simply burying it in the ground.
One of the unique appeals of EAF is that Yvonne works time and space into the schedule. It’s the vital magic that makes all the difference to your enjoyment of, and what you get from, the conference. After the field trip, we all headed back to the hotel for a laid-on meal. By the time delegates get to the conference day itself, they’ve already met many of the speakers and other delegates, got to know each other, and formed friendships.
At the conference itself, I was chairing Session B (technology). It was brilliantly fascinating, but being on duty I didn’t have the time to just simply enjoy the event, or to make all the notes I might have liked to. With apologies to any of the delegates that I don’t mention here, or don’t cover in the detail they deserve, here are some of my highlights from the day.
Member of European Parliament (MEP) Nikolaj Villumsen opened the conference, explaining the European Union’s goal to reduce the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) for asbestos. You may remember that I talked about this in my post from the FAAM conference.
While the new OEL goal was initially 0.001 fibres per millilitre of air (f/ml), in the end the figure settled upon was a less stringent 0.01f/ml. This compromise level was seen by the Commission as more practical, and not requiring much in the way of prolonged technical adaptation. Mr. Villumsen explained his disappointment and frustration with this, and said that it would likely be amended.
In a later talk Federica Paglietti, of the Italian worker safeguarding body INAIL, was able to reveal that only the day before, the EU member states had indeed agreed to amend the limit to the original 0.001f/ml. In addition, they’d agreed that PLM (optical microscopy) would be prohibited in favour of electron microscopy. There will be a lead-in period of somewhere between five to seven years.
I know the UK is no longer part of the European Union, but if ‘they’ implement this, the gravity may well prove un-resistible. It’s not possible to morally argue against a lower limit, but to adopt 100% electron microscopy in the UK within a mere seven years – from a base of virtually nothing – is a daunting task.
It has to be said that we were slightly stunned by these revelations. So much so that another revelation – that the encapsulation of asbestos would be prohibited in favour of removal – almost slipped by unnoticed.
Huge changes are afoot.
Later in the day, Professor Arthur Frank gave us a tour-de-force analysis of asbestos exposure sources new and old. He also shared an eye-opening look at the vested interests that still prevent the US from introducing an asbestos ban – more than 15 years since it was banned throughout the EU.
Next came two very difficult-to-hear talks. Syed Mezab Ahmed is a Pakistani asbestos campaigner, fighting for an asbestos ban in his country. He was able to organise a conference in Karachi with many internationally renowned speakers. Alas from that moment on, his life, and that of his family, has been under constant threat. He’s suffered the crushing of his car, death threats, and even a 40-plus hour kidnapping of his father, all to shut him up. The final straw came when the local police said they could not protect him. He and his family fled for their lives, and now exist in hiding somewhere in Europe.
Colette Willoughby brought her testimony of the experiences of female analysts to a new international audience. I wrote about her experiences after she first shared them at last year’s FAAM conference, and Colette herself was kind enough to write us an update last month. Colette shines a light on this very dark aspect of our industry. Despite the progress she has helped bring about, it doesn’t get any easier to hear her talk on the subject.
After Colette, keynote speakers Inez Postema and Angelo de Jong laid out Asbetter’s revolutionary new approach to dissolving asbestos. While this was of most interest to those who weren’t able to go on Thursday’s field trip, it remained fascinating to those of us who did.
After this the forum split into two groups. I had the privilege of ‘refereeing’ the technology breakout session. We had Sean Fitzgerald on measuring microfibres, and the state-of-mind that a fibre has to have to be asbestiform. Rikard Hodgberg (of INASCO Asbestos Converting AB) discussed another potential treatment of asbestos – using high-temperature denaturing. Tony Smith of Sundstrom also took us through the new ISO standards, which will revolutionise how we approach respirator design and, crucially, training for the wearer.
I also had the pleasure of introducing Jody Schinkel of TNO, a Netherlands-based research firm. He presented the findings of a project establishing the risks posed by the vast acreage of asbestos cement roofs in Holland. The report is in Dutch, but Google Translate is fabulous – here’s its English translation of the full report.
Among other test parameters, the researchers collected the water run-off from the roofs. The collected sludge was found to be an average of 12% asbestos. Further analysis and testing allowed them to discover that each square metre of roof ‘lost’ 1.2g of asbestos to rainwater annually. With an estimated 74 million square metres of cement roofs in Holland, this works out at approximately 90 tonnes of asbestos per year going into the surface water, drains, or the top 50mm of the ground adjacent to the roofs.
I was fascinated to hear from Aron Cserkaszky of Frontier Microscopy – the home of Marvin the robot microscope. For those of you that haven’t read my other pieces on this, Marvin is not a paranoid android, but an innovative bit of technology. It combines a standard optical asbestos microscope, a 3-D printer, and a computer, with AI.
Load Marvin with an asbestos air test slide and he will read it for you. Marvin does not get tired. He diligently reads the slides exactly to the rules no matter the external pressures, and can keep counting as long as you like – increasing his sensitivity hugely.
This has tremendous implications for the asbestos industry, as it is portable, and gives a traceable and repeatable result fast. Depending on the settings, Marvin can measure down to the new OELs proposed by the EU. Even better, it allows the analyst to focus on the most important part of the UK clearance procedure: the visual inspection. Hopefully the apparent EU moratorium on optical microscopy won’t affect this technology: we wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Loretta King and Daniel Rushton also presented on Alert’s live asbestos monitor. If I’m honest, I have previously been doubtful of the device – this may have come from when they pipped Assure360 to the post of Innovation of the Year at the Contamination Expo! But seriously – Daniel effectively and neatly acknowledged and addressed my previous concerns.
While Alert doesn’t tell us the concentration of asbestos (and therefore risk), what it does give us is the ability to instantly spot when asbestos release has happened. This has very wide ranging applications. Firstly, in investigating short duration ‘low-risk’ removal techniques where it can help identify the precise behaviour that led to fibre release. It’s also very useful in leak testing from enclosures. A team that knows immediately when something has happened can act immediately, rather than wait for a quantitative air test. There is even the possibility of hooking up the device to a high flow pump to immediately start a test.
The final speaker in our session was Alexandre Chasteloux, of BCL Invent – a French company. I’ll admit to a certain amount of professional resentment towards France, as they always seem to have the best advances, technology and kit when it comes to asbestos.
Alexandre was presenting on a gel fibre-suppression technique. The concept (gloopy substance that helps retain fibres) is pretty much as old as the hills, but the application was very impressive indeed. Essentially BCL Invent contains the ‘special’ gel within a localised plastic pod. The user fixes the pad to the substrate, and drills or cuts through it into the material beyond.
I have no idea how special the secret gel is, but the videos were incredibly convincing. One showed a simple wrap around a cement pipe, then a reciprocating saw cutting straight through both pad and pipe, with no apparent dust release at all. The data sheet that I’ve seen claims that cutting through raw MMMF (man-made mineral fibres) pipe insulation generates a fibre release of <0.01f/ml (or <10f/m3 for our European colleagues). The potential to improve the safety and speed of wrap and cut pipe removal is tantalising.
To sum up, it was an incredible event, full of ideas, technology, and opportunities to share knowledge. The energy and enthusiasm that EAF generates is visceral. All of the 150-ish delegates I spoke to – whether policy makers, consultants, activists, asbestos removalists, or policy wonks – left energised and enthused about this niche in which we make our careers.
Is It Really Just a Man’s World?
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 10th 2022
As the Godfather of soul James Brown said “This is a man’s world but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
When I entered the asbestos industry and became an analyst back in the early 1980’s I quickly became aware of how few women or girls were part of my work life. This was quite a time when the man was typically seen as; the bread winner, the home owner, the person in charge with women almost being subservient and unlikely to really have meaningful careers. After all the woman’s role was to have children and then stop at home.
At the time I never really wondered too much as to why there we so few women carrying out site analytical work and clearance testing. I became quite used to the routine derogatory comments, which usually came thick and fast when I failed an area as unsuitable. I was repeatedly reminded that I was competing in a man’s work environment and couldn’t show any signs of weakness so just shrugged everything off as something which came with the territory.
During my years on site as an analyst I suffered a wide range of both verbal and physical abuse and each time was reminded that there was no point in even trying to raise this. After all, what else did I expect and more so who would believe me so just suck it up and get on with the job.
Over the years the amount of clearance testing I was doing naturally reduced as I moved into more senior and management roles. During that time the world also moved on with more recognition of women in the workplace. Naively I also thought that the experiences I had encountered on site would also have been a thing of the past. Unfortunately, how wrong could I have been.
As part of the FAAM Asbestos 2021 Conference I had agreed to do a session with regards to the role of the female analyst and clearance testing. At the outset my intention was to demonstrate how things had changed over the decades but I also wanted to try and understand why females are so under represented in the sector. An initial poll had shown that less than 10% of clearance testing analysts were female, even though employers said they aways made great analysts, so clearly something wasn’t right.
As part of my research for the conference I spoke with a range of female analysts; some who had been around for more years than myself right through until current day analysts. I was quite horrified to find that the verbal and sexual abuse which I had endured on numerous occasions was not a thing of the past but was and is still occurring today. At the time of the conference, I took the nervous decision to recall some of my more horrific site experiences. Including how I was convinced by the rapist (aka site supervisor) that no-one would ever believe me and what else could I expect. After all, if I wanted to work in a man’s world, I had to bear the consequences. On this first occasion I did ask my manager to be removed from the job but was too ashamed to say why so ended up having to stay to suffer the same on more than one occasion.
As difficult as the conference session was, it did however help to open up this previously unspoken side of things. As a result, other analysts have come forward with equally horrific experiences. As with many things once you are aware of a problem it poses the question as to what can be done. In order to look at this whole topic in better detail a working group was established in December 2021. This Female Analyst Working Group comprises of females who have analytical/clearance testing experience and includes stakeholders such as HSE and UKAS. The working group has a number of strands as the issue is fairly complex and intertwined between the analytical side and also the asbestos removal contractor side. We have been providing updates on the work of the group at various conferences and also begun similar at the current round of ACAD Regional Member meetings. Whilst each audience will be different and more interested in some areas than others, one area which has been welcomed is with regards to Decontamination Units (DCUs). It has been a long-established practice that site analysts, whether male of female, will use the LARCs DCU. This will be, as a minimum, for undressing and changing into their PPE and often will also include going through and showering after leaving the enclosure after the visual inspection. If we then consider when an analyst is showering and at their most vulnerable what safeguards are there in place to prevent anyone else entering the shower unit at the same time? This occurs quite frequently, often as a genuine mistake where everyone is completely embarrassed but, in some occasions, occurs for more sinister reasons. When trying to consider what or if anything could be done to tackle this dilemma, we looked at all sorts of solutions but each always had as many downsides and in some circumstances could even make the situation worse. For example, the use of a traffic light system to warn that the shower was in use. This would prevent the accidental and embarrassing entry into the shower when it was already in use but could also act as an invitation to someone who had more sinister reasons for entering.
After various suggestions one proposal was put forward by Beacon International which allows for the safety and security of the analyst whilst using the DCU. This proposal uses a magnetic locking system which is operated by the analyst flicking a switch when they enter either the clean or dirty end of the unit. This then locks the whole unit so that the analyst has complete control and also displays a traffic light system to make others aware the unit is locked and in use. Once the analyst has finished the just unlock the unit as they exit it. A simple but very effective solution.
The CDM Regulations require that sites must have separate washing facilities for men and women but where this cannot be provided that the facility must be capable of being locked from the inside to allow males and females to wash separately. This new magnetic locking system also allows DCUs to comply with this requirement of the CDM Regulations.
It’s important to share the details and areas of work of the Female Analyst Working Group as everyone will have a part to play. Again, as James Brown said “This is a man’s world but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”. How many would want their wife, partner, girlfriend, daughter etc. having to experience what female analysts are still enduring? We need to do what we can to keep everyone safe and well.
FAAM 2022 roundup – and what comes next
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 10th 2022
(Image courtesy of @IsteadAV / Twitter)
This year has felt rather full with conferences, which isn’t exactly surprising after the couple of years’ Covid-enforced hiatus that led up to it. To top it all off, my favourite two come almost back to back. I’ll circle back to EAF, which is on 11 November in Amsterdam, but first I wanted to give my customary write-up of the FAAM conference, which took place on 18-19 October.
Organised by the Faculty of Asbestos Analysis and Management (our home as asbestos professionals), FAAM was a thorough success. This year marked the first time it’s been launched by a policy maker: Stephen Timms MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
Mr Timms revealed some of the inner workings, thoughts and movements leading up to – and in the aftermath of – the committee’s crucial report on the Health And Safety Executive’s Approach To Asbestos Management. Of its 16 recommendations, 13 have been taken forward by the HSE, a remarkable success.
It’s a bit harder to pin down which three suggestions didn’t make the cut. One is the deadline for removing asbestos, and another is the centralised national register. I believe the last is including more work history information on death certificates, which is outside the purview of the HSE anyway.
It’s a shame: all of these would have enormous value. The 40-year deadline on removing asbestos from non-domestic buildings is simply crucial: if there’s no plan, the retrofitting and refurbishment required to reach Net Zero could bring about a catastrophe of disturbed materials.
And, as Mr Timms explained, just having to submit your asbestos survey to a central register would encourage better behaviour and be a sampling point for enforcement: when building X doesn’t have a register on the system, it’s a good idea to pay it a visit. However, as the Government Digital Service would have to lead on this, it seems there’s been a government decision not to provide funds.
My reading of the report’s reception is that the HSE has taken forward everything it can, and that the government has blocked – or at least shown no interest in actioning – the remainder. I’ve written before about the significance of the funding crisis facing the HSE, and Mr Timms finished his talk with a welcome call to arms – write to your MPs and demand more funding for the HSE so it can do its job properly.
Occupational exposure – a fascinating challenge
The rest of the first morning was taken up by a series of discussions centering on the European Union goal to reduce the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) for asbestos, and the challenges it might create – in the UK we have a control limit instead. Dr Yvonne Waterman spoke about the very strong political movement to reduce the European OEL to 0.001 fibres per millilitre of air (f/ml), but in the end the figure that’s been settled upon is a less stringent 0.01f/ml. This compromise level is seen as more practical, in that it wouldn’t need much in the way of prolonged technical adaptation.
Morally it is not possible to argue against this, as less exposure can only ever be a good thing. However, Gary Burdett was there to articulate the challenges of achieving this target – and in particular a fundamental flaw with the proposal.
Principally, the issue is that to test to a given level, the EN standard (EN482) demands that we are able to measure an order of magnitude lower: to reach the current OEL of 0.1f/ml, for example, we must be able to measure down to 0.01f/ml. That’s possible with the existing optical microscopy methods, but if the OEL is 0.01f/ml, we need to get down to 0.001f/ml. If it were 0.001f/ml, then the method needs to achieve 0.0001f/ml!
Gary was doubtful that the current WHO method could achieve these lower levels, so we need to agree on something new. As Gary explained, that means new technology, new competencies, and having the time to implement both. To be clear, he’s not arguing against the new limits, more that we need to agree on a method and work together on implementing it. He did go further, suggesting that research into reducing dust emissions would potentially reduce the risk more effectively.
The move to new methods throws up other challenges, such as how you find conversion factors to link new and old fibre-counting methods. In his talk, Remy Franken reported on an attempt to do just that. There was also a perceptive question from Andrey Korchevskiy on whether there should be different OELs for different fibre types – I’ll return to that in a moment.
Next up was a short presentation by Philip Hibbs of FAMANZ, about the burgeoning new Faculty of Asbestos Management of Australia and New Zealand. The key moment for me was when Philip mentioned that 3.8% of their membership are asbestos removal professionals – or as they put it splendidly, removalists.
Gary Burdett said later that was a lightbulb moment, and I couldn’t agree more. In the UK our industry has always been very much them and us, with a schism between the removers and analysts that only seems to get worse. Would this be the answer here – welcoming in asbestos professionals from all elements of the sector?
Into the afternoon
In the afternoon, Andrey Korchevskiy took us deep into the weeds of lifetime risk assessments. To illustrate his points, he presented two imaginary case studies – Mr and Mrs Smith.
Mr Smith was exposed to 0.1f/ml of asbestos over 20 years whilst working in the construction industry. This was predominately (95%) chrysotile, but 5% of his exposure was to amosite. For Mr Smith, the lifetime risk analysis identifies an increased risk of cancer of 391 cases in 1,000,000. Interestingly 64% of this risk arises from his comparatively tiny exposure to amosite, and this explains Andrey’s earlier question concerning different OELs for different fibres. Tightening the amphibole OEL makes a lot more sense to him, as it is responsible for so much more of the risk.
Mrs Smith’s exposure was through talc contaminated with asbestos – 0.07% tremolite, 50% of which was not asbestiform (essentially chunky fragments that don’t have the morphology that indicates a high risk). Her risk calculation indicated 0.24 cases of cancer in 1,000,000. This seems absolutely tiny – and if correct it would be a huge comfort to anyone that is concerned about similar exposure. That said, it doesn’t line up with the increasing case law emerging from the states, or the decision of Johnson & Johnson to stop selling talc.
To kick off day two, the HSE’s Sam Lord gave us an overview of the executive’s plans to implement one of the DWP report recommendations: a focus on improved monitoring in schools. Four hundred primary and secondary schools will be selected for visits – in fact, these have already started, and are expected to be completed by March 2023. The idea is for this to be a collegiate supporting visit, with more of a focus on why and how schools actually manage asbestos. In short, how they go beyond just “the survey report is available”.
A year earlier, Colette Willoughby had shocked FAAM 2021 with her testimony about the personal safety of female analysts. She was here again to update us on the Female Analyst Working Group – one of the many positive outcomes from her courage in speaking out. Real measurable progress has been made, although she would say there is still a mountain to climb.
The group recognises that analysts (no matter their gender) are often put into a difficult position, with huge responsibilities that result all too often in abuse. But its findings show that for female analysts it’s even worse – and sadly not in the least consigned to history. Their mission is to start with the female experience and focus on that. This should improve matters for everyone, before they widen the remit.
The group’s first meeting set several key areas and goals:
- Review why and how we decontaminate (a key point of vulnerability)
- Understand the scale and range of the abuse
- Create safety guidance for analysts
- Create policy advice for companies
Its main progress to date is in the area of decontamination, with recognition by the HSE that currently available Decontamination Units don’t comply with the Construction (Design and Management) regulations on welfare. This can be fixed – Colette name-checked Beacon International’s simple but revolutionary magnetic lock, which allows the user to secure all doors from the inside. The wider focus is on education for LARCs. Specifically, the need to help supervisors better understand the role of analysts, what all the stages of the four-stage clearance are, and what exactly they’re signing with the handover form.
There’s a continuing need to hear from analysts and others in the industry who have suffered or witnessed abuse, intimidation or other unacceptable behaviours. If you need to share an experience, you can contact the group through two confidential email addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colette will also be attending the ACAD regionals in the coming weeks to brief LARCs directly, and staying for questions afterwards. Hopefully ARCA will be able to extend a similar invitation to her – we all need to be better.
The toughest slot of the conference – the final 30 minutes of a two-day event – was filled with some finesse by ACAD’s Graham Warren. He closed the circle by providing the LARC’s view of the four-stage clearance process. Graham covered recognition by the trade organisation, the importance of the supervisor visuals, and how ACAD is using its audit scheme to explore compliance. “Developing, getting there – but some way to go” was the message.
ACAD had also completed some research on its members. Ninety one percent either introduced the clearance handover form in 2018, or already had an equivalent system. The final 9% only introduced the form with the recent publishing of HSG248 – the HSE’s Analysts’ Guide.
When asked, “Are analysts demanding the form?”, the news was less encouraging.
While just 9% said analysts rarely asked for the form, only two thirds (65%) of analysts were always or nearly always demanding it – that’s surprisingly low compliance overall.
When asked how the process could be improved, members cited improved planning, communication, and better analyst understanding of the removal process. Graham recognised the fact that this was echoing the goals of a workshop proposal that had come up earlier in the day.
Helping FAAM’s membership beyond the conference
Gary Burdett and I spoke just before lunch on joint research ideas for improving the value of FAAM’s membership. FAAM wants to help its members be more directly involved with – and benefit from – faculty membership beyond the conference. As FAAM Committee members, it’s a subject close to our hearts.
The first suggestion we came up with was to explore the dearth of advice for the general public when they are presented with small and large-scale asbestos issues at home. Often the advice from local authorities is to contact the HSE or ARCA, with not much else on top. The initial step in improving this would be for interested members to help with contacting local authorities to explore the advice available. We’d then work together with the goal of designing competent advice. Participants in the research would be able to use this for CPD.
The second suggestion is something quite close to my heart, echoing what FAMANZ’s Philip Hibbs said, and feeding directly into the behaviour issues that Colette talked about. The premise is that our supervisors and operatives don’t understand what analysts do or need, and vice versa.
Our proposed solution is that FAAM organises workshops where the two sides of the industry can get together and learn from each other. The hope here is that closer ties will produce better understanding and cooperation. Ultimately, we all might just get better at our jobs. We’re still at early stages, but initial conversations with the Independent Asbestos Training Providers (IATP) have been very positive, and I am hopeful that both ACAD and ARCA will be enthusiastic supporters.
If you are interested in getting more information, helping develop, or participating in either of these ideas, FAAM will be reaching out with ways you can do that. The same goes if you’d like to share and have support with any other bright ideas that will help the industry. If you’re not a FAAM member, you’re always welcome to contact me directly (see below).
Returning briefly to the conference, it was again a thoroughly interesting and engaging event. More than that, I found it a very welcome return to the face to face experience. As I said at the top, my favourite two conferences are back-to-back, and the brilliant EAF is on Friday 11th of November. Depending on when you read this, I hope to see you there, or at one of next year’s events.
Expo 2022 – are LARCs being abandoned?
Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday October 12th 2022
As you’ll no doubt know, mid-September brought the annual Contamination and Geotech Expo to the Birmingham NEC. Of the event’s four ‘themes’, its Hazardous Materials area focuses on contaminants and the protection of the environment – it’s one of the leading asbestos events on the calendar.
But increasingly I find myself rather conflicted when I talk about the Expo. I think it’s perhaps because I represent both sides of our industry. On the one hand, I’m a techy policy consultant, with a slightly embarrassing passion for exposure monitoring. On the other, I’m very much concerned with the nuts and bolts of asbestos removal.
The asbestos industry is not an ivory tower – it is a very practical application of science. Obviously, it must constantly change and improve as the demands grow and the technology gets better. But while the science of finding and monitoring asbestos is critical at major events, we mustn’t overlook the needs of licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs). Yet LARCs have been poorly served over the years by industry events, and the Expo was an exciting breath of fresh air in that respect. Unfortunately the Contamination Expo is not what it once was.
Cement and sharing
As I say – I am quite conflicted, because on the day I went this year there were some great talks. The first one I attended was on asbestos cement. Dr Yvonne Waterman spoke brilliantly about a new Dutch report that will highlight the slightly ignored danger around the material. Expect more detail on this theme at November’s EAF conference.
In the afternoon we heard some exciting developments relating to the sharing of asbestos register information. Andrew Paten, Andy Brown and Robin Bennett spoke about OpenAsbestos, a new open source interface that links asbestos registers like Tracker and the UK National Asbestos Register (UKNAR) with portals that need the information – like UKNAR’s Asbestos Smart.
Just the very fact that a single open source portal now exists is fantastic – it’s a huge step towards everyone being able to get asbestos information when they need it. But further exciting news was announced. Along with the Tracker and UKNAR, Teams is apparently also aiming to become compatible with OpenAsbestos, and Lucion is now also looking into it. The fact that the three big players in the industry are prepared to set aside their commercial differences for the greater good should give hope to us all.
The changing Expo
Assure360 has been attending the Contamination Expo since its inception back in 2016. In the early years, it was held at the Excel in London and it was very much targeted at the whole industry: it covered analysis and surveys alongside removal. LARCs exhibited as well as equipment manufacturers from the UK and across Europe.
Our stand was opposite ACAD’s, and just down the aisle from ARCA. We were next to a fantastic French manufacturer – CNSE – who had brought a decontamination unit over. At the time it really put the ones on offer here in the shade – though it was expensive, as I understand it. There were talks on a wide range of issues directed at consultants, but also LARCs. It was a well rounded and very exciting couple of days.
I’ve been unsure about the Expo’s direction of travel for the last couple of years – and Covid can hardly have helped – but fast forward to last week’s Expo and it has changed markedly. The floor area devoted to the asbestos industry was much smaller than previous years. Gone were most of the LARC-focused manufacturers – the last one standing was Thermac.
ACAD and ARCA were still there, of course, but all of the other stands were consultancies, and new technology for consultancies. That’s fantastic for me if I’m wearing my techy, policy consultant hat, but it offered almost nothing for LARCs. The few that did show up must have asked themselves: “Is there anything here for me?” The answer was: “Not a great deal.”
There was and is a vital place for a good event that showcases and promotes innovation and best practice in our industry (all of our industry). However, unless the Contamination Expo does something dramatic to arrest its drift, it will just be a show for the consultants and policy wonks like me, and that’ll be a great shame.
Audit 3.0 – our latest health and safety auditing app
Written by Nick Garland on Monday July 18th 2022
It gives me a huge amount of pleasure to announce that our latest app – Assure360 Audit 3.0 – has been finished! You can already download this third release of our essential health and safety auditing app to your iOS or Android device: find Assure360 Audit on the Apple AppStore, and Assure360 Audit on Google Play.
We had big ambitions for this release of the app, and we’ve spent the last year or two on a long development road, guided by the suggestions of our fellow safety professionals. This isn’t some lightly tweaked update: Assure360 Audit 3.0 is packed with new features and functionality, designed by and for auditors.
The app is now much smarter – it talks to our other solution, Assure360 Paperless. If you’re auditing a site that is being run with our industry leading Paperless solution, then the Audit App already knows all the details from the job – including the address, and who is on site. Another new feature is that you can promote a site ‘operative’ to a Deputy Supervisor. This will automatically adjust the competency questions to correctly reflect their management role.
The app’s improved intelligence has also allowed us to build in more flexibility. Assure360 Audit has always supported bespoke audits, but now the process is incredibly streamlined. A brand new audit can be designed, rolled out, and shared across the community within just an hour or two.
We’ve added specific improvements and extra functionality all-round. Some examples include:
One of the most common requests from auditors was ‘can we take more photos?’. We’ve done away with the previous limit – take as many as you need to describe the situation.
We’ve revamped this system to add much more flexibility, allowing 10% increments, rather than the previous 25%. You can also double up. Imagine the example of a severe trip hazard. Obviously the supervisor should have resolved this before you got there, but say three operatives also ignored it. The app now allows you to assign the issue to all four of the site team, without overstating its overall seriousness.
This isn’t a new feature, but with the improvements in the latest release, it’s well worth discovering if you don’t already use it. Activate it, and the app strikes out every question with ‘N/A’. You can then dip into the audit and record only the particular areas of interest. It’s ideal for senior managers visiting the site for a meeting, for example.
Now, if you’re returning to a site you already audited, you can copy the original audit, rather than starting from memory or scratch. This allows you to directly comment on progress, and it helps ensure more thorough follow-up.
What else is new?
All our apps are built from personal experience, but Assure360 Audit in particular is the app I use almost every day. Among its new features, our new search facility is my personal favourite: just type in a key word for what you are looking for (e.g. ‘Trip’), and the app will filter the menu to show the most relevant bits. As a quick way to find the best home for your observation it’s an obvious time-saver, but it’s also a big bonus in other situations:
- Safety Tour feature – Start off with a clean sheet as above, and Search allows a Contracts Manager to find and record the few observations they have in seconds.
- Translating ARCA and ACAD audits – Want to manage all of your external audits using the incredibly powerful analytical tools in Assure360? Start with a safety tour and add the one or two observations from the auditor. Now this is a simple process taking maybe five minutes per audit.
- HSE visits – Treat these as above to manage closeout in the most efficient way. Every observation will also contribute to your trends and training needs analyses.
- Audit Prep – I use this feature all the time now, especially in conjunction with Paperless. Before you even get to the site you can get a good idea as to what is going on, for example by reading the latest set of RAMS to understand what you might need to follow up when you get there. Studying the site paperwork stored in the cloud also shows you what the supervisor has or hasn’t recorded. And all the while you can use Search to make notes for later follow up, tagging them as a non-conformance so they’re easy to find again.
All wrapped up
The final major improvement is to the upload process. Now all you do is tap Sync when finished, and the audit will upload directly from your app to the cloud, assigning any actions within seconds of you leaving the site.
It’s been a long development road, but we’ve arrived at a redesigned health and safety auditing app that further simplifies and improves the auditing process. It’s full of expanded functionality, and enhanced to further streamline data collection and synchronisation. We’re delighted with the outcome – and we hope you will be too.
Want a demo of the new Assure360 Audit app, and how to get the most from it? Curious to see what Assure360 and its apps can do for you? Why not contact us? We’d be delighted to show you around the system.
The Asbestonomy conference – fresh thinking on a problem that hasn’t gone away
Written by Nick Garland on Monday July 18th 2022
It’s a brave move to launch a new event when Covid 19 is still loitering about, so it was great to be at the first Asbestonomy conference in London in mid-June. Even better was the fact that this refreshingly interesting and worthwhile event was a real success. While owing much to other conferences among leading thinkers, Asbestonomy is aiming to carve out a different identity: despite high calibre speakers and delegates, it’s less academic than, for example, FAAM – and much more about ideas, policy and different points of view from around the world.
The conference was kick-started with a video presentation by the Danish MEP Nikolaj Villumsen. As you might expect, his talk focused on the policy changes coming down the line in Europe, particularly focusing on where the ‘green deal’ intersects with the problem of our asbestos legacy. As legislators and our industry are increasingly aware, the drive to insulate homes and make them ready for net zero is likely to clash dangerously with the reality of our ageing, asbestos-insulated building stock.
Nikolaj’s talk highlighted many recommendations that also featured in the recent Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Committee report:
- Strategy for removal
- Public asbestos registers
- Financial framework to support removal
- Financial support for strengthening enforcement
But he also discussed a mooted EU-wide rule to mandate asbestos surveys before the renovation or sale of a home – an eminently sensible idea for any property that predates the banning of ACMs in construction.
Other parts of Nikolaj’s talk highlighted areas of potential disagreement. The EU is keen to introduce an occupational exposure limit (OEL) of 1,000 fibres per cubic metre (f/m3), or 0.001 fibres per millilitre (f/ml). However, we have a very real concern in the UK about setting any OEL for asbestos, and especially setting the wrong one – which 0.001 f/ml almost certainly is.
However, discussing an OEL does raise the question of whether we should be looking again at reducing our clearance indicator (CI) – the level below which an analyst can declare an area ‘cleared’ of asbestos. As a community I personally think we need to open this discussion, look at the objections, and work out whether they’re good enough to outweigh the advantages.
For example, would lowering the CI lead to other benefits, such as eliminating pressure on analysts to clear an area? Would it eliminate borderline passes that perhaps shouldn’t be passed, e.g. an area that’s visually ‘clean-ish’ with an air test result of 0.008f/ml? It’s probably time we discussed it.
“The asbestos bans gave people a false feeling of safety as it made them think it was yesterday’s problem.”
This stand out quote came from Flemish policy maker Sven de Mulder, in his presentation regarding Flanders’ drive to become asbestos safe by 2040 – an initiative in which he remains the driving force. It rings all too true: I can’t say how many times I’ve heard comments like “Asbestos? I thought that was all sorted years ago…”.
I was familiar with the Flemish initiative, but de Mulder made clear something I hadn’t fully understood: the policy is to be asbestos safe, rather than asbestos free. How this translates is that all accessible asbestos in poor condition is to be removed by 2040, not all asbestos. Again, this calls to mind the DWP committee’s headline recommendation to remove all asbestos – is the Flemish goal more realistic, and would it be as effective?
The Flemish approach is very much risk-based, therefore starts with buildings where the users can’t be expected to manage their own risk, such as schools. The timescale looks like this:
- 2018 – Government action plan
- 2019 – Legislation in place
- 2022 – Asbestos survey required when selling
- 2032 – Asbestos survey of all buildings (database of registers to measure progress)
- 2034 – Removal of all external asbestos cement
- 2040 – Removal of all accessible asbestos in poor condition
What appears to have helped the success of the campaign so far is that it started with getting all stakeholders on board. Since then there’s been years of coverage and discussion, which seems to have allowed the removal industry to plan appropriately.
Asbestonomy’s middle section was quite technical, and I won’t recount it in too much detail here. Notable speakers included ITGA technical director Martine Chouvet, who explained why the French government has decided to pursue a transmission electron microscopy (TEM) approach to fibre analysis, rather than phase light or scanning electron microscopy. Sean Fitzgerald also gave a more academic talk, bringing some of the audience up to speed on asbestos, geological considerations, and his work in testing for asbestos in talc and makeup.
The afternoon session explored four different approaches to communicating survey findings to users. ITGA IT director Benoît Lanlard, UKNAR CEO Andrew Paten, Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency CEO Simone Stevenson, and ACM manager of Aléa Contrôles, Santiago Jimenez, all gave impressive presentations, discussing cloud-based asbestos registers for entire geographic regions.
The French, Australian and Spanish versions all make heavy use of building information modelling technology. In contrast, UKNAR’s simplified approach is very appealing – it’s effectively a repository for existing registers, which seems very cost effective. I particularly like UKNAR’s innovative approach of using QR codes to give workers easy accessibility to a site’s asbestos records.
The final session was on asbestos removal and waste disposal, where it was interesting to again hear from Thermal Recycling (UK) chairman Graham Gould. When he spoke previously at FAAM, one concern I had was that burning asbestos at 1,400oC was a potentially questionable solution in a net zero world. However, when I challenged Graham on this, he made the point that the end product of the heat recycling process is a concrete replacement. When fed into that product stream – which itself is responsible for high carbon emissions – the material saves as much carbon as was used in the asbestos destruction process. In other words, the overall carbon footprint remains unchanged. What’s more, the kilns are already compatible with hydrogen, when it becomes commercially available.
Graham also made the point that now in the UK we still have quite a lot of asbestos waste to deal with, so plants like his are commercially viable. If we wait until more of that asbestos has been buried in landfill we may have missed the opportunity.
So: will construction clients pay more to denature asbestos rather than bury it? Graham feels that many socially and environmentally aware end clients would pay the premium if they had the option, but it strikes me that public opinion might have an important role to play here. The current understanding may be that asbestos ‘was all sorted years ago’, but greater coverage as net zero refurbishments get under way might shift the sentiment, and help nudge developers towards doing the right thing.
Rise of the robots
Finally, I was fascinated to hear from Mickael Place of French asbestos removal specialists, DI Environmental. At a cost of €10 million, they have built a processing factory for recycling asbestos-insulated railway rolling stock. It uses robotic arms, operated from a separate control room, to completely remove all asbestos. The blasting techniques employed use iron shot, which can be cleaned and reused. Once cleaned (and tested), the carriages are broken down and recycled on site.
There’s no worker exposure in this very efficient, ‘futuristic’ process: it’s an astonishing semi-automated solution. While the specific use case might not be relevant to the UK, it’s a great example of what’s possible with the application of technology and imagination.
Significantly, knowing that processes like this can be achieved helps to unblinker us when we are considering our own intractable problems. Over the next decade and longer, we’ll see the growing need for asbestos management expertise coupled with an increasing demand for permanent solutions – rather than just burying fibres for future generations to deal with.
For me, DI Environmental’s plant highlights both an opportunity, and a real danger we face in the UK. We think that we are very good at managing asbestos – and with some justification. But if we don’t broaden out who we’re listening to, we could get trapped in an echo chamber where we keep reinforcing how great we are, rather than innovating to get better. With some embarrassment, I can easily imagine how we might have attempted to solve the rolling stock problem.
All in all then, Asbestonomy was a success: informative and thought-provoking as all good conferences should be. Yet in style and substance it very much felt like a homage to the European Asbestos Forum Conference. I look forward to Asbestonomy when it returns, but I strongly recommend you also make the effort to go to November’s EAF conference in the meantime.
The European Asbestos Forum (EAF) conference returns
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday March 10th 2022
While the pandemic has presented us all with very real challenges, it has also meant many missed opportunities. In a specialist industry like ours – where face-to-face knowledge sharing and training are crucial – it’s been hard to maintain momentum and drive things forward. That’s why I’m more than delighted to share the news that the European Asbestos Forum (EAF) conference is returning this year, with a two-day event in Amsterdam.
It’s great to see the conference return after its Covid-enforced hiatus – it was last held in 2019. EAF traditionally brings together many of the world’s preeminent experts on asbestos, its health risks, and its removal and disposal. It’s a place where professionals and asbestos victims alike can go to share their experiences, enjoying networking and social events to help build a close asbestos ‘family’. Together, the goal is that we’ll help develop the new approaches that will ultimately reduce harm for everyone.
Not the least of the experts attending the event will be EAF founder and president Dr Yvonne Waterman MFAAM herself. This year Yvonne is putting together a conference programme on the theme of ‘Asbestos and the State of the Art’. Expect a first day comprising workshops, and an exclusive excursion to visit a metal foundry that denatures and recycles asbestos-contaminated steel.
The second day of the conference will feature a variety of top speakers from across the globe, profiling new science, developments, innovations and insights. I’m also delighted to be chairing one of the two afternoon breakout sessions. It’s a real pleasure to be involved in such a highly regarded – not to mention enjoyable event!
I look forward to sharing more details in the future, but for now you can find more information on the European Asbestos Forum website. Please be sure to save the date:
10-11 November 2022
Van der Valk Hotel Oostzaan (Amsterdam)
I very much look forward to seeing you there.
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.
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.
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:
- Assess the different types of asbestos fibres and their corresponding health effects
- Assess the appropriateness of different limits for different asbestos types (currently there is just one control limit set at 0.1f/ml)
- 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.
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!
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.
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!
Events – Update Autumn 2021
Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday September 15th 2021
Asbestos, construction, and safety events calendar
Covid-19 is still with us, but with few restrictions in place, most in-person events are back.
Here’s our list of all the other essential meetings, briefings and other dates for your diary.
ACAD Awards and Golf Day
16th September 2021
Celtic Manor, Newport
This year’s awards and golf day will be a long-awaited opportunity to safely meet up with old friends and industry colleagues. Assure360 will be sponsoring the Audit awards. We look forward to seeing you there!
Find out more
Rearranged for November 2022 – see below.
Contamination & Geotech Expo
22-23 September 2021
The NEC, Birmingham
Like most other leading events, the 2020 Expo couldn’t run because of the pandemic. This year it’s rebranded to acknowledge its importance to the Geotech industry. As before, the event is composed of a series of child events that includes the Hazardous materials expo. Keynote speakers include Yvonne Waterman, founder and president of the European Asbestos Forum foundation.
At 2pm on 23 September, our own Nick Garland will be giving his talk on the four-hour TWA and the HSE’s new focus on personal monitoring. Nick will also be at the ACAD stand during most of the two-day event.
Find out more
ARCA Annual General Meeting
8 October 2021
Lords Cricket Ground
ARCA returns to Lords for its 2021 general meeting. Full details are yet to be announced, but the HSE’s Sam Lord has been confirmed as a speaker. The event usually includes updates from the leadership team and other staff, along with lunch and ample opportunities to network. As in previous years, there’ll be an after-lunch speaker to wrap things up with a smile.
Find out more
Asbestos Virtual Conference 17 & 18 November 2021
2021 sees the fourth annual asbestos conference organised in conjunction with the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) and for the 2nd year running it is virtual.
The event will bring together researchers, academics, practitioners and regulators, through various plenary talks and technical sessions with a programme that will include UK and international speakers, dealing with scientific topics covering key areas regarding the assessment, control and management of asbestos. Click here for further information and the preliminary programme.
ARCA Regional Meetings
4-30 November 2021
ARCA will be returning to face-to-face meetings for its autumn regionals, which take place at various locations throughout November. However, it’s providing an additional date for a remote meeting. Find more details on the link below, or email email@example.com to learn more.
Find out more
7-10 November 2022
Bristol Marriott Hotel
Airmon is the leading international forum for air monitoring. The tenth instance of the event was previously scheduled for September 2021, but has now been rearranged for November 2022. It will build on previous conferences, providing an exciting programme. Thought-provoking keynote presentations will be combined with oral presentation sessions. Presentations from students or early-career researchers are warmly encouraged, and short training courses, delivered by experts in their field, are an integral component of this event.
Find out more
If you’re hosting, postponing or cancelling an event you’d like us to list here, please get in touch.
Virtually there – the BOHS and FAAM conference
Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday November 11th 2020
With Covid still here and big events like the Hazardous Materials Expo already postponed – again – this year’s conference season promises to be very different. Happily, some events are still going ahead, albeit virtually.
On 18-19 November the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) are presenting what will be my first ever virtual conference. While I’m not sure what to expect, I am indeed looking forward to it.
The conference programme kickstarts with a review of the asbestos control limit: the limit for asbestos concentration beyond which legally imposed controls become necessary. Sam Lord of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and Rick Pomeroy of ABP Associates, will be talking about the history and challenges of air testing during works. I’m curious to know whether they’ll expand the conversation to take a broader look at licensed contracting and testing against the contractor’s own internal procedures – often much more stringent than the old control limit.
After the break on day one it’s the turn of Garry Burdett, principal scientist at the Health and Safety Laboratory. He’ll be giving us the lowdown on the implications of work done by the European Chemical Agency and the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency. Are we set for a change in the control limit? Sam Lord takes the final slot before lunch to give us a progress report on the Analysts’ Guide. Astonishingly my white paper on the draft is still relevant, several years on.
After lunch I’m keenly looking forward to what most people might see as a minor part of the sessions. When we became aware last year about asbestos identified in some marble, my concern was not so much ‘is that kitchen worktop hazardous’, as whether the worker cutting the slab to size was adequately protected. We haven’t heard much on that yet – hopefully we will on 18 November.
In the morning of the second day the programme will cover some interesting developments in duty holder training, along with the HSE’s view on where we are failing in this area. The final afternoon is taken up by technology and myth busting sessions – always a great way to end a conference!
If you have not signed up, I urge you to do so. In a year where so much of the usual industry networking and discussion has been blocked by the need to maintain social distancing, the FAAM conference takes on even greater significance than usual. And as with so many long overdue catch ups – while we can’t be there in person, doing so virtually is the next best thing.
Webinar: Social distancing tools and tips for companies returning to work
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday July 23rd 2020
With the UK past the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus has shifted towards kickstarting the economy. While we acknowledge that many in the asbestos and construction industries continued to work throughout lockdown, as sites ramp up fully again we all face new health and safety challenges to comply with social distancing requirements.
Assure360’s cloud-based solution provides companies with the platform through which to help manage a safe return to work. Offering a paper-free and secure way to audit and monitor site performance, it ensures that critical data can be communicated to site teams, and gathered for compliance and analysis, with less reliance on face-to-face meetings.
In particular, Assure360 Paperless ends the reliance on inefficient site paperwork when logging critical safety checks. It reduces the amount of potentially contaminated material travelling to and from site, and offers efficiencies which help offset the time lost to stricter controls in the workplace.
We want to help, which is why we’re offering a free-of-charge 3-month trial. We believe Paperless can provide important support in these difficult times, and we’re also inviting you to a free webinar to explain how.
A repeat of our popular Benefits of Paperless in a Social Distancing Climate webinar will be running via Zoom at 3pm on Monday September 14th. Places are free, but please book by following the link above.
During the webinar, Assure360 founder Nick Garland will share a detailed description of how our Paperless solution – part of the Platinum subscription – could help you increase your use of remote management, lower costs, and reduce the need for teams to come back to the office during these unprecedented times.
We believe that our solution can really help LARCs get through this, and we want to help. Please join us at the Benefits of Paperless in a Social Distancing Climate to find out more.
Assure360 at the ACAD regionals
Written by Nick Garland on Monday February 10th 2020
ACAD organises three rounds of regional meetings across six regions every year. They’re an opportunity for members to come together and benefit from the latest industry updates, and a brilliant way to catch up with old acquaintances – and of course make new ones.
We always try to get to as many events as possible, and we’re delighted to confirm that Nick and Rick Garland will be at the Manchester, Bristol and Kegworth meetings on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of March respectively.
At 8:00 on the morning of each event, we’ll be running informal, open forums for an hour or so to discuss the latest developments to the Assure360 solution. We’ll be presenting our road map – including the planned release of our apps for Android – and having a general Q&A.
Feedback from our customers has been instrumental in shaping Assure360, so we’ll be keen to hear any suggestions you have for how we can enhance or improve the solution. Please do come along – we’re looking forward to being there, and meeting as many customers as possible.
Event location details:
ACAD Regional Meeting North West: March 3rd 2020, ACAD at Novotel Manchester West, Worsley Brow, Worsley, Manchester, M28 2YA.
ACAD Regional Meeting South West: March 4th 2020 at Aerospace Bristol, Hayes Way, Patchway, Bristol, BS34 5BZ – NB this event will start at 10:00am
ACAD Regional Meeting Midlands: March 5th 2020 at Meetpoint Midlands, 26 & 28 High Street, Kegworth, Derbyshire, DE74 2DA
For full information on the ACAD regional events please visit the ACAD website here.
Wrapping up the European Asbestos Forum (EAF) conference
Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday January 7th 2020
There is something quite energising about the European Asbestos Forum (EAF) conference, and this year was no exception.
The theme for EAF 2019 was Asbestos and Innovation, and while asbestos is a given in our industry, innovation is not. Certainly in the UK, the asbestos sector is the most strictly regulated industry other than nuclear, yet for decades our main control measure has been polythene sheets and tape. Our main detection method is the near-century-old technique of phase contrast microscopy (PCM). And how do we dispose of our deadly material? We bury it in the ground!
For too long, technology has seemed to be something that happened to other industries, but in the past few years there have been vast strides in control measures and medical treatment. At EAF 2019, we were given a fascinating look at a range of technological advances.
Among the first was a breakthrough process with the potential to make denaturing asbestos a workable reality – making it safe, rather than burying it for another generation to worry about. Asbetter Acids’ fascinating process pits waste acids against asbestos cement waste, with the effect that they cancel each other out. It’s a really elegant solution: the acid eats away at deadly asbestos fibres, while the cement’s alkaline nature ultimately neutralises the acid. What’s more, the end by-product can be used to make new roofing sheets – useful to replace old ones made from asbestos cement. Genius.
Marvin the robot microscope provided another eye opener, as Frontier Microscopy explained a technology with the potential to dramatically improve the speed of air testing – and the quality of four-stage clearances. The robot essentially looks like a large PCM scope. Operators conduct air tests and prepare the resulting slides as normal, but then Marvin automatically moves the optics, while some clever AI counts the fibres. Marvin uses the same rules as human analysts, and in testing he has proved himself more accurate than an average human.
Frontier created the automated technology to cope with the vast distances in Australia, where samples have to be flown back to central laboratories for analysis. This can result in big delays between an air test and being able to strike the enclosure. Doubtless Marvin addresses that issue, but I expect it could also have huge benefits in the UK.
Here, analysts are often guilty of thinking that the air test (stage three) is the most important part of the four-stage clearance. In fact, their primary focus needs to be on stage two (the visual inspection). If we were to take analysis of the air test away from analysts, they would be able to focus their attention specifically on the part of the clearance that makes the most difference to the result.
The asbestos health disaster
Despite the promise of new technology and techniques, it’s sobering to be reminded of the scale of the public health challenge that asbestos still presents. Professor Jukka Takala, president of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), gave a dramatic review of the latest figures describing the asbestos disaster.
And disaster it is: each year asbestos causes 255,000 deaths worldwide, and the direct global costs for asbestos-related sickness, early retirement and death are estimated at an eye-watering $1.14 trillion (£880 billion). Taken across the EU and western European countries, it’s equivalent to 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP).
For many of us, these sobering figures are a reminder of why we work in this industry, and the scale of the challenges that face us as we try to keep workers and the public safe from this deadly material. They’re also a reminder of the importance of focused and leading-edge events such as the EAF conference – a chance for all of us to learn from some of the very best sources there are.
This year’s event concluded with the customary thanks and awards. There was a focus on Professor Arthur Frank, one of the world’s leading experts, who has dedicated his life to researching and writing on occupational health, toxicology and asbestos. Arthur was deservadly given the EAF Recognition Award – a fitting acknowledgement of the importance of his work.
All that remained was a fantastic conference dinner. Within our small industry, among a group of like-minded specialists, experts and advocates, it felt more like dinner with friends.
Don’t miss out on the latest thinking in asbestos, construction and health & safety. Check out our regularly updated list of conferences, seminars and other events.
The FAAM conference and EAF
Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday November 6th 2019
While we eagerly await the start of the European Asbestos Forum conference, next week in Amsterdam, the second annual conference of the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) will follow hot on its heels. The FAAM conference takes place on the 19-20 November at the Crowne Plaza in Nottingham.
After the success of last year’s debut, there’s every sign that FAAM has created another unmissable conference for 2019.Both EAF and FAAM seem closely aligned with speakers in Nottingham including European Asbestos Forum founder Yvonne Waterman, and another of the speakers from the EAF, Charles Pickles, tackling the conflict between safety and commercialism when it comes to asbestos.
While conferences organised by the British Occupational Hygiene Society, FAAM’s parent organisation, normally take a UK-centric view, FAAM 2019 looks to have a very global feel – joining Yvonne and Charles are speakers from Canada, America and Australia.
So, what am I most looking forward to? Day one features a talk on an issue with the potential to grow into a major health scandal: asbestos in talc. Jacob Persky will explore whether the recent headlines reflect evolving perspectives, or a paradigm shift.
One of the first unmissable talks will come from Gary Burdett of the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), on dust sampling. This is a vexed issue, with such tests widely considered discredited in all but the most niche applications. The problem is that sampling is too sensitive, offering only a yes/no indication of whether asbestos is present, rather than an indication of the actual risk. Gary is a world expert on the subject and will hopefully be able to shed some light on the when and where this technique should be used – and if there are any improvements on the way.
On the afternoon of the first day there’ll be workshops on developing best practice in surveys and clearances, led by Colette and Alan Willoughby of the National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC). This has got to be the essence of what FAAM is all about – get the best minds on a subject in a room and challenge convention. For attendees, this has the potential to be a game-changing couple of hours.
Day two starts in a similar vein to the first, with a second talk on asbestos in talc. Fred Boelter will look at communicating the risk. I am particularly looking forward to both of the talks on this subject, as asbestos in talc has the potential to become ‘another smoking’. By that I mean it’s becoming understood among the industry as an avoidable risk, but one that so far remains totally unrecognised by the general public.
Day two continues with two very timely talks. Asbestos is the most regulated industry after nuclear, yet for decades its main control measure has been polythene and tape. Our main detection method is the near-century-old technique of phase contrast microscopy (PCM), and when it comes to disposing of our deadly material we bury it in the ground.
For too long, technology seemed to be something that happened to other industries. However, in the past few years there have been vast strides in control measures and medical treatment. Just before lunch, Sebastian Schmitt will explore asbestos detection instruments, promising to link history and potential future developments to give us a better picture of how detection is evolving. After lunch, Yvonne Waterman and Jasper Kosters will cover denaturation – changing the form or makeup of asbestos with the ultimate goal of eliminating it from the environment altogether.
All in all, the brilliant programme suggests the FAAM’s event will continue where the EAF leaves off, with leading speakers addressing both the key interests of, and the challenges facing our industry today. In fact, with EAF just the week before, the two feel much like a four-day conference split over two centres. I’d strongly recommend that anyone with a professional interest in asbestos should plan to attend both.
The FAAM conference takes place at the Crowne Plaza in Nottingham on 19-20 November. For full details and to download the programme in full, click here.
The European Asbestos Forum (EAF) – more than just another asbestos conference
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday October 3rd 2019
The conference season got off to a cracking start last month with the Contamination Expo at Birmingham’s NEC. As we’ve come to expect, more than 3,000 delegates were spoiled by a large range of exhibitors, and a comprehensive programme of talks by the industry’s thinkers, movers and shakers.
I’m pleased to have played my own small part with my talk on the new licence assessment regime, and the challenges faced by LARCs and the HSE alike as everyone struggles to get to grips with the new evidence-based system. Applying for a licence is more time-consuming and complicated than ever, with more of the burden shifted onto applicants. In my talk, I discussed the causes, consequences, and why electronic record-keeping systems like Assure360 can reduce the risk of catastrophic delays in renewing your licence.
There were several other highlights for me, including Assure360 being named runner up in the asbestos category of the Contamination Expo Series Awards. Another was getting our developers together with some clients, in a session which produced some great ideas for the future development of the Assure360 suite. In particular, we’re now focusing on how to analyse the data we’re already collecting to give companies deeper insights into planning and costing jobs. Assure360 will allow management to analyse time spent on preparation and sheeting up – so that productivity strategies can be designed.
Looking forward to the EAF conference
The next stop will be the European Asbestos Forum conference, which this year returns to its roots in Amsterdam. Yvonne Waterman has put together an amazing event on the 14th and 15th of November, with the theme Asbestos & Innovation.
The format will be familiar to those of us that have been before:
- Day one (14 November) comprises round-table workshops where delegates can meet the speakers, exchange views, and really benefit from a wealth of expertise
- Day two (15 November) is the full conference, followed by dinner
I’m honoured to be chairing one of the sessions on the second day.
For those of us concerned with asbestos and the threat it poses, this is an unmissable event: the conference features some of the world’s most eminent experts on asbestos and its impacts on human health. In the morning session of the second day, standout speakers include Sean Fitzpatrick, who has been the leading voice in the research surrounding asbestos in talcum powder in the USA. His talk has the disconcertingly simple title of ‘What is asbestos?’ – I’m sure the answers will surprise us all.
After the morning break we’ll hear from Professor Arthur Frank, who has been researching and writing on occupational health, toxicology and asbestos for decades. One of the world’s leading experts on the subject, he’ll be presenting a detailed examination of the link between chance exposure and the development of an asbestos-related disease.
That will lead us to the keynote speaker, the eminent professor Jukka Takala, president of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH). Professor Takala’s talk will focus on the research paper he published last year, Global Asbestos Disaster.
Without giving too much away, the paper collected the latest evidence of the magnitude of asbestos-related diseases around the world and in particular in the developed Western world. It contains shocking statistics: 255,000 deaths annually worldwide, and direct costs for sickness, early retirement and death estimated at an eye-watering $1.14 trillion (0.7% of GDP) for Western European countries and the European Union alone.
The conference will explore two critical areas of technology in depth – denaturation of asbestos waste, and forensic methods to prevent asbestos fly-tipping. The first area addresses how we make asbestos safe, rather than perpetuating the legacy problem of simply burying it. Several speakers will discuss different methods of denaturation and how, as the technology improves, it is becoming increasingly economically viable.
At the other end, there’s discussion of an intriguing method of using the ‘traceable liquid’ SmartWater to mark asbestos, just as some property managers do with valuables. Tagging asbestos-containing materials with a unique chemical identifier might enable much more rigorous tracking of ACMs, and help establish exactly where dumped material came from.
Another example of why EAF is different is the exhibition – Tony Rich (or Asbostorama to give you his Flickr name), is an astonishing photography artist whose muse is asbestos. Tony is a friend of the show and you will be able to see some of his work at the conference.
These are just some of the highlights from the programme, and with 22 internationally regarded speakers, the biggest problem will be in deciding which of the fascinating talks to attend! EAF is always warmly welcoming and fascinating: the lessons we can learn from our international colleagues on how they tackle this global problem are invaluable.
All in all, this will be a conference with global standing, in a new and spacious setting, just a short hop from the UK. I can’t wait to see you there.
The EAF conference takes place at the Van der Valk Oostzaan Hotel, 20 minutes from Amsterdam Schiphol airport, on 14-15 November. Discover the programme in full, or click here to register.
Contamination Expo 2019 – with asbestos licensing in meltdown, can you afford to miss it?
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday August 8th 2019
The first Contamination Expo event took place back in 2016, and Assure360 was proud to be among the founder exhibitors. This year a bigger, better Expo takes place from 11-12 September at the NEC in Birmingham, and it comes at a pivotal time for the asbestos industry.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is in the middle of one of the biggest shakeups of asbestos licensing since the permissioning regime was introduced. To say that its changes have been either smoothly introduced or warmly received would be a gross exaggeration. So the 2019 expo represents the first big chance for the industry to get some much needed help and direction.
I’ve already talked about what’s changing, but it pays to focus on the new system itself.
The application form has 14 sections, all of which require you to explain how you comply with or exceed the HSE’s expectations. In the new regime you now need to provide evidence that you actually do what you say that you do. This, at its ‘simplest’, means gathering together dozens if not hundreds of pieces of paper, scanning them and emailing them off.
As multiple firms are finding, even then it is not so straightforward. The HSE’s incoming email size limit seems to be set at a rather low 10-12MB. Licensed asbestos removal contractors are finding they need to split their responses into multiple emails, relating to multiple sections, with all their answers carefully cross-referenced.
This is taking companies weeks of dedicated effort, but the problems don’t stop there. Because everyone is providing different evidence, in different ways, in different formats, when it lands on the HSE’s desk it’s taking it months to read, understand and analyse. And all this needs to be completed before the Asbestos Licensing Unit (ALU) can make a formal decision on the application.
This is a big problem. The resulting delay is taking licensing decisions right to the wire, with licences sometimes coming through the day before the existing one expires – and in some cases long after! The frustration and the stress this causes can not be underestimated: when your business depends on a licence to remove and handle asbestos, failing to receive that licence could lead to the end of your business.
How to avoid the pitfalls? What can you do to make your licence application smoother? And what could make the HSE’s task easier and quicker? These are the questions the industry will be asking at the Contamination Expo, and this is exactly where Assure360 can help.
The Assure360 solution long predates the new regime, but it feels like it was tailor-made for it. With Assure360, all of the evidence needed for the complex sections of the form can be produced at the touch of a button. As you’d expect, we’ve also responded quickly to the changing licensing environment: now we even have a dedicated module, split into the application form sections, which offers explanations, and links to the areas of the system and the reports that will help.
On the first day of this year’s Expo, 11 September, I’ll be speaking from 12:30 – 13:00 in Theatre 21. My subject – you guessed it – is the only one that matters right now: the New Asbestos Licencing system, and how electronic solutions can help. If you miss that, then we’re holding a networking event at 17:00 in Plaza Suite 3 on the main concourse.
I’d love to see you there, but if you can’t make it, please be sure to come and visit us during the event. We’ll be on stand J7, directly opposite ACAD. As the experts in the management of asbestos removal, we’re here to help. If you’re looking for guidance and insight into the new process, pitfalls to avoid, and strategies to succeed – there couldn’t be a better first port of call.
Events preview: the best events and conferences for asbestos and safety professionals
Written by Nick Garland on Friday October 5th 2018
Here are some dates for your diary – Nick Garland has put together his list of upcoming events for asbestos and construction safety professionals. We’ll update this page regularly.
Assure360 Paperless Webinar
27 February 2019
Join our February webinar and find out why more and more supervisors and managers in the asbestos removal sector are using our latest Paperless app to streamline on-site paperwork. Created by our expert team, Nick Garland will take you through everything you need to know about the system and demonstrate how it saves teams time and money. If you’d like to register for our February webinar simply sign up and we’ll send you more information.
Sign up here
IOSH No Time to Lose campaign – spotlight on asbestos
18 February 2019
University of Reading, Agriculture Building, Whiteknights Campus
In this free evening event chaired by IOSH vice president Michelle Muxworthy, the IOSH addresses the role and significance of asbestos in workplace cancer.
Find out more
1-4 April 2019
Hilton Brighton Metropole
Occupational Hygiene 2019 is the leading conference in the field of worker health protection in the UK, focusing on occupational hygiene and the prevention of occupational ill-health and disease. The conference programme combines inspiring and thought-leading plenary sessions with scientific and technical sessions, as well as a range of interactive workshops and case studies. The conference will bring together researchers, practitioners, regulators and other experts from around the world to discuss the very latest in issues that affect health at work.
Find out more
The Health & Safety Event
9-11 April 2019
The NEC, Birmingham
The Health & Safety Event provides the perfect networking and educational opportunity to anyone responsible for running a safe and efficient workplace, anywhere in the UK. The CPD-accredited seminar programme will feature over 130 speakers from across the world of safety, fire and facilities.
Find out more
ACAD Annual Awards Dinner and Golf Day
6 June 2019
Location to be confirmed
Save the date for the annual ACAD golf day and awards dinner.
11-12 September 2019
The NEC, Birmingham
Registration for the Contamination Expo Series 2019 is now live. Claim your complimentary tickets to the Hazardous Materials Expo with seven events making up the Contamination Expo Series. The Assure360 team will be on stand J7, opposite ACAD.
Find out more
If you’re hosting or attending an event you’d like us to list here, please get in touch.
Hazardous Materials Expo – what we did, what we learned, and why we’re going next year
Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday October 2nd 2018
It’s been a fortnight since Contamination Expo 2018, and those of us that attended, exhibited or spoke have had time to decompress. I say that because, for those who haven’t done an Expo yet, it is something to behold, and leaves you somewhat dazed.
The 2018 event was a big change on previous years. Relocated to the NEC in Birmingham, it was significantly larger, having been merged with the established RWM (Recycle and Waste Management) Expo. Both changes together meant we had to plan our visit a bit more carefully, and had me wondering – would Assure360 be invisible in such a large show?
I needn’t have worried. The whole event was a great success, with our Expo Fringe meet and greet session a particularly positive highlight. Here we got the chance to share drinks, nibbles and a Q&A with customers and new contacts, and the evening evolved into some free-flowing customer feedback. The fact that we’re now in discussions with some potential new customers is a welcome bonus.
We officially launched our new app and database solution, Assure360 Paperless, which addresses one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Asbestos removal is hazardous and highly regulated, so licensed contractors need to complete – and record – a vast number of safety-critical checks. Once a project is finished, checking the associated paperwork can take the admin team days or weeks.
The onsite admin consumes hours of valuable supervisor time, but until now the only alternatives have been expensive bespoke solutions usually built on ‘smart’ forms. And while these may save time on site, they’re effectively bits of electronic paper: they don’t reduce admin.
Assure360 Paperless is the Holy Grail for the asbestos industry, solving the admin problem by applying our granular, data-based approach. When any check is converted to data, we can instantly report on just that tiny element – not an entire form. Also, as it’s data, we can automatically sense-check it – massively reducing the admin time required afterwards.
Whilst we are a data company, I am asbestos and H&S, so when we create a solution it’s with a fundamental understanding of the industry. Assure360 Paperless applies our insight, freeing the supervisor to supervise, and increasing productivity throughout all aspects of your asbestos removal projects.
Interested? Discover more about going Paperless.
At the event itself there were numerous fascinating talks, but two that stood out for me were by Graham Warren from ACAD, and Yvonne Waterman and Jasper Koster of the European Asbestos Forum (EAF).
In their talk on hidden asbestos, Yvonne and Jasper presented frankly shocking revelations of just how much of the material still comes into Europe, despite national prohibitions.The list of sources went on and on, and included items such as children’s toys, electrical goods and jewellery. My jaw dropped at the revelation that China permits products to be described as ‘asbestos free’ if they contain less than 10% asbestos.
If you get any chance to hear Yvonne and Jasper speak, you should take it. I’ll be sure to highlight any future events they’re attending in our events calendar – roll on the next EAF conference, in 2019!
In his talk, ACAD’s Graham Warren had some startling figures for the ‘average’ licensed contractor. By dividing the number of supervisors and operatives in the industry by the number of licence holders, he revealed that the average LARC has about 14 operatives, and seven supervisors. If we accept that NVQs are the industry’s baseline competence qualification, and that going through the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) costs about £1,000 per operative and £2,000 per supervisor, the average qualifications bill works out at a minimum £28,000 per company.
But ACAD has driven through changes in how NVQs are delivered – first and foremost by creating a dedicated training centre, open to all. ACAD provides the centre and the internal QA, but anyone suitably qualified can take candidates through. The new structure looks like this:
This egalitarian structure is a striking change, and it should address the fears of traditional training providers that the big boys will steal their lunch. It also introduces another interesting angle: there is nothing to stop a LARC getting suitably qualified at a local college and taking its own folk through the process. For this to be practical, of course, that LARC would need a detailed and comprehensive competence assessment system – all Assure360 users have this by default.
If an average LARC takes its own staff through the ACAD centre, that scary £28,000 training cost comes tumbling down to only about £7,000. And if that company is a CITB levy payer, it could benefit from grants to the tune of £15,000 – potentially netting an £8,000 ‘profit’ on the process.
All in all, then, the Expo was exhausting, useful and very interesting. We’ve booked again for 2019 – see you there!