Assure 360

A look back at 2023

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday January 11th 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back

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

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

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

Summing up the EAF conference

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday December 14th 2023

Many readers will know that the sixth European Asbestos Forum conference took place in Brussels on 1 December. We enjoyed a fabulous event – founder and president Dr Yvonne Waterman really pulled out all the stops for this occasion, making it the best EAF yet.

EAF is different from other conferences: more policy-focused than FAAM, less showy glitz than some, yet it retains a level of friendly warmth and classy delivery.

There were two reasons it was so different this time round, the first was that it was a joint event, co-hosted by the Dutch state. The conference’s USP was even stronger and more obvious this year, with policy maker after MEP after government minister lining up to talk. But EAF is also collegiate, with Martin Keve of the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management also putting a lot of personal effort into making sure the event was a success.

It will come as no surprise that the morning session was devoted mostly to the EU’s new Asbestos at Work Directive, which actually was published on that very day. I’ve written before about the main changes this will bring about, but they bear repeating:

  • Prioritising removal over encapsulation 
  • Electron microscopy only
  • A new occupational exposure Limit (OEL), equivalent to our Control Limit, of 0.01 asbestos fibres per millilitre of air (f/ml)

European Union member states have two years to implement these new rules, but there are bigger changes down the line. In six years’ time, analysts need to start counting fibres as narrow as 0.2 microns (two ten thousandths of a millimetre). That’s much too fine for optical microscopes, or even most scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), and thus beyond the effective limit of today’s widely used techniques.

The directive allows for an alternative: don’t count these super fine fibres, but drop the OEL even further to 0.002f/ml. What this essentially means is that if you want to continue to operate at 0.01f/ml – transition electron microscopes (TEM) are really your only answer. 

We often talk about political will, and that quality was personified by two people in particular: Zuhal Demir (Flemish Minister of Justice and Enforcement, Environment, Energy and Tourism) who ensured that the Flemish Asbestos Safe policy became a reality, and Nikolaj Villumsen MEP, the architect of the directive, and opening speaker on the Thursday – which already felt like an age ago.

I’ll come back to the directive at the end of this piece, but I wanted to try to sum up everything else that happened or was discussed at EAF – and it’s a lot. One highlight to mention from the morning is that Frederica Paglietti, senior researcher at Italy’s National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL), was able to give us hints about a completely new style of respirator they’re working on that will rise to the challenge of the new lower OEL.

The afternoon sessions

In the afternoon I had the honour of hosting session B, where we examined innovation. EAF’s afternoon sessions are pretty whirlwind affairs, with each talk lasting only 20 minutes. The ideas and discussions came thick and fast: Sean Fitgerald on defining asbestos – and whether we can, Thomas Muller of Eurofins talking about using AI and automation to help with TEM analysis, Wayne Bagnall on discovering asbestos cement in poured reinforced concrete, Stefan Kempeneers on his project to harness AI analysis of high-res aerial photography to map the extent of asbestos roofs in a whole region. And all of that before the first break!

After the break Sven de Mulder gave us an update on the incredible progress that Flanders is making in its Asbestos Safe policy. To finish off we had Graham Gould and Inez Postema both talking about asbestos eradication from different angles. Graham made the case for the thermal destruction of asbestos rather than burying it in landfill. In the second, Inez focused on her use of water and the natural alkali pH of cement to denature the material.

Whilst Graham did indeed touch on his own thermal approach, his main thrust (echoed by Inez) was a call for action. It’s much easier to commercially destroy asbestos when there is still lots of it in the built environment. If we continue to bury it, it will create a problem that’s far harder and more expensive to solve.

Using AI

While it was a frenetic afternoon, full of ideas and innovation, two different uses of AI stood out for me. Thomas Muller gave a review of the lab group Eurofin’s project to harness robotics and AI. The way it’s being used to address ergonomic hazards for its analysts, at the same time as reducing the time spent by 70%, is impressive. The timing of this work is ideal: we need to massively increase the productivity of TEM analysis to implement the new directive. 

The second was the use of AI to study photographs of huge acreages of roofing. This would allow analysts to understand the likely extent of asbestos roofing in a given town or region. It’s been shown by numerous reports now that asbestos cement roofing is not nearly as safe as we have historically thought in the UK. When we do finally start to do something about it, this seems like the perfect way to get a handle on the problem. 

The format of the EAF is always to come back together to conclude the conference, and this time it was particularly special as there was an award. This was in recognition of Tony Rich – a jobbing analyst by day, but also a spectacular photographer. Based in the US, his nom de plume is Asbestorama, and you can find his work here on Flickr.

What of the directive?

To return to the directive, we in the UK can of course ignore it. But we do so at our peril.

I recall going to my first EAF in 2015. Back then there was a feeling that the UK was pretty good at managing asbestos, and that we could in fact teach our European cousins a thing or two. Over the years, though, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that we’ve been static and have become complacent.

The approach in many EU countries is already outstripping us. I can point to recent European innovations including a fully automated robotic disassembly plant for asbestos-contaminated train rolling stock, AI-driven TEMs that are three times faster than the manual equivalent, gel technology to capture asbestos dust at source, and brand-new respiratory protective equipment (RPE) concepts – rather than the converted WW2 gas masks we essentially use.

Now we can even put a number on how far we risk falling behind – if we ignore the directive (or at least its intention), we would be offering our workers 50 times weaker protection.

In the past, when writing about the Asbestos at Work Directive, I’ve been sceptical as to whether it has been thought through sufficiently. Particularly, I wondered whether the practicalities had been fully considered. Current removal methods are nothing like good enough to meet the new exposure limits. Current RPE doesn’t perform well enough, so essentially everything we do would have to change.

Now as I leave the conference, I realise that it’s the way we think that needs to change. The new directive is the law that should make us reimagine everything.

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:

Asbestos Register

  • 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

Management Plan

  • 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. 

Gel Cutting – A New Removal Technique

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday October 25th 2023

In late 2022 I attended the European Asbestos Forum conference in Amsterdam. This won’t come as a surprise – I wrote about it shortly afterwards, and anyway I’ve been going since the very first conference. In part inspired by EAF, I’ve regularly talked about how important it is for us to look beyond our shores to find new solutions to old problems.

I’ve also talked about how UK asbestos innovation seemed to stop with the introduction of wet injection. Don’t get me wrong: injection – and the huge safety benefit that comes with removing asbestos that is properly suppressed – was a huge improvement on what went before. But for 20 years we have been resting on our laurels somewhat.

That’s why at EAF 2022 I was so interested in BCL Invent, and their product Easy Gel. In layman’s terms, this is a range of shaped plastic pouches filled with gel. The application that sparked my imagination was for cutting cement pipes, where the pouch is secured to the pipe before being cut through. Rather than just suppressing the dust – which it appeared to do – the gel remained on the surface, forming a barrier – separating the worker from the activity.

This is a crucial consideration if we want to improve safety: how do we separate the worker from the activity? It will become increasingly important as and when the European occupational exposure limit (OEL) is reduced by 10- and 50-fold in the coming years.

BCL Invent’s new approach transformed a very direct and personal activity into one that was significantly more remote. The air test results that they were obtaining were also very impressive; less than 0.0048 fibres per millilitre (f/ml) for cutting a cement pipe and <0.0032f/ml when cutting fibreglass-insulated pipe. I asked myself – how would it perform with the very common challenge in the UK of asbestos-insulated pipes?

Wrap and Cut

Of course, there’s already wrap and cut, a similar method which works as follows:

  • Wrap the pipe in polythene
  • Select cut points
  • Inject these cut points with surfactant so that the insulation is locally soft and doughy
  • Test to ensure that the insulation has been fully wetted (re-inject if not)
  • Start to remove – checking for dry spots (re-inject if there are)
  • Remove approximately 150mm of the insulation

wrap and Cut

The bare section of pipe is then cleaned, the exposed edges of insulation sealed, and the pipe is cut. The whole process is repeated until the entire pipe has been removed.

Wrap and cut has an advantage over cleaning the whole pipe, as it’s safer: there’s less asbestos disturbance, and it’s quicker so there’s shorter exposure. As a bonus, it’s also cheaper.

It has downsides – in particular vibration and noise. Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is particularly challenging. A reciprocating saw is so vibrating that the normal limit per person per day is just 15 minutes. There are also several points in the procedure where we expect the worker to stop, check and repeat. It’s therefore understandable that operatives tend to over-inject, reducing the possibility of coming across dry patches – but dramatically increasing the spread of contaminated water.

Easy Gel seemed much simpler, with very few ‘moving parts’. If its barrier approach worked, it could fall into that sweet spot that the original wrap-and-cut method occupied – safer, quicker and cheaper.

A practical test

If it works – but who finds out whether it can? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) doesn’t approve methods: that’s not its job and it never has been. Innovators should be those creating the hazard. But we operate in a fractured industry where licensed contractors have a lot to lose. And we as consultants have become very risk-averse, guilty of blindly applying and enforcing guidance.

Step up BOHS and FAAM, who are in the ideal position to investigate the safety or otherwise of innovative techniques. We designed a rigorous experiment to examine the hypothesis that the use of a barrier gel would be enough to suppress fibre release.

As a control, we first tested the traditional wrap and cut method. Three cuts were made, which took 57 minutes. The results of the two personals for the cutter were both 0.02f/ml.

Here’s a video of the cuts being made…


I intentionally held the video on the last frame with the cut end visible. If we were relying purely on wetting of the insulation – the clear dry spots would have led to significant fibre release. But we didn’t see this.

Five horizontal cuts were made in a 45-minute period using Easy Gel. The results of the two personals for the cutter were 0.02f/ml and 0.04f/ml respectively. The cutter achieved a further four vertical cuts in a 48-minute period. Here the personals were slightly higher at 0.03f/ml and 0.06f/ml.

Our results confirmed that the key quality of the gel-cut method was the formation of a physical barrier, which prevented fibre release. You can see this in this still frame, which shows the extent of (imperfect) wetting from the gel. Were we relying solely on the gel’s wetting properties, this would have resulted in high fibre release.

Assure360 Wrap and Cut

While the individual personal results with gel-cutting were slightly higher, we were able to make cuts more quickly, so total exposure was reduced. Another way to look at this is to ask what would happen if more cuts were made.Twelve cuts using the wrap and cut method would take approximately four hours. The same gel cuts would take less than two. Reducing exposure time by 50% would reduce total exposure.

For this test we also used an ALERT constant monitoring device, and the data we received gave us fascinating insight into the fibre release. We could see the distinct cut points as they happened. The wrap and cut method was particularly interesting – giving us peak exposure after the cuts, not during. You can see this in the chart below, where the pink trace shows fibre levels, and particles are shown in green.

Assure360 Fibre Levels

Lessons learned

So what did we learn? While the results for vertical cutting with gel packs were still low, it’s slightly more difficult to control than horizontal, so they were slightly higher than the horizontal values.

There’s a more significant, if subtle, difference when it comes to HAVS. With a quicker process, workers could make more cuts in a shift, increasing their exposure to harmful vibration. In addition, the cutting technique required the user to keep the foot plate away from the gel pack to avoid crushing it. This in turn leads to less control and more vibration.

Assure360 Cut

There’s a narrower margin for error with gel cutting – effectively the width of the gel pack, rather than the 150mm you get with the wrap and cut method. When considered with the reduced cutting control, this reduced margin for error might be significant.

The increase of the already significant vibration hazard is particularly problematic for the method and must be addressed before it is used commercially.



We observed comparable air test results: wrap and cut at 0.02f/ml, and gel cut (horizontal) of 0.03f/ml. As wrap and cut resulted in an excess of injection liquid leaking out, gel cutting gave a higher degree of control – there was virtually no spread of contaminated gel.

The gel cut process is much quicker. If 12 horizontal cuts were to be made using the traditional method this would take approximately four hours. Using gel cutting would take approximately half this (meaning the exposure in the subsequent two hours would be zero) . Therefore, whilst the test results are comparable, a total exposure or four-hour time-weighted average (4hrTWA) calculation would be approximately 50% of the wrap and cut equivalent.

This increased efficiency could lead to shorter project duration – which would be commercially attractive to clients and licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCS).

However, due to the commercially attractive nature of the method, the increased vibration and reduced control must be countered before the procedure is adopted. The following currently available solutions should be considered:

  • Low vibration (pneumatic) reciprocating saws to reduce HAVS exposure
  • On-wrist measurement of HAVS exposure
  • Chain clamps to impose a straight line cut (picture depicts the Yokotu pipe saw and clamp)

Assure360 Cut

Whilst the picture shows an uninsulated pipe, these devices are equally usable on wrapped insulated pipes. This approach imposes a great deal of control on the cut and virtually eliminates vibration. This modification should be considered for all uses of reciprocating saws, and would be crucial when considering the new method.



This project shows what a fully functioning, joined-up industry can achieve. The innovators must be the hazard creators, but FAAM can provide the structure, independence and academic rigour to prove a method can work.

I’d like to extend our particular thanks to Ben Ives of Horizon Environmental, for tolerating a research project on an asbestos removal project, and to G&L Consultancy for the analytical work. Special thanks also to ALERT for providing the constant monitoring kit, and last but not least BCL, for modifying Easy Gel for the UK application.

Our thanks also go to the site teams:

Horizon Site Team –

Lee Woodward

Jacob Rowley

Jamie Hewings

Matthew Hewings

G&L Site Team

Jim Scholes

Archie Charles




Exploring the Asbestos Network guidance on personal sampling and exposure

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday September 13th 2023

I’ve written several times about the Asbestos Network (AN)’s personal sampling and exposure guidance, and I’m pleased to report that it’s finally been published. You can get a copy from your trade association, from the AN’s new official home on the CONIAC website, or download it from our website.

Like most guidance, this has been a long time coming, predominantly because the AN is mostly made up of members of the technical working group – who are by definition volunteers. This guidance covers a very important topic that as an industry we have struggled with, and it’s been worth the wait. It’s a fairly weighty 21-page document, but the meat of the guidance is contained within seven pages. Overall it’s very much aimed at the licensed contractor – i.e. the sharp end – but it’ll be useful to analysts and end clients too.

So what does it say? Here’s my summary of the main body of the guidance, with the key elements to look out for. Helping companies with exposure monitoring is very much our thing at Assure360, so I’ll also weave in a few tips as to where we can help implement the guidance effortlessly.

Strategy and Policy

This is a great start to the document, examining why we do personal sampling, and exploring tips on how to be as efficient as possible. The main reasons for doing personals are:

  • To minimise exposure and check it’s below the Control Limit
  • To confirm controls (including respiratory protective equipment (RPE)) are adequate
  • To support current and future risk assessments
  • To maintain employee exposure records

The AN’s guidance confirms what Assure360 has been advocating for some years: that with a properly designed strategy and system to analyse, a single air test could address all of these requirements.

The starting point of any strategy is clearly the question of what type of job you’re dealing with:

  • The asbestos-containing material (ACM) – for example, asbestos insulating board (AIB), sprayed coating or pipe insulation
  • Quantity – debris is very different to multiple panels
  • The environment – e.g. tight spaces or above head height
  • Whether the situation perfectly matches your controls – can you spray, will there be breakage etc?

It might be useful to think about personal monitoring as an audit of a particular removal activity. You don’t audit every site: you select a wide range so it’s representative, and you weigh it in favour of higher risk activities – whether that’s because of the activity itself, or the experience and competence of the staff. Clearly anything new (new technique or new staff) should be in the high-risk category. Another area you should focus on is obviously ones where you are getting higher than expected results.

So target high-risk activities for monitoring first, then when you have enough data on them, broaden out to other areas like set up, fine cleaning, waste runs and enclosure dismantling. Remembering that anything new always goes to the top of the list. Similarly, make sure you cover all workers, with new starters, short-term workers and agency staff getting a particular focus.

A change in focus

What this means in practice is the old strategic approach to get a personal on 40% of all AIB, 60% of insulation, and 100% of ‘flock’ jobs is very much no longer acceptable. You now have to have a strategy for specific activities. Consider the risk presented by AIB alone. Clearly AIB is more risky to remove when it’s nailed than when it’s screwed, or lying around as debris. But now consider the same activities, but with a team of short-term workers you have no experience with.

For years now, Assure360 has followed this approach, with individual targets for all activities. We also have a new feature that focuses this down to individuals – with some staff tagged as needing additional supervision. The combination will allow enhanced rates of auditing and personals where they’re needed. Data is provided by the supervisor’s Paperless App faster than they could have recorded it on paper – and the database analyses it for you instantly.

We rarely get numbers in guidance, but this one is an exception. If you have a small stable workforce, repetitive work and low previous results, a single monthly personal to keep on top of monitoring is considered sufficient. It goes further – if you don’t do any licensed or Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW) work in a month – no monitoring would be required. The long-term aim of your strategy shouldn’t be to test every employee on every job, but to eventually cover all employees on all activities.

At this point the guidance adds two important notes. When faced with a certificate giving you the results, there will be lots of numbers. Confusingly you’ll be told what the Calculated and Reported results are. For your purposes always use the Reported result.

The second note is when and how to use the protection factor of the mask being worn. You only use these when comparing it to the Control Limit – i.e. the four-hour time-weighted average (4hr TWA).

Personal Sampling

There are two types of personal monitoring that we all undertake. The main workhorse is the Specific Short-Duration Activity (SSDA). The second is the Four-hour Control Limit compliance check, more commonly known as the Four-hour Time Weighted Average (4hr TWA). The guidance explains both in some detail.

I’ll start with the dreaded 4hr TWA. As I’ve written a few times, this test is less about fibre levels for a particular activity, and more to do with the operative’s exposure over the course of a shift.

If a normal day for your team is:

  • build the enclosure (two hours),
  • remove asbestos (30 mins),
  • fine clean (one hour)
  • and assumed nil exposure for the rest of the day

then a single air test that covers all of that would be the perfect 4-hr TWA test. However, it wouldn’t be very good at determining the peak in the middle (removal).

The reason why I call the SSDA the workhorse is that, while it’s principally used to measure a specific activity, the results can be used for all of the purposes laid out in the strategy section above. It can even tackle the 4hr-TWA provided the test matches the World Health Organisation (WHO) criteria: a flow rate of 1-2 litres per minute, and a minimum volume of 240 litres – which may be pooled from more than one sample. For maximum flexibility – if you can move your standard test to two litres per minute (2l/m) for two hours – it will cover most areas and will result in a good limit of quantification. As an extra bonus, Assure360 has long had this parameter built in, so we automatically do the calculation for you.

The guidance calls for close supervision, so that when the activity stops, the test should stop. Going back to the example above, the SSDA test should only be run for that middle 30 minutes of AIB removal. You would need to ramp up the flow rate to close to 4l/m to get a good limit of quantification. The analyst should watch the operative throughout the test, summarising what they did on the certificate – especially if they diverged from the planned method.


Advice for Clients and Analysts

Refreshingly, the guidance now speaks directly to the client, prompting them to consider the role of personal monitoring data in helping them discharge their duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM).

It also helps us rethink the relationship between the licensed asbestos removal contractor (LARC) and the analyst. Irrespective of who is paying for the consultancy, it’s the LARC that should specify the requirements of the personal monitoring, for example specifying a two-hour SSDA at 2l/min, on James Smith, while removing nailed AIB.

Analytical companies are directed to ensure analysts have the right equipment, and that they’re competent to undertake the test. This seems obvious, but it is definitely not just LARCs who have historically struggled with personal monitoring. The Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) recognises a poor level of competence in this area, and is looking at how it can improve the skill set across the board.

The guidance also states (in bold!) that analysts must always provide full PM results directly to the LARC as soon as possible after the collection of the sample via either hard copy or electronic means. It also states: “Failure to supply this information might be a breach of the analyst organisation’s duty under Section three of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.” So, LARCs should no longer have to hear ‘This is the client’s data, I can’t give it to you’.


Analysis and Review

A LARC is expected to review all personal monitoring reports on site and extract management information from the data. 

There are two PM thresholds above which we need to do something. The first is when the result is above what the mask can deal with. This is a combination of the assumed protection factor (APF) of the mask and the control limit (which is 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air sampled (f/ml)). The APF is 20 for a half-face mask, 40 for a full face, and 2000 for a respiratory airline supply (RAS) mask. Therefore:

  • Half mask – 20 x 0.1 = 2f/ml
  • Full Face – 40 x 0.1 = 4f/ml

These are clearly shockingly high results. If you got them, your instinct to stop work immediately and investigate would obviously be the correct course of action.

It’s worth noting that in Europe they are going to reduce the occupational exposure limit (equivalent to our Control Limit) to 0.01f/ml, so the above numbers would become 0.2f/ml and 0.4f/ml. I think the goal here was always to reduce the exposure faced by normal (non-asbestos) workers. However, when these same numbers are applied to removal activities, we’ll have to reassess whether our methods and RPE are capable of meeting them. It’s also worth noting that, while European law no longer automatically applies to the UK since Brexit, on this, we’ll most likely be forced to follow suit. Watch this space.

The second threshold is when PM results are significantly (the guidance says 25%) above your anticipated level. In this case you need to investigate and review the method if necessary.

Prompt investigation underpins everything – identifying (ideally immediately) if a test is elevated, and then establishing why. This then allows you to do the next steps that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires:

  • Improve methods
  • Drill down and compare operatives conducting the same activity. 
  • Trend analysis

Assure360 does indeed make all of this simple. We alert the supervisor when the reading is above the mask capacity, and management are informed instantly if either threshold is exceeded. We also have reports that compare and contrast data for individual operatives, and trend analysis is on all of our dashboards.

Required uses for personal monitoring

The guide details specific, required, practical uses for personal monitoring:

Estimation of exposure This is a section that has been long included in competent method statements, but the guidance looks for a little more detail than is perhaps in some documents: a breakdown into activities. Therefore include pre-clean, enclosure construction and fine cleaning in monitoring strategies, as well as the removal phases. You of course get this data from analysing the personal monitoring that you have previously conducted.

The guidance says that industry figures can be used as a starting point for new activities. Assure360 gives you benchmarked access to over 28,000 personals that have been recorded on the system.

Exposure Records This is the written (or digital) record of the personal sampling/air monitoring required in the regulations. The actual detail is in para 482 of the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP), and it’s reproduced in the guidance.

It should be noted that this does not need to be one document, and it can be stored in more than one system.

Record of each test The ACOP also requires you to keep a suitable summary of test results for each individual, so that average exposure for individuals and different activities can can be accurately estimated. It suggests a spreadsheet document(s) or a database.
Health Records You must maintain health records for all employees, whether directly employed, short-term or agency. 

Other than names, medicals and other information as detailed in the guidance and the ACOP, you must record the work carried out, location, dates, duration (hours per week), and the RPE used. Records must be kept for 40 years or until the employee is 80, whichever is longer. Therefore, the records of a 20-year-old short-term worker employed for one day must be kept for 60 years, not 40.

Recording, calculating and displaying all of this data is complex. While it’s possible to create spreadsheets for the job, we’re really at the stage where a database is needed. There are many database programs out there that will allow you to create the analytical systems that the new guidance demands. But there is only one in which the systems are already built for you, and where they’re linked directly to the supervisor and to management teams.

Assure360 Paperless is designed specifically for the average supervisor, shaving hours off their daily admin duties. They’re able to record all of the data needed for this analysis faster than they could have written it down in the first place, and it’s transmitted directly to a database that has the power to analyse it as the HSE wants.

Not only does the system capture and securely store all the required safety and monitoring data, it uses it to give you far greater insight into the way your asbestos removal projects are running. At a glance, you can see how each job is progressing, and use reports to identify training needs. It’s not just a way to stay in compliance with the guidance: Assure360 gives you huge practical benefits that improve safety and quality, and save you money.

We’re always happy to show people how our system works, and how it can benefit every aspect of their business. If you’re interested in a free demo, and a free pilot, please do get in touch.

Overhauling the four-stage clearance

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 12th 2023

You may have read about my recent experience in organising the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM)’s first four-stage clearance (4SC) workshop. The event produced a trove of information that we can feed back into the faculty conference, and ultimately into better, joint training for analysts and asbestos supervisors. But since the event, I’ve also been keen to use the insight we gained to make sure Assure360 is making the 4SC as straightforward as possible for everyone involved.

That’s why we’re embarking on a complete overhaul of the enclosure 4SC process on the industry-leading Assure360 Paperless app. The aim is to make it a lot clearer to supervisors and analysts, streamline the whole process, and use our learnings from the FAAM joint workshop to make it less confrontational and encourage team effort.

At the same time, we’re also starting an industry-first research project. By harnessing the power of the data management that comes as standard with Assure360, we’re trying to identify the underlying reasons behind whether an enclosure passes or fails the 4SC.

Our new-look process will record not just passes or fails, but the stage at which the enclosure failed:

  • Stage 1 – this is the normal enclosure and assessment of scope completion
  • Stage 2 (Initial Assessment) – this is a little-understood stage where the analyst enters the enclosure for their preliminary review. The analyst only looks at main / obvious areas, which might result in an early failure
  • Stage 2 (Full Inspection) – this is the normal analyst’s visual that we all know
  • Stage 3 – the air test
  • Stage 4 – the post-completion test, decontamination unit and transit / waste routes

Assure will also include a statement from the analyst as to whether they were familiar with the scope and project in advance. This should help with understanding the impact of involving or not involving them in the planning stage.

Crunching the numbers

These are all fairly routine data points to collect, but where Assure360 can go further than any other is by cross-referencing them with other data. Examples of where we can do this include:

  • People – the system knows which individuals are working on a project, and whether they’re full-time employed or short-term workers (STW). It also knows the year they started with you, and the year that they started in their role (supervisor or operative). We can therefore investigate such factors as the percentage of STWs on the project team, and the team’s overall experience, tenure with your organisation and so on.  
  • Distance – again the system knows where the project is, so analysis could reveal whether distance from home base has an impact.
  • Anticipated duration of work in the enclosure – this will let us examine large projects down to micro ones, and compare the plan with how long it really took.
  • What were you removing? – the type of ACM, fixing and the task could all have an impact.
  • Management influence – everything can obviously be cross-referenced against the supervisor and the contracts manager.

Like everything we do at Assure360, the number crunching will all be done in the background, and the insight presented to you in handy and easy to use reports. There’ll be absolutely no additional effort needed on your part.

We’re particularly keen to harness the vast expertise of our community of users, so please let us know what other factors might have an impact on the success of a project. We’d really appreciate it if you email your input to us on

Assure360 is the industry standard – if you are yet to experience the only productivity tool designed specifically for the asbestos removal industry, please contact us here, or email us on

Celebrating our 15,000th audit

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 12th 2023

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

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

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

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

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


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

Phil Neville
Operations Director


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

Dave Philips
D & N Asbestos Advisory Services


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

Paul Beaumont

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

New year, new features

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday January 17th 2023

It’s only mid-January, and already the Christmas holiday is beginning to seem long ago. We spent the run up feverishly working on some major updates to the Assure360 platform. Releasing them just before Christmas meant that we could down tools and relax, but we realise that many of our customers won’t have found the changes yet. With that in mind, here are some of the new features and improvements.

First up, we’ve made a really big change for our larger Enterprise clients – those with multiple divisions that may have very different ways of working. Site staff inductions and work area workflows can now both be tailored for different divisions in your company. Need a different workflow for the licensed scaffoldings group, or a team that works exclusively outside and in remote areas? That’s now no problem to set up – just give us a call if you’re interested in upgrading.

We regularly get client requests for new data, improvements and reports – this feedback is invaluable for our development plan, so thank you. The Assure360 project is a community solution. Many of our best ideas come from you, and everyone gets the benefits in the form of free updates.

With this release, the Assure360 Paperless app dashboard gets two community-led innovations. The first is Plant Usage – a brand new report that tracks where equipment was last used on site, and by whom. One of the beautiful things about Assure360 is that we collect everything as data. And because this is already in the system, any new report is automatically backdated and available for previous, current and future jobs.

Another community request was that the Paperless Work Area dimensions should get a decimal point. Done – a simple win for all you detail-focused Contract Managers. Keep all your requests coming, please.

Among the other updates, we’ve enhanced two admin reports – the Manage Multiple SHEQ Actions and Manage Multiple Exposure Actions reports. Both get extra information to help pinpoint what was happening on site. For those of you that haven’t used either yet, the first is a very useful report for closing out actions after team meetings. The second is brilliant for your admin team to group exposure actions into single strategies. You can find them both in your Admin drop down menu.

We’ve made another improvement to the Assure360 Audit App that should appeal to all our trusted auditors. The app now puts all of your client’s People into different pots. This is automatically sorted, so you will now be able to focus more on identifying issues on site, closing them out, and kick-starting recurrence prevention.

Our last app tweak represents a small but important victory against acronyms and unclear language. In Assure360 Paperless, the exposure section used to ask: “Was the activity measured?” This ludicrous question was always intended to mean ‘did you get a personal done on this?’, so we’ve changed it to “Personal Monitoring test carried out?”. All I can say is sorry, but it’s fixed now!

Finally, we’ve made an important and useful change beyond our web and app interfaces. To streamline actions from audits, we’ve added lots more site-specific information to the emails you receive from the system. Now you can triage and prioritise more effectively.

We hope you enjoy using the Assure360 system and all three of our apps, and we hope these changes make them even better. If you’d like any more information on any of these enhancements, please do get in touch.

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.

Conference day

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.

Stay Alert

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.

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.

Assure360 Paperless – announcing the new and improved Site Diary

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday October 12th 2022

Long-term customers will already know that we’re constantly developing the Assure360 suite of products to make it better. This isn’t tinkering for the sake of it: we’re always gathering feedback from our community so we can target any issues, and add in features and improvements that help make our software more powerful and effective for everyone. Not just that, but we use our software every day for demos, audits and other consultancy work – we’re always finding things we can improve.

So I’m happy to announce that the latest update to the Assure360 Paperless app is a belter. We’ve added signatures to the Site Diary and, when you link this to the dictation feature and photographs, you get an incredibly flexible productivity tool for supervisors


Now there’s a hassle-free way to add longer entries without all the typing. That’s great when you’ve got a unique situation that isn’t already covered by our fast, menu-based entry system. It’s ideal if you hate typing on a tablet, or when the site demands safety gloves.

Signatures is the icing on the cake. Say you have a new Method Statement on site. The supervisor can detail the key changes using the dictation mode and tag the operatives as present. They can sign, and then photos can be taken to demonstrate they were there.

More than anything, the changes make record-keeping quicker and more accurate. And that’s the whole point of the Paperless app.

The 100% clean – comparing blasting and needle guns

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday September 14th 2022


Photograph courtesy of Horizon Environmental Ltd.


Consider the case of a client with a boiler room, once liberally splattered with asbestos-based insulation material. It’s comparatively easy for a licenced asbestos-removal contractor (LARC) to strip out the bulk of the material with low-risk techniques, but it soon becomes a case of diminishing returns. The less asbestos there is remaining, the harder it can become to remove it, and the greater the expense.

When faced with asbestos insulation residues on semi-porous substrates like brick and concrete, removal of the final 0.1% of asbestos-containing material (ACM) is very challenging. Residual fibres can be embedded in pits, dimples and micro cracks – making the traditional, low-impact approach of hand scraping accompanied by suppression and shadow vacuuming extremely time-consuming. Often, the removal ends in an admission of failure and encapsulation – a process all too likely to be repeated by another LARC in a few years time.

Clearly this is quite an unsatisfactory position for the client. They’re spending a vast sum of money on asbestos removal, only to be presented with a residual risk that still has to be managed – and probably at the same level and cost as before.

It’s therefore easy to understand the temptation of aiming for 100% ACM removal in a boiler room. It’s broadly possible through the use of two competing techniques: blasting (using wet media), and low-vibration needle gunning. Both have their champions – two LARCs I know are very firmly in opposing camps. In the red corner we have: ‘Blasting is faster at cleaning than needle guns, even when you factor in the additional clean-up’. And in the blue corner: ‘Needle gunning is a much simpler method that creates lower exposure and is easier to manage’.

Comparing blasting and needle guns

It’s important to start with one thing that both needle guns and blasting have in common: you’re not supposed to use either technique unless you’ve already done your best to remove all significant deposits of asbestos through traditional methods. This means scraping off all but the last miniscule ACM traces manually – accompanied by sprayed surfactant and shadow-vaccing.

With the use of needle guns on the rise, I’ve also heard that HSE inspectors are coming across it more. And, quite rightly, they’re asking whether the method has been properly assessed. I’ve heard that while the HSE isn’t tremendously keen on blasting, it has questions over the vibration levels of needle guns (more on this later). Clearly this is crucial to any technique or technology: it must be properly assessed, and your team must be competent to use it.

Both techniques present their own challenges which need to be considered if you are aiming for spotless. You’ll need to balance all of the pros and cons when you complete your risk assessments.

Noise and vibration

The noise levels of blasting vary dramatically depending on several factors including the choice of media, and even the location (boiler rooms usually reverberate more, for example). Due to this uncertainty, Quill – one of the leading blasting manufacturers – is a little cautious about publishing noise figures. Essentially, it’s not possible to predict an accurate noise level unless you know the usage situation. Quill says that noise at the lance could be >110dB(A). Vibration magnitude is negligible at around 0.2m/s2. That’s 10 times lower than the EC-specified minimum level for unrestricted hours of work.

Needle guns used to be known for their huge vibration levels, but recent pneumatic variants are much improved. The one I am familiar with is the Trelawny VL303, whose manufacturer claim it has a noise level of 109.5dB(A), and vibration of 2.3m/s2. However, there does seem to be some question marks about this very low figure. Not least because normal operation is to use two hands… Clearly, unlike with blasting, whatever the HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) data is, it is not negligible. If you plug 2.3m/s2 into the HSE’s HAVS calculator, you get a remarkable nine hours and 27 minutes to reach the lower exposure action value (EAV). However, worst case vibration data from the manufacturer indicates something nearer to 90 minutes or below. I understand Trelawny are conducting some independent HAVS testing and the report will be out soon. 

Whether blasting or needle guns are selected, then effective hearing protection will be mandatory. Vibration needs to be looked at, and hopefully accurate data will be available soon


There’s no avoiding the issue, blasting will add waste to the project. Quill states there’ll be 0.5-1.1kg of material created per minute of use. You’ll need to consider the increased manual handling issues that this will create for the project. These may be exacerbated if you have to lug waste up from the basement – especially if there is any restricted access involved.

Fibre release

Both techniques are high-impact, high-disturbance methods that should only be used on trace residues. Both techniques use different approaches to keep dust and fibre levels down. As the name suggests, wet blasting uses water – which atomises as it hits the substrate with the blast media. This will probably be most effective when removing chrysotile residues, as amphibole fibres such as amosite or crocidolite are hydrophobic (they repel water).

Needle guns use the shadow vac technique, and come with dedicated vac cowls. The H-Type vacuum is attached at point A in the diagram, providing effective local exhaust ventilation (LEV) at the point of disturbance (B).

Needle Gun Assure360

As with any asbestos-removal technique, you’ll need to test that exposure is as low as practicable, and investigate any elevated results.

The real problem for wet blasting comes with all that water; Quill states that you’ll be using 2-4 litres per hour. Water vapour plays havoc with air testing – whether that is standard optical or electron microscopy – occluding the filters so they can not be read. The default position seems to be that you should assume a high fibre release, and use supplied-air respirator (RAS) masks.

By contrast the needle and shadow vac technique is relatively easy to test. The results I’ve seen are favourable, with an average of 0.06f/ml (fibres per millilitre of air), highest reading of 0.12f/ml, and lowest of 0.01f/ml.

Water vapour

The high humidity of blasting creates two more issues that you need to allow for. Water does not play well with a negative pressure unit (NPU)’s HEPA filter. To counter this, Quill provides moisture vanes that work along with the standard pre-filter to protect the HEPA.

Another impact – especially in the cooler atmosphere common to basements – is that we often hit the dew point and visibility falls dramatically. Neatly, Beacon’s recirculating NPU incorporates an in-line heater to prevent this. You cannot underestimate the impact of low visibility on supervision – vision panels and especially CCTV will both become very limited, and you’ll need to identify enhanced supervision techniques to combat this. You may consider having a deputy supervisor in the enclosure to be the eyes of the lead supervisor outside.

Other considerations

There’s a rather unfortunate, nebulous bag of additional issues that you will need to factor in. As we’ve established, both blasting and needle gunning are very, very noisy, clearly requiring hearing protection. The follow on effect of that is that operatives will not be able to hear you when you try to communicate with them, whether routinely or in case of an emergency.

This is further compounded by the visibility issue discussed above – i.e. you can’t see them, and they can’t hear you. You might consider flashing beacons, activated externally, at the point of work, which will allow you to stop work quickly and easily. The extra internal supervisor would also help with this.

You also need to consider that needle guns are quite heavy, in addition, large-bore compressor hoses and metal coupling will add markedly to this. You should always step down to the narrower whip lines to minimise this manual handling issue. Generally, you should also consider fatigue as a hazard.

Another consideration with blasting is that the media obviously goes somewhere. Predominantly this will be the floor, but if operatives are working near the enclosure wall it could damage the sheeting and lead to a breach. A less obvious risk is that the media can be blasted into inaccessible voids, resulting in a spread of asbestos. Your design process needs to include careful planning of how and when to use the technique to avoid this.

Finally, while it’s not really part of the risk assessment, needle guns are much more mechanical than blasting equipment. As such they have moving parts, and need to be maintained through periodic stripping down, cleaning and oiling. They are also vulnerable to icing up where the weather outside is cold. For both cleaning and good maintenance, Trelawny recommends ISO22 low viscosity anti-freeze oil.

It’s hard to argue against a client’s wholly understandable desire for an asbestos-free boiler room, and these two techniques are the only options that get close to achieving it. As with all asbestos removal methods, however, they bring a range of issues that have to be individually and collectively assessed. It’s our job as professionals to understand the complexity, and ensure that we manage all of the risks.

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.

Assigning points

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.

Safety Tour

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.

Site return

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:

  1. Strategy for removal
  2. Public asbestos registers
  3. Financial framework to support removal
  4. 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.

Asbestos Safe

“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:

  1. 2018 – Government action plan
  2. 2019 – Legislation in place
  3. 2022 – Asbestos survey required when selling
  4. 2032 – Asbestos survey of all buildings (database of registers to measure progress)
  5. 2034 – Removal of all external asbestos cement
  6. 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.

Technical focus

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.

The four-hour time-weighted average – a deeper dive

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday June 15th 2021

I’ve had a lot of very positive comments on April’s article about personal monitoring and the four-hour time-weighted average. I thought it might be a good idea to take another look – but this time take a deeper dive into the exposure geek pool. In this post I’m going to really focus on the challenges of the four-hour time-weighted average (4Hr TWA), and give a few more examples of how to do it.

What’s the point of the 4hr TWA?

It’s important to start with a quick refresher on the point of the 4hr TWA. Sam Lord of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently summed it up neatly: the point of 4Hr TWA control limit testing is to really look at compliance, not just nod to it.

I discussed the wider context of the testing and explained the terminology in my previous post. The key point is that the four-hour control limit test is a duty-of-care test, intended to really examine whether we have complied with our duties as an employer.

To recap, the test specifications are:

Test Sample Rate (litres/min) Minimum Volume Minimum Graticules Resulting LoQ
4-hour Control Limit 1-2 240 100 0.04 f/ml


The control limit is 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air (f/ml) over four hours – measured inside the mask.

The newly (finally) published Analysts’ Guide specifies a simplified version of the World Health Organisation method – an attempt to increase the frequency at which these tests are being completed.

Despite referring to it as a ‘test’, it is better to think of the four-hour TWA as a calculation. It is intended to represent what happened to that person over a continuous four-hour period – it tells a story, if you like. The simplified rules are:

  • Sample rate must be 1-2 litres per minute
  • The total volume of air sampled must be 240 litres or more

There’s a very important point to make here: you don’t have to do a single four-hour air test to calculate a valid 4hr TWA. What you do need is a record of what happened over those four hours, with test results that support the ‘story’.

The HSE’s simplified approach to this is to require a minimum total air volume of 240 litres. If you do the maths, that means you need at least a two-hour (120-minute) test at two litres per minute.

However, now the analysts’ guide is out, it’s clear that how you get to those numbers is a bit more flexible. You could conduct three individual tests one after the other. Importantly, certain assumptions can also be drawn.

The calculation

Let’s go through some examples of how you do these calculations by hand. The calculations for all of these examples are taken directly from the new analysts’ guide. Please note that the HSE works in hours and fractions of hours, rather than minutes.

Also, before I start, I should point out that while the sums are straightforward, the calculations are yet another burden for asbestos professionals. Later on I’ll explain how Assure360 can do it all for you.

Example 1 – a series of tests to paint a picture

Consider this shift inside the enclosure:

  1. Removal of asbestos insulating board (AIB) tiles for 30 minutes (0.5hrs), with a result of 0.15f/ml
  2. Boring out of fixing holes for 45 minutes (0.75hrs), with a result of 0.1f/ml
  3. Fine cleaning of the enclosure for two hours and 45 minutes (2.75hrs), with a result of 0.06f/ml

Because we know the sample rate was at least one litre per minute, and the total test duration is four hours, we know that the total air volume exceeds the magic number of 240 litres. In this case we can tell the story of the whole four hours.

This is where the ‘time-weighted’ bit comes in – we multiply each of the measurements by the duration of that specific activity to calculate total exposure. Then we divide by the total duration to produce an effective average exposure rate for the entire duration of the tests:

Picture 1

Example 2 – what if the work lasts more than four hours?

An activity will often carry on beyond the tested period. In this case, the guidance says you can assume that the exposure continued at the same rate, provided the minimum flow rate and sample volume are met. Consider this activity:

  1. Removal of nailed-on AIB for six hours.
  2. Tested at two litres per minute, for three hours and 20 minutes, with a result of 1.2f/ml.

Here, the test duration and flow rate ensure the total sample volume is well over the minimum 240 litres. Accordingly, you can assume that the last 40 minutes of the four-hour window would be same as the result of the actual testing:

Picture 1

Example 3 – what if the work lasts less than four hours?

Similarly, where the work (and the air test) last for less than four hours, we can extrapolate. Consider this morning’s work:

  1. Removal of asbestos pipe lagging for two and a half hours.
  2. Tested at 1.6 litres per minute, for two and a half hours, with a result of 2.5f/ml.
  3. Operative exits the enclosure and no more exposure happens (e.g. lunch)

Again, as the sampling rate was 1.6 litres per minute for 150 minutes, this means that the total sample volume meets the 240-litre minimum. Accordingly, we can calculate a four-hour TWA:

Picture 3

Of course, if you’ve got the computing skills, you can create a spreadsheet that will do all of that for you. Alternatively it can be done by hand every time. But while the former is bad enough, the latter is quite soul destroying – and either could be prone to mistakes.

Making it simple

Happily we’re able to offer Assure360 customers an alternative. I’ve long sought to simplify personal monitoring for licenced asbestos removal contractors (LARCs), and I want to support the HSE’s renewed push to improve it. We’ve added a new TWA tool to the Assure360 platform, allowing the system to do the heavy lifting for you – and saving hours.

Last month our Paperless app was enhanced so that, along with the test result, it will collect three more data points:

  • Flow rate
  • Duration of the air test
  • RPE worn

Now that this data is being collected, the Assure360 database reports will, over the coming weeks, give you more and more power to do TWA calculations.

We’re already providing the original simple time-weighted result for every compliant test. We also calculate it for every situation where it is known that exposure continued for the full four hours. Next month we will be adding a system to pool multiple results together, to complete the suite of tools.

By automating calculation of the four-hour TWA, I hope that we can help ensure that more four-hour tests are carried out, and fewer mistakes and misunderstandings made. More than anything, we want to help the HSE improve the depth and quality of personal monitoring, and improve the safety of everyone who works in our industry.

Want to see first-hand how Assure360 Paperless simplifies the four-hour TWA? Why not get in touch to book a free demonstration?

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

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday January 13th 2021

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

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

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

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

A happy accident

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

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

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

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

Chris Pedley, CP Safety

Community-driven updates

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Pedley, CP Safety

Over to you

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

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

FAAM conference report – more than a virtual success

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday December 10th 2020

Who would have thought that a virtual conference could keep you glued to your seat? If I’m honest, not me. Times are busy for us at Assure360, and so when I looked at the programme for the BOHS/FAAM conference there were a few slots where I thought “I might be able to miss that.” More fool me – the two days were absolutely riveting.

So here’s my attempt to sum up a few of the highlights from the conference. I haven’t included all the sessions, but if you’re a FAAM member I think the plan is for you to be able to log in and browse them all.

The control limit

The conference got underway with a history lesson, but one that really set up so much else for the two days. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Sam Lord took us on an interesting journey through how we arrived at the current asbestos control limit. She even explained the logic behind the name, and the important shift in thinking that it represented: that is, that there is no ‘safe’ limit.

Sam went on to give us an update on the HSE’s new Analysts’ Guide, which does finally seem to be nearing release next year. The guidance will contain two changes to the air testing criteria which I think are brilliant.

The first is that the UK will come in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) method for sampling against the control limit. The four-hour time weighted average (4hr TWA) test has always been very challenging – not least because many tasks (when you take off breaks and decontamination) are not four hours long. But whilst they are difficult, these are legally mandatory duty-of-care tests.

The new guidance introduces important flexibility in the pump flow rate:



Application Sampling rate (l/min) Min air volume 25mm ⌀ filter (litres) Minimum number of graticule areas to be examined Calculated airborne concentration at the LOQ
4-hour control limit 1-2* 240 100 0.04
10-minute short-term exposure limit 4 40 100 0.24
Specific short-duration activities 4 120 100 0.08
Assessment of suitability of RPE >0.2-4 40 100 0.24


* Note the change from 1 to ‘1-2’. This allows for higher volume tests in a shorter period.

** Brand new test – see below

Sam’s talk linked nicely with a presentation by Dan Barrowcliffe on the second day, about personal monitoring. I was able to catch up with Dan after the conference for some more thrilling personal monitoring chat (I appreciate perhaps not everyone shares my enthusiasm).

He and I discussed how the minimum volume column is important. For a 4hr TWA test this volume is 240 litres, which means you need to run the pump for between two and four hours. If you’re running it for two hours, where do the other two hours of a 4hr TWA come from?

If you have good enough data, based on accurate personal monitoring, you can interpolate them from your anticipated values. This opens up exciting potential for Assure360 users, as with 18,000+ personals already in the system we can potentially convert an awful lot more tests into the difficult-to-achieve standard. Watch this space – we will have a new report to do just this in the new year.

Short-duration activities

The other crucial change to the guidance – and something I’ve been calling for for years – is the new ‘Specific short-duration activities’ test. This is essentially what a well run, competent LARC does all of the time: test the peak high fibre release activities to measure the effectiveness of their methods.

Now that it is in the guide, analysts will know what parameters to test against, finally allowing LARCs to do their job properly. I personally would like a little more flexibility (a flow rate of 2-4, rather than 4), but now I’m being picky.

At the end of day one, Dan did an updated review of his four-stage clearance (4SC) project (see my summary of the preliminary findings here), and how it has influenced the new analyst guide. The project showed some encouraging improvements in analyst behaviour and performance on site. One of the main points however, is the application of a hard limit of 10 minutes on how much cleaning can be done within the 4SC. Equally importantly, this shouldn’t be done by the analyst at all. This change should bring an end to nightmare jobs where a hoard of operatives are trying to clean in the enclosure during the inspection itself.

The day of the trial

Day two started with an innovative mock trial, which moved from fascinating to excruciating as we watched the full horror unfold. The ‘case’ examined what could happen when an organisation that thinks it’s on top of asbestos policy discovers the hard way that it hasn’t been. The actors were all asbestos professionals – and somehow were able to tone down their knowledge levels to stay in character. I still don’t know how they did it, but it was absolutely enthralling.

The afternoon focused on asbestos technology. I found it all very interesting, particularly when learning about Hysurv’s use of drones to conduct visual surveys of buildings. I was lining up plenty of ‘well, it won’t work because…’ and ‘all very well, but what about…’ comments, only to find them comprehensively eliminated by their capabilities. One highlight was watching a drone fly through a tangled ceiling void!

The ability to survey a roof in vivid detail, showing the precise location and accurate measurements of presumed asbestos materials, was incredible. The equipment also seemed well capable of surveying confined and restricted-access spaces – potentially improving safety and raising surveying standards in the most challenging jobs.

So, far from skipping sessions I found myself largely glued to my screen for the full two-day programme. If virtual conferences are the shape of things to come – and it looks like they might be for a few months yet – then consider me an enthusiastic convert.

2020: Covid, change, and cause for optimism

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday December 10th 2020

Let’s be honest, nobody’s going to look back fondly on 2020. The arrival of Covid 19 and the ongoing pandemic has ruined plans, destroyed businesses – and sadly cost far too many lives. But while it’s been a challenging and sobering year, new vaccines promise better times ahead. And many of the changes forced on businesses will be the basis for better trading as we turn the corner.

The year everything changed

You can’t look back on 2020 without discussing Covid 19. Mushrooming from a small outbreak centered in Wuhan, China, to a global pandemic in just three months, the virus has left few aspects of our lives untouched. From the outset, the lockdowns necessary to control the disease’s spread created social, financial and emotional scars that may take years to heal.

For many businesses, it was quickly clear that the pandemic represented an existential challenge. We in the construction and asbestos-removal sectors have been luckier than some, with much of our work allowed for most of the year, but still these have been difficult times.

So far, so obvious, but for the rest of this post I want to focus as much as possible on the positives from this year – the new tools and solutions that have helped us carry on at the pandemic’s peak, and which will continue to make business better as we emerge.

A lucky break with tradition

In April we marked a year since the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s introduction of the new digital service for asbestos-removal licensing. Fraught with challenges – and, for a short time, horror stories – the long overdue overhaul had a difficult few months, but in retrospect it got here just in time.

By the time the pandemic hit, the HSE had ironed most of the creases out of its new system. The industry, too, had a better understanding of what the HSE expected – helped in part by innovations such as Assure360’s custom licensing module.

As inspectors were grounded under lockdown conditions, the move to digital assessments began to seem uncannily well-timed. Asbestos-removal contractors could renew their licenses and continue working, where otherwise they might have been dependent on inspector visits that couldn’t happen.

A new way to work

If 2020 is remembered for anything other than Covid, it will be as the year that accelerated digital transformation. Global businesses were already on the path, digitising existing processes and inventing new ways to work, but few smaller firms had been caught up in the wave. Covid changed that at a stroke – forcing even the smallest firms to embrace Zoom, cloud-working, and countless other digital tools.

For the asbestos removal industry, it’s a big change. We’ve been around for a while, and our highly regulated industry previously depended on meticulous paperwork. Assure360 has been selling the technology to change that for some years, but 2020 has seen a dramatic growth in interest, as more firms sought out ways to support socially-distanced working.

This is particularly true for Assure360 Paperless. Our digital supervisor support tool removes the site paperwork from asbestos projects. In itself, this cuts the amount of materials being passed around between workers, but during the pandemic another benefit grew in significance.

By automatically synchronising site data with our cloud-based system, Assure360 presents managers with reports and analysis based on the freshest data from the project. Many users have relied on this to reduce their visits to site, confident that Assure360 is providing the insight they need to manage jobs remotely.

Zoom spreads

As the year drew on, people began to use these new digital tools more extensively. In the asbestos industry, briefings and supervisor meetings started to happen over Zoom. In the wider world, recruitment and induction was increasingly carried out remotely – some people are still working from home in new jobs where they’re yet to meet their colleagues!

And as it became obvious that the usual round of conferences and seminars wouldn’t happen, organisations began to think about how they could deliver essential events virtually. ACAD switched its regional meetings to a virtual platform, for example, while we provided a webinar on Covid-safe working.

While the biggest events like the Hazardous Materials Expo have had to be cancelled altogether, academic conferences like BOHS and FAAM were able to go ahead online – to great effect.

As businesses, event and training providers all get greater experience with digital tools, it’s likely we’ll all continue to do things in new ways as the pandemic begins to recede. For example, several of our Paperless customers are planning to continue remote management, with fewer site visits. As Phil Neville of Asbestech pointed out, aside from helping greatly through the pandemic, our paperless technology has helped him reduce vehicle mileage in line with the firm’s ISO 14001 undertakings.

For events, digital access could help more delegates ‘attend’ even far-flung conferences. Next year’s iMig2021 – originally due to be held in Brisbane this year, then postponed to next March – will now take place virtually in May. While it’s a shame for people who would have made it to Australia, the pivot to a virtual setting means that far more people can now take part.

For many, 2020 has been a miserable year, and it may be a few months yet before things get better. 2021 begins with the end of the Brexit transition period and whatever fallout that brings, and it may be some months before the vaccination programme really bears fruit.

In the meantime, paperless and remote technology continues to help us navigate the pandemic, and promises to improve efficiency and create new possibilities in the future. After a difficult year, that’s a welcome source of hope as we go into 2021.


Coping with Covid – how we can help

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday October 15th 2020

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

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

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

Improved apps

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

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

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

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

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

More help and advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing more

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

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

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

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

The story of Assure360

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday September 10th 2020

Nick Garland is the CEO of Assure360. He has 25+  years of experience in the industry. He tells the story of where the vision for Assure360 came from, the hurdles along the way, and what’s coming next.

Where did the idea for Assure360 come from?

It was effectively a happy accident.

I was an embedded H&S Manager for several licensed removal companies. I was designing and participating in audit schemes, completing training needs analysis and competence systems, undertaking the analysis of exposure results… again and again. The Assure360 system already existed, but as a series of interconnected Excel spreadsheets. I was repeating the same tasks over and over again which was incredibly time-consuming and prone to error.

In the space of a month or two I met an app designer (Matt Glover, who still works on the project) and a database company that I was reviewing for the Royal Mail. The penny dropped – what I needed was an app to record the data quickly, and a database to do the clever legwork.

What was it about your experience and background that fuelled this idea?

I have been working in the asbestos industry since 1992, at first as an analyst. In 1999 I retrained into health and safety (H&S). This was initially just an extra string to my bow, but I quickly realised the obvious – asbestos removal was just a construction project with a complex and highly regulated hazard attached. In 2004 I made the switch that most consultants never do, and started advising licensed asbestos contractors on H&S. It was this that really completed my education. Without direct experience of both sides of the industry we professionals can be very blinkered.

Working in the licensed sector – and for several different companies simultaneously – has given me a deep understanding of how the HSE thinks and what it requires. In recent years I’ve been able to strengthen this through close contacts with senior HSE figures: their insight was instrumental as we helped customers through the licence renewal overhaul in 2019.

Smaller removal contractors – especially ones that go to the expense of hiring a H&S manager – also taught me something else that makes all the difference. They recognise that looking after their people and, that precious licence, is of critical importance. They don’t want to pay for advice couched in clever terms or so caveated that it is opaque. They want clear advice that represents your opinion – even if that is a hard truth.

How has Assure360 developed over time?

The solution has evolved to add additional functionality. Our system now helps tick off all of the tasks that the HSE demands, but which are very difficult to achieve and remain commercially competitive.

Training and competence

We started with competence and training needs which ordinarily would be a massive additional task to add to an already busy team. By making the audit smarter we created a tool that could do this task for you at no extra effort.


Recording exposure testing was next. This always seemed a fruitless task that only kept the HSE happy to no practical use. The Assure360 database changed that, so that every test and daily exposure became an audit of the removal method – driving improvements.

Accident, incident and near-miss reporting

Recording and analysing near misses and incidents is critical to avoiding serious accidents in the workplace. Next we developed Assure360 Incident, our reporting app, to provide insight into safety performance and trends. Crucially, it helps identify the process, equipment or training gaps that could be putting people at risk.

Paperless safety checks

We’ve recently redesigned Assure360 Paperless, the latest addition to our suite of apps. Since its original launch, the app has been streamlining the record-keeping process, allowing supervisors to focus on actually supervising. Meanwhile, the office can process and review checks as they’re made – instead of having to wait for the site paperwork to come back.

In the new version we’ve made the process even easier, reimagining the Site Diary feature to use drop down entries and photos – a far quicker way of recording the day’s significant events. We also added Android support, lowering the cost of entry to the Assure360 solution and opening it up to more users.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Paperless has been the biggest challenge, without a doubt. We had to solve seemingly insurmountable twin requirements. We needed offline data capture, meaning that it was not susceptible to the vagaries of poor signal. We also had to work out what happens if the iPad was lost or damaged – we had to make sure customers wouldn’t lose all their paperwork.

We cracked both challenges by using data – rather than forms – so we only ever deal with tiny snippets, rather than whole files. The information stays on the iPad, but the app chirps updates back to the cloud whenever it has a little signal.

Of course, more recently everybody has faced a huge challenge in the shape of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the construction and asbestos-removal industries certainly haven’t been immune. We knew that Paperless was the ideal product to help reduce site visits and the need to handle paperwork, so from early on in the crisis we offered our customers free access. We’ve now formalised this into a free three-month trial.

As well as offering ‘wipe-clean paperwork’, we’ve introduced Covid-19 specific audit questions into the system. And throughout we’ve been publishing regular updates on safe working on our website and in the newsletter.

Any lucky moments along the way?

The birth of Assure360 was, in a way, a lucky happenstance. The need was always there, but meeting both the app developer and the cloud database designer in short order led to a lightbulb moment.

What’s new on the horizon?

We continue to add to our series of How To videos, which have been warmly received by clients. Many are using them as the core of their training on the system (although we can offer tailored support). We haven’t stopped at updating the Paperless app – we’ll be refreshing Audit and Incident, and will add Android support for both.  The People and Plant sections of the system will also develop into full modules designed to help Admin and Stores.

What keeps you interested in this work?

It’s important. As the HSE’s Dr Martin Gibson has put it: “Britain was the first to have an industrial revolution. We were the first to start importing asbestos, and we have imported the most asbestos. In fact – we imported 40% of the world’s capacity to produce amosite* in the 50s, 60s and 70s. We have so much asbestos that we have to manage the problem.”


* amosite is the most common of the highly dangerous amphibole (needle-like) forms of asbestos


The new normal: how we work safely in the days of Covid-19

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday July 9th 2020

As the UK begins to lift its lockdown restrictions, the focus is shifting towards how we safely restart the economy. Work is resuming on construction and demolition sites across the country – and more trades are coming onto those where it never had to stop. But with the threat of the coronavirus very much remaining, it’s more important than ever to implement and enforce safe working practices.

As sites fill up, distancing, protection and welfare will be critical in ensuring the construction industry doesn’t become an incubator for a second wave of the pandemic. For this post, we spoke with two major contractors who have continued to work in the crisis, to try to understand what safe working looks like in the new normal.

For all contractors, the first place to start is with the Construction Leadership Council’s safe operating procedures (SOPs). The key points of the most recent version are:

  • Non-essential physical work that requires close contact between workers should not be carried out
  • Work requiring skin to skin contact should not be carried out
  • Plan all other work to minimise contact between workers
  • Reusable PPE should be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared between workers
  • Single-use PPE should be disposed of so that it cannot be reused
  • Stairs should be used in preference to lifts or hoists
  • Where lifts or hoists must be used, lower their capacity to reduce congestion and contact at all times
  • Regularly clean touchpoints, doors, buttons etc
  • Increase ventilation in enclosed spaces
  • Regularly clean the inside of vehicle cabs and between use by different operators

The challenges that these guidelines present are, of course, going to vary depending on the site. Space is crucial – in smaller, enclosed sites with limited access, maintaining a safe separation is likely to prove far more challenging. Other issues will tax everyone – for example, the difficulty of simply getting staff to site in shared vehicles. Both of these are reflected in the calls by the Royal Society president Venki Ramakrishnan who said:

“Not wearing a mask should be considered as ‘anti-social’ as drink-driving.

“Face coverings are widely accepted as a means of reducing spread – protecting others in case you’re spreading the virus without symptoms, so I do believe that we are moving in that direction. This may sound strong now, but the move to more general use of face coverings is gaining momentum, so it may be prudent to start thinking how it could be incorporated into our standard procedures.”

There have been many calls for the government to be more prescriptive about what companies should do to get back to work, but health and safety law doesn’t – and can’t – really work like this. At its foundation is the recognition that legislation can’t address every risk or keep pace with the change. Instead a goal is set, and the employer (being the expert) implements controls specifically appropriate to the workplace to achieve this. Where they can’t, they must implement something else to mitigate the failings.

It’s the right approach, but the problem is that with Covid-19, the employer is no longer necessarily the expert in the hazard. This is where it’s necessarily for us all to constructively engage with unions and other outside bodies to find the solution.

Can you work safely?

We’ve already discussed specifics of whether and how you can keep working safely under Covid-19, but it’s worth revisiting some key parts. First, we need to remind ourselves of the risk hierarchy:

  • Elimination
  • Substitution
  • Engineering Controls (e.g. physical barriers)
  • Administrative controls (e.g. procedures)
  • PPE

As the restrictions are relaxed, the range of construction projects that can go ahead is becoming very broad. However, within every project the individual tasks need to be assessed. Where it’s not possible to follow the SOP guidelines in full, consider whether that activity needs to continue. If it must, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.

The next critical area is to understand who should and shouldn’t be at work, and give workers very clear guidance. Again, we’ve covered this in more detail in our previous post, but anyone displaying the key symptoms of infection (fever, coughing) should follow the guidance on self-isolation. Those considered vulnerable, or who live with vulnerable people, should stay away from the site.

Getting to and from work

We’ve discussed the difficulties of sharing vehicles amid coronavirus restrictions, and for some contractors this is likely to be the key challenge. “We have non-drivers coming to site, so it’s not possible for them to take a vehicle each,” explains Graham Patterson, director of Glasgow-based GreenAir Environmental. “One of our sites is 45 miles down the motorway from our guys’ homes, and you can’t really drive that far with the windows fully down. They drive with a mask on, and they clean the van when they get out of it.”

But as society opens up, public transport may again become accessible. It seems highly likely that it will be mandatory to wear ‘face coverings’ when using public transport or even going outside of your own home. It’s unlikely that this will mean a P3 respirator, especially as they’re in short supply. More likely there’ll be a requirement for cotton face masks.

It should be remembered that face masks are intended to protect others – not the wearer. They act as a barrier for your inadvertent coughs and may reduce the amount of virus particles distributed by infected people. To protect ourselves we wash hands, stay at least two metres apart, and try to stop touching our face.

As soon as face coverings become mandatory they’re likely to be in short supply, but it is possible to make your own. If you’ll need a mask for long periods it needs to be light, comfortable and not too hot. The latter will only become more important as we move into summer, as sweating encourages you to touch your face. If you are, or you know someone, handy with a needle and thread, you can find patterns such as this on the internet.


Coordinating deliveries and collections may also pose a challenge – particularly on smaller sites. Graham Patterson explains: “The roads are quiet, but still drivers can only give you approximate arrival times. When they get on site, they have to stay in their cabs until everyone is at least two metres back..One of our sites is small, so it’s just trying to organise that.”

Patterson also has misgivings about how some of the protections may work as more trades return to site. “There’s a groundworks contractor who’s due to start on Monday and he’s on the seventh revision of his method statement to even get allowed on site. We went through four.”

“The principal contractor is being incredibly careful, and has designed a site which looks really good. It ticks every box and then some. But it might not be practical when the new contractor turns up, so we’re expecting a day of ‘this is working, this isn’t working’.

“Below it all we face simple issues such as as if anyone is not well, whoever they came to work with has to stay off as well. You could quickly have a situation where you aren’t carrying out any new inductions and you run out of staff.”

Setting up the job

There are likely to be changes to the way you set jobs up, and additional equipment needed to ensure worker safety. Washing stations will need to be front and centre. You’ll need to set them up first – even before the decontamination unit.

We’ve already seen a greater provision of welfare facilities on sites, for example more toilets and cabins to allow greater separation and regular cleaning. “We’re the principal contractor for a massive site in Manchester,” explains Patterson. “We have two welfare cabins onsite with two toilet blocks, and we also have 10 bunker bins. Each one has its own fridge, cooking facilities, TV, bed, toilet and shower area. If anyone wants to use the better cooking facilities in the welfare cabins they just take turns and clean it down afterwards.”

“We’re very lucky that there’s a small town down there and we’re able to carry on almost as normal.”

For asbestos removal, think about how the team will construct the enclosure. Is it possible to do the work and obey physical distancing? Again, the nature and size of the site will be a key factor here. When creating the plan of work, review the risk hierarchy and consider whether you need to increase some controls because the site limits what you can do in other areas.

“The only thing that could create challenges for us is when the asbestos team is building or working in enclosures,” says Johnathon Teague, project coordinator at Armac Group. “We can’t keep the two-metre distance rule then, but obviously the team is all kitted up in full respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when they’re doing that, and following strict decontamination procedures afterwards, so it hasn’t been an issue.”


As with any construction job, safely managing the risks from coronavirus will be down to effective risk assessment, and devising a method of work that implements the necessary controls. While many of these are likely to be physical, technological solutions have the potential to help.

One target area is in helping improve compliance with the physical distancing guidelines. At least two companies are offering wristbands that notify wearers if they get within two metres of each other, and which keep a log of such ‘near misses’ that can be used for contact tracing if a worker subsequently tests positive. While we haven’t had hands-on experience with these, we know of at least one Tier-one contractor evaluating them.

This is a key area of concern for directors like Patterson, particularly as more trades return to sites. “Two metres is a massive gap to stay apart, and it’s also difficult for the guys to remember that gap. You know: ‘pass me that tool, give me this.’”

Proximity sensing technology might also help monitor the safe handoff of shared resources such as tools, but those in the industry have concerns. Patterson says: “If I have to share your tool will I have to wipe it down, set it in neutral ground, walk away, you walk, pick it up, use it? That’s not working. That’s just not practical.”

Management and supervision

There’s another, more fundamental way in which technology can help. If the best protection for workers is to keep them away from the site, anything that helps do so can lower the chance of the virus’ spread accelerating again. While there’s no substitute for boots on the ground when it comes to actually doing work, the right technology can minimise the risks that managers and supervisors face, and the chances that they spread the virus to or from their colleagues.

“We’ve had to reduce the site manager visiting the site,” explains Johnathon Teague. “We’re doing a lot more video calls with the site teams to make sure everything’s going as it needs to be. The technology has been useful to help us carry on.”

In addition to tools like video calling, Assure360 Paperless is specifically designed to reduce the amount of time managers spend on site visits, and that supervisors spend in the site office. For Graham Patterson, the benefits of Assure360 have been profound. “The system itself has streamlined the company massively, but it’s helped greatly under the lockdown.”

“We’re completely paperless. It’s saved so many issues. Now we take the guys’ photographs from more than two metres away to show attendance and that they’re clean-shaven. We don’t need them to sign anything. The iPad’s in a safety case, so it gets wiped down, passed around, and the guys can acknowledge the method statement. The supervisor’s doing all his checks and enclosure inspections on Assure360, so again it’s all done at the click of a button and we don’t need to print anything off.”

About Paperless

We created Paperless as a productivity tool for the supervisor, essentially replacing legacy paper-based safety checks with an app. It reduces the time supervisors spend on paperwork by up to a couple of hours a day, allowing them to focus on supervising the job. Liberated from the office, a full-time supervisor is more likely to bring in your project safely and ahead of time.

In the days of the coronavirus, using an easily sanitised tablet also frees supervisors from a huge site folder, and the potentially contaminated office. Paperless automatically syncs with Assure360’s cloud dashboard, so every scrap of site data is instantly visible from the contract manager’s laptop. With a clear view of critical safety and performance data including stop points, smoke tests and passed and failed visuals, managers can accurately assess progress without having to regularly visit the site.

With data already synced as it’s collected, there’s no requirement for box files of site paperwork to be reviewed and archived by the office team at the end of each job. It’s all done automatically, along with the processing of exposure records. We designed this to be a massive time saver, but in the context of coronavirus, it also reduces the need for staff to come into the office, or face exposure to potentially contaminated files.

“We have no paperwork come back from site now,” Teague continues. “Everything is done electronically, which helps us monitor things on an ongoing basis. Most of our work is large scale – months at a time – and Assure360 Paperless helps us manage everything as it’s happening, rather than waiting until the job’s finished and going through a couple of hundred pages of paperwork.”

These remain uncertain times, and as construction goes back to work the protections we need will pose new challenges and hurdles. But we work in an industry built on risk assessment and its mitigation through appropriate controls. In a time when even everyday activities now carry significant risk, we’re among the best equipped to cope.

Now more than ever it’s imperative to cut paperwork and supervision overheads, while simultaneously ensuring greater compliance. Discover how Assure360 Paperless is built from the ground up to maximise efficiency and safety on site.

Call for your free demo today!


Assure360 Paperless – improved, easier, and now on Android

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 8th 2020

Since its launch, the Assure360 Paperless app has been helping the asbestos removal industry streamline the way it works. Our digital support tool removes the burden of paperwork for site supervisors, allowing them to quickly record safety-critical checks, and apply more focus to the work of actually supervising. Already established as the tool of choice for leading LARCs, we’ve been working behind the scenes to make Paperless even better.

I’m delighted to announce the release of a major update to the app. For the new version, we’ve further improved the workflow and usability. We’ve made everything more intuitive, saving even more time for the supervisor. It’s a great update, but I wanted to pick out some of the real highlights.

Now on Android!

Perhaps the biggest news is that Paperless is now available on Android. All of our apps are still available on iOS, but by adding Android support to Paperless, we’ve made the app accessible to companies who already run Android devices on site. We’ve also lowered the cost barriers for those looking to adopt Paperless as their on-site solution – it’s substantially cheaper to buy Android tablets than iPads.

One other great benefit of supporting Android is that it opens up a far wider range of devices, including rugged tablets – sadly something missing from the iPad line up. Even in a rugged case, it’s easy to break a standard iPad in a rough site environment, so deploying a rugged device may save money and prevent downtime. And while iPads aren’t waterproof, you can get IP65-rated Android tablets – it’s a lot easier to decontaminate a device that’s dust proof and resistant to running water!

Download Assure360 Paperless for your Android device!

“I’m not the most computer-literate person in the world but I found it fairly simple to learn and do. I think it’s made my job easier in respect of the paperwork and it’s. I believe it’s quicker, too.”

Mark McGonagle, Major Works Supervisor at Asbestech

Expanded and improved site diary

This version of Paperless is about more than simply adding Android support. Centre-stage among the improvements for all users is the redesigned Site Diary. In the new app, supervisors no longer have to type entries into a text box. Now, they simply choose the right category of event from the diary menu, add photo evidence if needed, and provide any necessary extra details.

This further streamlines the recordkeeping of routine daily events. For example:

All on site – just take a photo of the team. No typing necessary
DCU set up – take a photo. No typing necessary
Compound set up – take a photo. No typing necessary
Isolation certificate – take a photo. No typing necessary

Site Diary now becomes the hub of the whole Paperless system, informing the office of what they need to know, every step of the way.

We’ve made multiple other improvements to the way the app looks and behaves. Now, smoke tests and handover certification are handled fully within Paperless. The history of a job is also laid out more clearly, making it more straightforward to review – whether that’s by the supervisor, an external auditor, or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). There’s also a new comments box for visitors, allowing any observations from the HSE or auditors to be recorded and shared immediately.

Download Assure360 Paperless for your iPad!

We’re proud to have made our industry-leading solution even more of a timesaver, and even easier to use. We’re also excited to open up the power of Paperless to companies working with an Android user base. Use the links above to download the new app for yourself or, if you’re not yet a Paperless customer, why not drop us a line to book a free demonstration?

Talking Asbestos – Nick appears on the Asbestos Knowledge Empire podcast

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday March 10th 2020

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

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

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

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

Sign up to our regular free webinars led by our team of experts

Written by Nick Garland on Saturday July 27th 2019

We run regular free webinars that help leaders in the asbestos sector stay up-to-date on all our latest tools made available through Assure360 system. Created by the teams that helped develop these products and best practices, our webinars provide details on the best ways to use our suite of apps and platform.

Join our next upcoming Webinar on the Paperless App on 27 November 2019

We also know not everyone in our industry considers themselves technical. So if you’re wondering what a webinar is – let alone how the app works – don’t worry, check out our one-minute explainer video to give you an idea of what is involved.

In November our webinar topic is our new Paperless app, which provides a solution the entire asbestos removal industry has been waiting for. Phase one of our our digital support tool for site supervisors, records safety critical checks including:

  • Site registers
  • Inductions
  • Exposure
  • RPE checks
  • Timesheets
  • Site diaries
  • Visitor information

Sign up of our webinar on 27 November 2019 and find out why more and more supervisors and managers in the asbestos removal sector are using it.

Nick Garland, our founder, 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 November webinar, simply sign up and we’ll send you more information.

Book your free place on the Assure360 Paperless Webinar on 27 November 2019. 

Our webinars take place on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 1pm and 3pm unless otherwise stated.
Please use the link above to book.

The new asbestos licence regime – and how Assure360 can help

Written by Nick Garland on Monday June 24th 2019

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. I’ve already written about what’s changing, but I want to expand more on how Assure360 is better placed than ever to help customers through the whole licence application process.

The new electronic system of asbestos licence assessments is well into its trial, with multiple organisations already having experienced it. The whole process is radically different for applicants, with much more emphasis being placed on a review of the application and its supporting evidence than on the meeting itself.

When I first heard of the change I was very sceptical – and I know some HSE inspectors have had their doubts. There are obvious advantages to testing the mettle of a potential licensee whilst the asbestos licensing principle inspector (ALPI) looks them in the eye. But there have long been concerns over consistency in the current system, with some areas reputed to be much more rigorous than others. In the new regime, assessments are triaged by a central team, which should help in this regard.

The focus is now on providing evidence to support a licence application and, as at least one HSE inspector has observed, Assure360’s entire premise is to provide information to support sensible decisions. Its power is made even clearer with the new regime. The ability of Assure360 to support the bid – whether at the basic Silver or the fuller Gold and Platinum levels – is clear.

So what can you expect from the new application form? Here’s a brief overview of each section, with an explanation of how Assure360 can help both with your approach, and with providing the evidence that the HSE expects to see. It’s worth noting that the form comes with dire warnings to anyone tempted to use a consultant to complete it: there are grave consequences, potentially including licence revocation.

Dissecting the application form

The first few sections of the application form are fairly broad, asking for details on who will be in the meeting and other key individuals who aren’t going to be present. It also asks what sources of information, legislation and literature you rely on. There are no ‘correct’ answers for any of these – they establish who the controlling minds are in your business, and how you stay abreast of changes and improvements in the industry.

So what helps here? Being a member of a trade organisation helps demonstrate a commitment to higher standards, while attending regional meetings can be an excellent opportunity to share experiences with like-minded professionals. I give out updates via my monthly newsletter (if you haven’t signed up – add your email at the bottom of this page). I also publish safety alerts.

By section four, the application form really starts to test your competence as an organisation by looking at plans of work. The HSE specifically asks for two different examples, and states that they should relate to jobs that you do.

What the form doesn’t say explicitly is that despite it being only two, they should cover all of the different types of job that you do. For example, if you have completed 100 asbestos insulating board (AIB) jobs and one pipe insulation removal, don’t submit two AIB jobs. What you do if your work extends beyond two types of job isn’t entirely clear.

Assure360 comes into its own

After Section four, Assure360 becomes invaluable in your efforts to demonstrate and evidence your competence as a licensed contractor. Without it you’ll be scrabbling around for paper evidence, but with it, everything is at your fingertips. It’s up to you how you submit evidence, either printing it off or giving the HSE a read-only link to the correct page of the system. There is even a page dedicated to the licence application, in which we’ve mapped out the correct reports against each section in the application form.

Sections five and six

These sections are all about site and equipment checks. Ordinarily you’d provide the site files – coffee stains, spelling mistakes and all, and you’d need to scan every page and save them as PDFs. A potential pitfall is the size limit on emails you can send to the HSE. The form states a maximum 25MB, but the real limit seems to vary – with some people reporting less than 12MB.

However, with Assure360 Paperless all of the plant, equipment and site checks are at your fingertips, and you can show them to the HSE. A few clicks will allow inspectors to see absolutely all the relevant checks completed on a site. The feature isn’t just restricted to plant and equipment – it covers enclosure checks and smoke tests too. All certificates completed in the Paperless app are uploaded directly to the project file and are time and date stamped. The App even helps with spelling.

Section seven

Section seven deals with respiratory protective equipment (RPE), personal protective equipment (PPE) and air monitoring. Understanding and recording this has always been a problem for the industry, but it was one of the first things that Assure360 cracked.

Within two minutes, Assure360 users can provide detailed evidence of:

  • Exposure to all their operatives
  • Evidence of investigations into elevated personal monitoring tests
  • Number and coverage of personals
  • How they use their personal monitoring data
  • Personal monitoring strategy
  • Underlying root cause analysis and their improvement strategy

Just imagine trying to explain all of that with only an Excel spreadsheet!

Section eight

This section covers health records and medicals. It’s an area that we don’t yet cover, but Assure360 is developing all of the time. Coming soon there will be a full personnel management system, which will be free to all subscribers.

Sections nine and ten

These sections cover leadership and management – often difficult concepts to get your head around, never mind explain in writing. Again, Assure360 is there to provide evidence to backup your words. At the touch of a button you can display exactly what you are observing on site. You can show all of the non-conformances from all of your audits, including what you did to rectify on site and, critically, what you did to ensure they wouldn’t happen again.

With Assure360’s unique benchmark tool you can also spot what the entire army of Assure360 auditors are encountering, across the country. Being forewarned of developing problems allows you to plan to avoid issues and mitigate risk. This constitutes evidence of a proactive approach to health and safety management, and demonstrates your ability to look beyond just your company. Remember that this links in with one of the questions in the form’s early sections, on how you get your health and safety information.

Using Assure360 you can illustrate how many times your contract managers, senior management and even directors attend site. It’s seconds’ work to present the data in a colourful chart showing how many audits the entire team are doing, and providing direct evidence of senior management’s attendance on site and involvement in health and safety.

The final benefit is that you can remap all of the above information to reflect training needs for the individuals across your business. More on that in the next section.

Section 11

Section 11 is all about training and competence. Assure360 is built around effective auditing, and the first thing we made the data do was drive competence. Providing evidence for all your assessments and training needs analysis is extremely straightforward. Within minutes you can present:

  • A top level view of the competence of all your operatives – including agency workers
  • A detailed view of individuals – whether they’re contract managers, supervisors, operatives or agency staff
  • Actions and training needs raised against individuals in the team – exactly what you found on site and what you did to close it out

With Assure360 you can present a competence scheme that encompasses everyone in the organisation – not just supervisors and operatives. It is so comprehensive that it exceeds the HSE’s expectations.

Section 12

The final section focuses on reviewing and measuring performance. As I said, auditing is the emotional home of Assure360. Auditing with the system saves about two hours compared to the traditional paper and Excel route. Add to this the fact that the database automatically interprets and re-interprets all of the observations and it’s the health and safety manager’s dream.

When it comes to the new licence assessment system, this section represents exactly what Assure360 was designed for:
Trend analysis – company as a whole, individuals, specific competencies and non conformances
Setting health and safety targets – you can move beyond the standard ‘no RIDDOR’ and ‘no enforcement action’ to set imaginative targets and evidence trends in performance at the individual level
What’s your strategy and are you hitting it? – evidence your success through simple one-click reports

This section also covers personal monitoring, through direct assessment of the method. Assure360’s personal monitoring module can be harnessed to show how you assess every aspect of each project. Users can generate reports to show only the personals that exceeded what was expected, along with links to reveal what was done about it, the assessed root cause, and any supporting evidence.


The HSE is still testing its new licence regime, with current developments officially regarded as a pilot scheme. Doubtless the system will be revised and refined before going ‘final’, but for LARCs renewing their licence it already requires a new approach.

For companies struggling with old, paper-based systems, the licencing regime’s increased focus on excellent record keeping, analysis and management competence is a challenge. However, Assure360 customers not only have the best tool for managing all aspects of asbestos removal, but the best tool for documenting, analysing and demonstrating their competence at doing so.

Beyond Grenfell – Welcoming the Hackitt review

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday July 18th 2018

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

Aiming for a three year HSE asbestos licence? We can help

Written by Nick Garland on Friday April 13th 2018

The HSE’s assessment process for asbestos licences is rigorous – rightly so. Find out why so many of our clients at Assure360 are being granted three year licences, and how we could help you to get yours.

Why is the HSE’s asbestos licence assessment so challenging?

Becoming a licensed asbestos contractor (a LARC) is no easy thing. The HSE’s assessment is rigorous. They grant licenses for up to three years, but only a third of LARCs have this kind of licence – most have licences granted for periods of two years or less.

The last statistics widely shared by the HSE show the split for asbestos licences to be:

  • 34% 3 year licence
  • 24% 2 year licence
  • 42% < 2 year licence

Licensed asbestos contractors (LARCs) produce method statements and documentation far more detailed and considered than their construction counterparts. They spend vast sums on training staff, and ensure levels of supervision beyond what other industries would even consider. Exposure monitoring has been a challenge, but the tests are done in line with guidance and by skilled analysts.

But when asked in the assessment:

  • ‘How do you manage H&S?’ or
  • ‘show me what you do to measure competence’ or
  • ‘how many personals air tests have you done this year?’

too often the answer is a jumble of files, hard-to-decipher Excel spreadsheets, and in the worst case scenarios un-actioned paper audits. All these solutions are labour intensive – and as such tend to slip when workloads increase.

So why is assessment so challenging? Well, it’s meant to be. Asbestos is the most regulated industry after nuclear and as a ‘permissioning regime’, only the best companies should be given the stamp of approval.

Help with demonstrating H&S management, competence and action plans

With Assure360 Audit – our easy-to-use solution – all of these key tasks are made easy, and streamlined. With this treasure trove of time handed back to the team, they can focus on managing the projects. And better managed projects are more likely to be completed safely and on program. Simple.

Let’s look at the data on licences again, and this time compare all licence terms with the terms given to Assure360’s clients.

Asbestos HSE 3 year licences total vs Assure360 clients

While we’re certainly not claiming all the credit for our clients’ high standards and competence – a great deal of expertise, hard work and dedication is needed from the entire team to perform to these high standards. But we feel there’s a relationship between the high proportion of three year licences amongst our clients and their ability to demonstrate competence and effective H&S management. We’re helping them to ensure that their efforts are directed at the right areas, and come licence renewal – they are able to demonstrate this fundamental understanding to the HSE.

What do the HSE and our clients say?

There are other systems out there that help manage commercial aspects of projects from cradle to grave, but Assure360 is the only one designed specifically for the rigors of the asbestos licensing regime. Its effectiveness is born out by the figures and feedback from our clients and the HSE.

“The system the company has for assessing competence, conducting appraisals and supporting staff development is impressive and far better than seen elsewhere in the industry” HSE – LAR’s Licence Assessment

“We went from a new one-year licence to the full three years. Assure360 was invaluable in helping us demonstrate what we do best.” Peter Soltau SAS’ Licence Assessment

“What is particularly impressive about the system is the fact that it doesn’t just collect numbers. It presents information that allows you to make sensible decisions about the business” HSE at an Assure360 user’s recent Licence Assessment

Find out more about what our client’s think about Assure360 in these case studies.

FAAM – the new home for asbestos professionals

Written by Nick Garland on Friday February 2nd 2018

Asbestos: Britain’s biggest occupational health problem

Britain was the first country in the world to have an industrial revolution, and we were the first to start importing asbestos. We have imported the most asbestos of any country in the world. In fact in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s we imported 40% of the world’s capacity to produce amosite / grunerite.

We have so much asbestos that we can’t remove it all – we have to manage it.

These startling facts were shared by Martin Gibson (HSE) speaking at the European Asbestos Forum in September. They perfectly crystallise the unique situation that the UK finds itself in. The reality that we can’t remove our asbestos – only manage it – is also the foundation of all of our legislation. In essence: assess the risk and design solutions to keep people safe.

Asbestos professionals need unique skills

This takes a special kind of professional – one who is expert in the regulations, but who can see beyond the guidance to the purpose. They need to be able to design practical solutions rather than gold-plate and over specify.

How do you know you’re working with someone with these professional skills? Who can you trust? Asbestos is the biggest occupational health problem the UK has ever seen, yet anyone can claim to be a consultant or expert.

“We are a highly qualified asbestos consultancy firm”

“We are specialist consultants to survey and test any asbestos”

“Leading accredited asbestos management consultancy”

These are all genuine marketing lines promoting the skills and qualities of asbestos consultancies. Do they mean anything? How do we know, what confidence do we have?

The two existing professional asbestos management bodies have never been quite right. IOSH is focused on Health and Safety and BOHS has the whole breadth of Occupational Hygiene to consider. Being chartered in either does not speak to your asbestoscompetence, but there hasn’t been any real alternative

Until now.

Introducing the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM)

Finally, there is a home for the asbestos professional. BOHS, with it’s shiny new royal charter has created a new faculty – Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM). The launch event was back in October last year and the first few full members – myself included – were accepted into the faculty over Christmas.

Now for the first time we have a home. One that insists on the maintenance of professional standards and where failure to maintain those standards will have consequences.

FAAM’s stated principles are:

  • Pursue excellence for all those who practise in the asbestos assessment and management profession
  • Establish, develop and maintain standards of competence in asbestos assessment and management practice for those who are members of FAAM
  • Act as the guardian of professional standards and ethics in the profession of asbestos assessment and management

FAAM will support members with

  • Professional membership grades, depending on qualifications and experience
  • Continual professional development
  • A strict code of ethics
  • Promotion of asbestos expertise as a profession
  • Guidance, advice and positions on common issues and problems – promoting good practice
  • Enable individuals to keep up-to-date with asbestos developments
  • Providing a home for professionals to share and discuss views

To be clear – FAAM will not be claiming that non members are incompetent, only that those who are members, have demonstrated competency, maintain that level and operate to an ethical code.

Membership levels

The levels of membership and the qualifications you need are:


• Level 4 – (one of P401 to P404), S301, W504, RSPH L4, or • Level 3 – RSPH Level 3 (plus written bridging exam) – OR…


• P405 or P407, or

Three from P401, P402, P403, P404, S301 or W504


Certificate of Competence (Asbestos)


• CV, professional experience portfolio (or PEP) and personal interview


… to follow … significant contribution to the profession

Whilst BOHS as a whole has a royal charter the new faculty does not – but there is the tantalising possibility that it might in the future.

The whole concept has excited me since it was first mooted – but I must say getting my acceptance documents through was a thrill and for the very first time there are letters I will be proudly using after my name – MFAAM. I urge all like minded professionals to apply.

Find out more about applying to become a member of FAAM

Book a demo of Assure360 and win an iPad worth £500

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday September 12th 2017

You’ve heard about the benefits of using Assure360. You’ve heard what our customers have to say about Assure360. Now it’s time to find out for yourself by booking a demonstration.

We’re offering you the chance to demo the newly updated Assure360 app and win an iPad worth £500.

Assure360 brings asbestos and safety management innovation into the 21st century. It’s a complete safety management solution. Our customers tell us regularly that using Assure360 has revolutionised health and safety management and asbestos auditing in their organisations.

The MD of LAR, Bob Clarke, says: “Whilst initially skeptical of all such systems, now that we have been using Assure360 for a while I am totally converted. It is an incredible asset to my organisation.”

Book a demo of Assure360

Would you like the opportunity to understand how Assure360 could do for you what it’s done for organisations such as Royal Mail Group, Breyer Group, LAR and Delta Services?

We’d be delighted to offer you a free demonstration of the platform. To book your demo just use the form on this page to contact us. If you’re coming to Expo2017, we’d happily host a demo at our stand C3150 – just let us know on the form. Or if there’s a better time for you, let us know via the form and a member of our team will be in touch to arrange a mutually convenient time for us to walk you through how Assure360 works.

Already a valued customer? You could still win – just book a demo for a colleague or professional contact and you’ll be entered into the draw as well as them.

* indicates required field

Win an iPad worth £500

As a thank you, everyone who has received a demo of Assure360 by 30 November 2017 will be entered into a prize draw to win an iPad 32GB Wi-Fi +Cellular. So why not get ahead with your planning for 2018 and book your demo today?

Once you try it, you may find that, like Andrew Le Marie, Group Head of Health, Safety and Environment at Breyer Group, you “couldn’t ask for any more.”

Terms and conditions

The competition closes on 30 November 2017 and the draw will be made on 4 December 2017. Entry is free and no purchase is necessary. Automated entries will not be accepted. There is one prize in total. The prize consists of an iPad Wi-FI + Cellular 32GB. The prize is as described and there is no cash alternative. The winner must have a UK mainland address to be eligible to receive the prize. Assure360 reserves the right to to disqualify entrants from outside of the UK mainland. Shipping costs are included to mainland UK addresses only. No other expenses, including travel, are included as part of the prize. The draw will be independently witnessed and the first name drawn at random after the closing date will receive the prize as detailed above. If the winner cannot be reached, Assure360 reserves the right to award the prize to a reserve winner drawn at random. For winner’s details, please email within eight weeks of the draw date. The competition is not open to employees of Assure360, their families, agents or anyone professionally connected with the prize draw. To qualify for the draw, you need to have completed a demonstration of the Assure360 product by midnight on Thursday 30 November 2017. The winner will be notified by email or phone after the closing date. By entering this competition you are giving Assure360 permission to contact you at a future date. Entrants must be 18 years of age or over. Assure360 reserves the right to cancel the competition at any stage if deemed necessary. Entry into this prize draw is taken as acceptance of these terms and conditions.

Audit insights May 2017: top 10 site non conformance issues

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday August 1st 2017

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

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

What’s in the May 2017 data?

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

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

The 10 most common non conformance issues

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

The 10 most common non conformance issues in May 2017

The top 10 list looks like this:

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

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

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

The most common issues for supervisors

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

The most common issues for supervisors in May 2017

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

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

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

Root and branch

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

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

How could Assure360 help you?

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

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

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

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday May 24th 2017

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

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

What kind of data does Assure360 collect?

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

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

The 10 most common non conformance issues for Jan 2017

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

The top 10 list looks like this:

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

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

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

The most common issues for supervisors

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

The top 10 for supervisors looks like this:

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

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

The most common issues for contracts managers

Similarly, contracts managers can focus on their challenges:

The top 10 issues for contracts managers are:

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

How could Assure360 help you?

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

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

Revolution in asbestos waste?

Written by Nick Garland on Monday December 1st 2014

Asbestos waste management

Is how we deal with asbestos waste about to change for ever? For decades the answer in the UK has been to transport it to licensed tips and bury it. Clearly this can not be a long term solution as the available space by definition is limited.

In addition there is a significant increased legal imperative to finding an alternative. EU Directive 99/31, introduced 3 classifications for landfill (hazardous, non-hazardous and inert). Asbestos waste is now only permitted to be disposed to hazardous waste sites or non-hazardous sites where separate engineered cells have been constructed exclusively for this use. Therefore ground contaminated with asbestos to very low levels, might not qualify as Hazardous Waste, but it wouldn’t be inert either.

Some EU countries have gone further and introduced legislation which paves the way for landfilling of asbestos to be banned. I’m not aware of any dates having been set, but a future ban on asbestos landfill presents a significant risk.

The future of asbestos waste management

A commercially viable technological answer has therefore long been sought. Vulcanisation, the heating of the asbestos fibre to the point where it effectively melts seems like the ultimate solution. However, as asbestos is known for its excellent insulation properties, the process can take up to two hours even at temperatures as high as 1200oC. Commercially viable and reasonably practicable do not seem to apply.

An alternate method called thermochemical conversion technology (TCCT) has been available in the US for some years. This is essentially where a chemical flux is added to the high temperature, massively increases the efficiency of the heating process. The required temperature remains the same, but the heat transfer is so efficient, treatment of the asbestos is complete in approximately 20 minutes. The end result – non-hazardous and inert waste – or put another way, a material that is totally safe to re-use as a low grade aggregate.

ARI technologies, who own the patent, have been successfully using the process for thousands of tonnes of asbestos waste in the US since 2004. Now Windsor Waste has bought the global intellectual property and is bringing it to our shores.

With the requirement to reduce waste wherever possible, commercially viable and reasonably practicable solutions are required.

The cost of treatment appears to be approximately £100 per tonne and therefore in line with the standard cost of disposal. It also offers a solution to low level asbestos contamination in existing contaminated land projects – which would ordinarily rapidly fill the designated asbestos cells in non-hazardous sites. And it provides a tantalising way to reclaim the old asbestos landfill sites.

So the answer to asbestos waste?

Find out how we can help you with asbestos waste management – call us on 0845 226 4318

Asbestos exposure monitoring

Written by Nick Garland on Monday September 15th 2014

My experience is that personal monitoring is a much underused tool in the box, often given lip service, ignored completely or done in a huge rush in the 6 months before license renewal. When it is not overlooked it is rarely used in a way that is of much practical use. Certainly the asbestos management databases that I have seen out there don’t seem to handle the data in any meaningful way.

Why is asbestos monitoring important?

Exposure monitoring should not be seen as another regulatory requirement that must be complied with, rather an excellent way of auditing removal techniques and therefore designing better ones.

Other than ‘Error’ (test results representing something other than what was stated). Measured exposure significantly above or below that anticipated indicates one of the following:

  1. Something went wrong on site and the method was not followed
  2. The selected method was followed, but it was inappropriate for the real task at hand
  3. The anticipated levels are artificially high or low due to poor understanding of the process
  4. Excellent innovation by the Contracts Manager in designing the method
  5. Excellent innovation by the site team

All of these events should be investigated – 1 & 2 as something went wrong, 4 & 5 because there is good practice to pass on. In fact 1 & 2 should be treated as an accident/incident and investigated. Measured exposure at the anticipated could be viewed as a near-miss.

A well constructed Excel sheet can process this data adequately, but a database would make the extraction and investigation a smooth joined up process.

Obstacles to the process that I have come across are – actually doing the personal monitoring with regularity and enough spread to cover all activities, the site team (‘we’d get in trouble if we gave them a high reading’) and the analyst themselves (too high limits of detection and vague/non-existent description of the activity tested). The last two can be solved by education.

Properly collected and collated data could then inform better research (at company or industry level) in areas that might make a big difference to the lads in the enclosure.

Three key services we can provide for you here at Assure Risk Management

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday July 17th 2014

Here at Assure Risk Management, we pride ourselves on being able to provide you with a number of differing services, all of which encompass health and safety, or the dangers of asbestos.  We offer professional Health and Safety advice to the asbestos and construction industry.

We specialise in audit and competence schemes, outsourced health and safety management, legal expert witness services and asbestos consultancy and training.

Our risk analysis based approach to providing audits combined with the wealth of experience we have gathered over the years allows us to bring a unique holistic edge to our health and safety management schemes.

Having been in this industry for over 20 years, we are also extremely proud of the reputation we have gained from continually satisfying our customers and clients, whilst always hitting high standards with the quality of our work.  This ensures you can be assured of not only expertise but a sound practical approach.

We do offer some services that may come in useful for you in your workplace setting, which we will inform you of here.

Asbestos Removal Competence Scheme

With changes to the licensed asbestos training environment, the asbestos industry will have to understand its workforce in much more detail.  Our Health and Safety Management system gives you the correct understanding of the Asbestos Removal Competence Scheme.

A powerful online database, married with our Audit Scheme, allows the most comprehensive analysis of the asbestos removal process available.  Uniquely, the system allows you direct access to the data and all of the reports.

We also have an iPad application that allows you to compete internal audits independently, which means you don’t need to rely on any external consultants.  However, it does allow you to use third party auditors to expand your coverage.  This synchronisation of both internal and external audits allows for a larger data set, and therefore more accurate data analysis.

Licensed Asbestos Removal Support

Our ability to provide both generalist health and safety expertise and detailed forensic understanding of the asbestos hazard gives all of our clients the assurance they need.

We provide specialised expert advice in support of licensed contractors either applying for their first HSE licence or at the time of renewal.

We can also provide the following services – amongst others – to many licensed asbestos removal clients, aiding them to build a streamlined, well managed company:

  • Internal and external audit schemes
  • Method statement consultancy for complex, multi-hazard projects
  • Practical solutions to health and safety challenges

And these three are just examples of what we can do, there are other areas we get involved in.

Asbestos Awareness Training

Here at Assure Risk Management we understand that training is not just presenting facts to a group of delegates; asbestos awareness training is about saving not only the lives of the staff you are responsible for but also safeguarding their families.  It also ensures work stoppages are kept to a bare minimum allowing you to meet your deadlines

Our training is tailored to each client, offering operative and management focused courses to ensure you have asbestos competence.  We also provide duty to manage bolt-ons for managers with a responsibility for buildings.

Our final bespoke training service is the provision of high quality e-learning packages for larger clients.  These interactive presenter led courses incorporate broadcast quality filming and innovative techniques to deliver the most effective e-learning experience.

If you have any questions or would like to find out more about how we can help you, call us on 0845 226 4318 or email us