Assure 360

The HSE calls out training malpractice

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday April 18th 2024

Last month, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) unleashed absolute chaos. For those that don’t know what happened, I’ll summarise…

 The HSE has become concerned about the quality of some training – and very concerned about the effectiveness of some RPE (respiratory protective equipment) face-fit testing (FFT). The regulator suspects even that in some cases, training and FFTs were not actually being done – just the certificate issued. Due to the criticality of a good FFT, it instructed the Asbestos Network members to share this concern with the world.

Where this got highly controversial is that the HSE issued a statement naming two training organisations of which it was particularly suspicious. And even worse, the first of these two was misnamed: the organisation’s acronym didn’t match its full name, which in turn was completely wrong – and a totally different organisation. No evidence was provided, so there was little for the relevant accrediting bodies to investigate.

 From the outside, it didn’t seem like the appropriate way for the HSE to raise or deal with its concerns. But a colleague of mine more involved summed it up more directly: ‘It’s a proper screw-up’.

 But as the dust settles, it’s important not to lose sight of the core concern here. For a very long time there have been rumours that training, FFT, mask maintenance certificates and even medicals can be and routinely are ‘forged’. I’ve personally not seen any hard evidence to this effect, but I’ve heard the suspicions of supervisors: “he’s never been trained in his life”, and “remote training sessions are too easy to pass – so what value is there in them?”.

The other week I came across a medical certificate for an operative who had been working on site all week in the south of England, but who had somehow managed to pop up to the North-East for his medical without missing a shift. Was this evidence of fraud? Actually no, as with some digging it turned out that the occupational health centre was providing medicals over the phone. This approach was brought in as an emergency measure in COVID and was withdrawn years ago. Not fraud, but certainly shocking.

 Despite the naming issue, the HSE has not withdrawn its statement, so certificates from the two named organisations (and presumably the misnamed one too) should continue to face additional scrutiny. What this translates to is that a licensed asbestos removal contractor (LARC) must conduct extra competence assessments on employees with these certificates. The press release didn’t offer suggestions on how we should approach the FFT, but I understand that the labour supply agencies themselves are ensuring all staff under their wings are being re-tested.

Elephants in the room 

This event should serve as a catalyst for the industry to reexamine testing more thoroughly, and ensure it’s delivering the high standards of protection that asbestos removal demands. For even when training is actually done – and done to a high standard – it’s fair to ask whether a three-day, new operative course should be enough to allow someone to work under challenging conditions with a carcinogen. In fact I think you’d struggle to find anyone to enthusiastically support this idea.

For those that can remember, labour supply agencies used to be licence holders, and were effectively employers for a stable of workers. Maintaining a licence is not an easy thing – it takes care, attention to detail and commitment. A good agency would be seen as a partner for a LARC and, if they could provide reliable staff that were competent, they would be able to command loyalty from their customers. Their licence would be precious, and they would have an incentive to train, assess and generally look after good staff.

This all changed in 2013, when they were removed from the licensing regime, and anyone could start up a labour supply agency without any checks and balances. The HSE’s argument was that they didn’t care where a LARC got its staff, providing the LARC ensured their competence. No thought was put into how the LARC might do this, particularly for workers who might only be with them for a couple of days. This has led to a lot more labour supply agencies, but the same pool of short-term workers (STW), who are self-employed people in their own right. 

There are good, dedicated agencies out there that endeavour to provide top quality staff, but there are also some that are very, very poor. The pay rates for all site staff are historically low, and therefore a bump of £5 per day has become enough for a worker to move. When demand outstrips supply, it also becomes a seller’s market. Desperate employers and desperate agencies need bodies on site, and sometimes that’s achieved no matter the competence.

We have created a market where the individual worker is the customer, and loyalty to the LARC or the agency is for mugs.

For the trainers, RPE Face Fit providers, and mask maintainers, the customer is now often the individual STW, and time has become a huge premium for these self-employed people.  Anything that keeps them off-site for a shift can represent a significant loss of income. The incentives are obvious, and help explain the rise of the online refresher course, rather than face-to-face training.

If we think a little on how this incentive could twist the market it is a short leap to questions such as: ‘how quick can the training be?’, ‘do I need a FFT every year?’, ‘this second hand mask looks alright – how do I get a maintenance certificate?’, ‘have you heard that NE doctor is still doing medicals by post?’. It’s the result of the pure free market meeting safety-critical requirements – and we are where we are.

The cliff edge 

Online and remote training became essential during the pandemic, and it seems they’re here to stay. In the right circumstances, they can be exactly what is needed. My understanding of the HSE’s current position on it is that such refresher courses can be suitable for experienced workers, if supported by the employer’s training needs analysis (TNA), i.e. an employer, having thoroughly assessed their worker, deems that they only need a light-touch refresher. This seems eminently logical to me. However, the obvious implication of this is that it is not suitable for self-sponsored, self-employed agency staff, as they don’t have an employer to assess them and perform a TNA.

Things are about to get a lot worse. On many major construction sites, individuals need Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards to demonstrate a basic level of safety training and awareness. These are backed up by NVQs, and these qualifications have lots more checks and balances. Evidence of a candidate’s competence is recorded, and there’s auditing of both the individual assessor and the training provider by the awarding body. They also represent a huge time commitment for both the worker and their employer.

As NVQs were initially a new concept in the asbestos industry, temporary red ‘trained’ cards were made available for workers who had no NVQ and only the traditional three-day training course. Fifty thousand of these non-renewable cards have been issued, and all of them will expire by the end of 2024. The only route for these red card holders to get black or gold cards is to complete an NVQ. That’s quite a commitment even for a full-time employed worker, and seemingly inconceivable for the self-employed.

If I try to look at this impending cliff edge with some optimism, the only thing I can come up with is that, once we’ve fallen off, the few employees available might at least be of a high standard. What it could mean for the already tight labour situation hardly bears thinking about.

How do we fix the problem?

Whilst the HSE’s intervention seems ill thought through, it has forced us to look at the current situation, which is dire. What’s the solution? I’m not sure anyone knows, and certainly I don’t, but something clearly needs to be done.

Graham Warren of the Asbestos and Environmental Safety Association (ASESA) has called for a complete reset of the training environment. In his vision, all of the training organisations (ASESA, ARCA, ACAD, IATP and UKATA) would get together and collaboratively decide what training and competence should look like. This agreed competency framework could then be followed by all. This kind of fundamental action seems to me like an excellent place to start.

It does seem inescapable that remote training will have to be part of the mix – but it is not suitable for everyone. That is one of the many fundamental questions such a collaborative re-assessment has to answer. What does training and competence look like for our sector? What is the right training for a given individual? How do they learn? What will they engage with?

If online refreshers aren’t suitable for the self-sponsored worker, then how do we make the new environment work for this critical pool of staff? Should we consider bringing back licences for labour supply agencies, and so recreate trusted ‘employers’ with skin in the game? Again, I don’t know, but we desperately need to look at the whole problem with honesty.

Wherever there is money, there will be bad actors prepared to cut corners for profit. But the new system should at least be designed so that most of the human nature levers are pushing us in the right direction. It is, after all, a fundamental matter of workers’ safety.

In case you missed it: our personal exposure webinar

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday January 24th 2024

The Asbestos Network (AN)’s new guidance on personal sampling and exposure is very welcome, but it also contains a lot of detail, and requires some significant changes to the way things have traditionally ‘been done’. That’s why we organised our recent webinar, in which I aimed to give attendees a practical guide.

I’m delighted by how well it was received, and I’d like to thank everyone who turned up and took part in such an engaging Q&A session at the end. We were joined by nearly 50 attendees, comprising many old friends, but also some new faces. It was great to also welcome two members of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and representatives from our trade associations.

This guidance covers a very important topic that as an industry we have struggled with. It’s the first official guidance that the AN, and therefore the HSE, has provided to licensed contractors on the subject. Crucially, it contains some major departures from how LARCs traditionally approach personal sampling, which is why we wanted to offer the industry our support.

Our webinar explored practical steps on how to implement the guidance, and demonstrated how Assure360 can be used to achieve full compliance – at the same time as saving hours of work both for supervisors and the admin team. Although, like the guidance, it was focused on the needs of licensed contractors, we hope it was also helpful to analysts and end-clients.

Many of those who joined us later asked if they could have access to a recording, and we’re happy to share it again here. Please feel free to watch, and share it to anyone else who needs support or guidance.

 


 

As always, if you do have any further questions, or you’re keen to know more about how we can help you achieve full compliance, please do get in touch – we’re only too happy to help. If you’d like to go ahead with a free demo, book here.

 

A webinar on the new exposure guidance

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday December 13th 2023

I’ve written several times about the Asbestos Network (AN)’s personal sampling and exposure guidance, which was published in August. Both ARCA and ACAD have spent a good percentage of their recent regionals taking members through the details – of which there are lots.

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. 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.

This is the first official guidance that the AN (and therefore the Health and Safety Executive) has provided to licence contractors on the subject. And there are some major departures from how contractors traditionally approach it.

That’s why we’re hosting a webinar to talk in detail about the changes that the guidance demands. We’ll be exploring practical steps on how to implement them, and demonstrating how you can use Assure360 to achieve full compliance – at the same time as saving hours of work for both your supervisors and admin team.

So whether you’re an Assure360 customer or not, please join us on January 16, 2024. To book your place, please just fill in the details below. We hope to see you there!

 

* indicates required field

 

Something new: FAAM’s first four-stage clearance workshop

Written by Nick Garland on Thursday March 9th 2023

Friday the 24th February was a big day for me, albeit one that probably wasn’t on your radar. For some time I’ve been planning a workshop on the infamous four-stage clearance (4SC), and I was delighted to take the lead on delivering this inaugural event for FAAM.

This wasn’t just another P404 – BOHS’ official training course on 4SCs – but a unique attempt to bridge the gap between two sides of our industry: analysts, and licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs).

The very fact that we all understand what I mean by ‘two sides’ hints at the suspicion and conflict that exists between removalists and analysts. It’s been getting worse over the last 20 years, as the pressure increases on the 4SC – and in particular the visual inspection – as the key check on licensed removal work. Today, the 4SC is the cauldron where the pressures of business come up against the mandatory checks of heavy regulation. Improving the process, and adding to everyone’s understanding, is one of the biggest challenges we have.

With fellow FAAM committee members Louis Slattery of Air Surveys, and Cat Holmes of ION, we tried something new – a practical session to bring together experienced supervisors and analysts so that they could learn from each other. While we didn’t know quite what to expect, we hoped they’d each benefit from the strengths of the other, and also that they’d get an insight into each other’s point of view. The ideal outcome would be better communication and ultimately a stronger team attitude.

We used the fabulous facilities at Airborne Environmental Consultants (AEC) in Manchester, where they have full-scale mock enclosures set up. We focused on the first two key stages of the process.

With the attendees placed into analyst / supervisor pairs, they were thrown in to do the preliminary stage one inspection, where we saw the strengths of the supervisors coming to the fore. And while the supervisors obviously felt in their element, it was also great to hear a different viewpoint from the analysts, and see an instant rapport building between the two. The following debrief was also refreshing, with everyone being open in revealing gaps in their knowledge or things that they might have missed.

After lunch were two realistically mocked up enclosures with a host of issues hidden in each. Now the analysts showed their experience – not particularly with the significant failings, as both members of the team easily found those – but more in their ability to find the small things. We had the pleasure of witnessing analysts’ ‘dark arts’: the carefully angled use of a torch to reveal settled dust, or mirrors to inspect behind and under obstacles. It’s an amazing skill set, so crucial in preventing an unsafe enclosure being handed back.

The final debrief was as good as the first. For me personally there were two significant moments in the end-of-the-day chat. While everyone knew that it is the LARC’s duty to ensure that the enclosure is 100% clean, changes to the handover certificate were also brought up – for the first time the supervisor’s name is being attached to this liability, making them more directly responsible.

For me, the logical conclusion of this personal liability is that it should reposition analysts as the supervisor’s best friend. After all, they’re the final backstop before the supervisor’s enclosure is handed back.

This discussion produced another eye-opener for us all. Although it’s always been the LARC’s responsibility to ensure that an enclosure is free from asbestos when handed back, supervisors have never been given formal training in this as part of their initial or refresher training. This is something I’d personally always assumed was included. And if that incorrect assumption runs all the way up to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it would lead to this critical competence issue being overlooked at licence assessment.

I and the other organisers hope that this will be the first of many workshops, with feedback provided to the FAAM conference, and ultimately that our findings will also inform future analyst and supervisor training. The ideal outcome is that joint training in this key competency becomes a routine reality.

I’d like to extend my special thanks to Kellie Naughton of AEC, Ian Halpin of RSK, Liam Bodger of Emchia, Nick Butters of ABP, Aidie O’Neil of East Coast Insulation, Nicola Ratcliffe of TRAC-Associates, John Malloy of RS Asbestos, Neil Hardy of IATP and Phil Roberts of the HSE, who all very generously gave up their time to make this workshop possible.

The Work and Pensions Committee asbestos report: five key recommendations

Written by Nick Garland on Wednesday May 11th 2022

As you’ll no doubt all be aware, the Work and Pensions Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s approach to asbestos management. In its report, published in April, the committee calls for a raft of changes, including a proposed 40-year deadline for the removal of all asbestos from public buildings.

Predictably, I’ve already seen people commenting that 40 years is far too long, while others say the reverse and wonder how we’ll ever pay for it! But the asbestos management report is a substantial document, and I wanted to look at the changes and recommendations behind the headline. The committee has heard many opposing views from industry experts, campaigning groups, charities, victims groups,  government ministers and the HSE itself, and to its credit has produced a well-balanced set of proposals that deserve greater scrutiny.

The balance of evidence

Like most in our industry, I’ve been following the progress of the inquiry and the evidence presented to it. Everyone has their own opinion, but there were a couple of witness testimonies that I took issue with. In December, Professor Julian Peto of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested caution over the mandatory removal of all asbestos, pointing out research in the 1980s showing that airborne asbestos levels in buildings were higher six months after removal than before.

I’ve no reason to doubt that research, but I have first-hand knowledge of how comparatively poor asbestos-removal techniques were when I started my career in the 1990s. In the 1980s it must have been even worse, as analysts weren’t even doing independent clearances back then. I’d be astonished if the equivalent research, conducted today, didn’t reach a very different conclusion.

In February, HSE chief executive Sarah Albon claimed that the 60% drop in asbestos enforcement notices over the last 10 years was evidence of better compliance. However, when we compare 2012/13 with 2019/20 (the most recent pre-pandemic period for which figures are available):

  • Visits by the HSE dropped by a huge 40%
  • Prohibition and Improvement Notices (combined) dropped by 48%
  • The number of Improvement Notices dropped by 67%
  • Yet the number of Prohibition Notices dropped only by 16%

What this suggests to me is that the HSE targeted the companies it thought would be the worst offenders, and pretty much saw what it expected, giving it a much higher hit rate of Prohibition Notices.

If that’s the case, then the figures rather undermine the suggestion of improved compliance. Instead, they suggest to me that some companies are simply avoiding having their collar felt, and I’m not alone. As Darren Evans of Asbestos Training and Consulting (ATaC) told the committee: “There are lots of people out there taking an informed view that they are unlikely to be visited, and therefore corners are cut.”

Let me stress that I’m not blaming the HSE here. Over the 10 years to 2019/20 the organisation experienced a 46% drop in funding – it did well not to cut visits even further.

Recommendations

Regardless of the details, the committee has managed to distil a mound of evidence and come up with some well considered proposals. The report’s key recommendations are:

  • The HSE should develop research to measure asbestos exposure in non-domestic buildings, and in particular schools and other public buildings. This came with dates – it should have a plan by October 2022, and then provide regular reports on its findings. The committee goes on to clarify that it doesn’t believe there’s a need to increase routine air monitoring, but research into the highest risk scenarios would be very beneficial.
  • There should be a deadline to remove all asbestos from non-domestic buildings within 40 years. The government and HSE should develop a strategic plan to achieve this, starting with the highest risk asbestos and the highest risk settings such as schools.
  • That more research is urgently needed to establish whether the historic view that it is safer to leave asbestos alone and manage it, rather than remove it, remains the case. This is especially urgent because of the likely huge rise in accidental disturbance that the race to Net Zero will bring.
  • There should be increased guidance to dutyholders and trades on their obligations. The committee suggests that lessons could be learned from the use of digital technologies in building management and in the health response to the pandemic. This should be a sustained campaign across a range of media. What works and doesn’t work with regards to getting the message over should be robustly evaluated.
  • A central, digital register of asbestos in non-domestic buildings should be developed, beginning with schools and hospitals.
  • There should be a sustained increase in inspection and enforcement activity by the HSE, targeting compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The HSE should establish from this whether it needs to specify a minimum level of competence for dutyholders.
  • Consolidation and simplification of the approach with regard to Licensed, Non-Licensed and Notified Non-Licensed work should be part of the ongoing 2022 review of the regulations.
  • There should be mandatory accreditation for all surveyors by a recognised accreditation body.
  • The HSE should assess the impact of making it a legal requirement (rather than the current strong recommendation) for building owners or occupiers to employ analysts directly and, by extension, make it illegal for asbestos removal contractors to do so.
  • The HSE should keep a watching brief on Europe’s move towards more stringent asbestos occupational exposure limits. It should carefully consider this in the context of Great Britain and what the costs and benefits of a similar move would be. The committee added a stern warning “It should ensure that the extent of the asbestos legacy in Great Britain is not seen as reason to tolerate poorer health standards.”

As I said, these are all well-balanced proposals. It’s hard to argue against any of them, but I can see a particular subset with the potential to bring the fastest, greatest benefits. Five particular points would have an obvious, immediate impact on safety and good management:

  1. Minimum competence for duty holders
  2. Central digital asbestos register
  3. Mandatory accreditation of surveyors
  4. Research into the real risk of management in situ versus the risks of removal
  5. Increase in enforcement

Just these five, if acted upon, would have the potential to transform our knowledge and our ability to act appropriately. Let me explain further.

Competence of dutyholders

We are long used to the absolute requirement for access to competent health and safety advice – why should it be any different for asbestos? This has always been something I care about, in all my work with clients – the central pillar is to ensure that they end up more capable of asking the right question at the right time. For large organisations, having this requirement might mean having someone on the books who is P405 qualified. For smaller companies it might be having the right health and safety consultant on retainer.

Digital Register

Whatever we are doing, we’re likely to be more diligent and careful if we know our work is going to be checked. We see the evidence of this all the time in asbestos management: there’s a difference between an unannounced audit and one where they knew you were coming, or a visual inspection with the UKAS assessor in attendance. If organisations know that they’ll be uploading their asbestos survey to the HSE, they’ll do it better. Just the very fact that a survey or register could be independently checked at any time will benefit standards hugely.

Accreditation of Surveyors

It’s always been unexplained why asbestos analysts must be accredited, but it’s only advisable for companies conducting a survey. It’s very costly to get and maintain accreditation, so it’s only really accessible to established organisations. But being un-accredited doesn’t necessarily mean bad – smaller firms and individuals may be unwilling or unable to go down that route.

Regardless, we currently have a situation where UKAS accredited companies must compete commercially against non-accredited companies and individual surveyors – that’s not a level playing field.

Interestingly the recommendation in this regard is that accreditation should be compulsory for the individuals conducting surveys, not the firms employing them. This change would immediately level things out: large and small firms along with individual surveyors should be able to demonstrate competence.

I’d expect that surveyors would welcome this professionalisation of the industry, as the employment power would be devolved down to them. The change wouldn’t allow companies to shirk their responsibilities, as it will remain their duty to ensure competence of the workforce.

Research

If the priority is to focus on schools and hospitals, just how big is the problem there? The short answer is that nobody knows, as very little research has been done. What we do know is that some schools have a good deal of asbestos-containing materials in them. We also know that young lungs are much more susceptible to damage from asbestos, and that youngsters are practically (and legally) considered not to be competent. This latter is crucial as ‘competent workforce’ is an important pillar in the current approach to managing in situ.

I’ve discussed the unique problem of asbestos in schools before, and the risks faced by teachers and pupils alike. As with other public buildings, UK policy has been to manage asbestos in place, but what little research this is based on is now well and truly out of date. Before we settle on any change in policy, we need to know for sure that removal is the safer option.

Increased Enforcement

I’ve said it before, but the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act is a beautifully written piece of regulation. If you render it down to a couple of sentences, it essentially says: “The employer must be an expert in their field, must understand the risks, and must eliminate them as much as they can. And if they don’t there will be dire consequences.”

The author was very cleverly identifying that proscriptive legislation would never be able to keep up with the best and safest way to operate across multiple industries in a changing world, but that a regulator would be able to use the power of hindsight to identify if something could have been done better.

And that’s where the HSE comes in. It’s vital that they are out there making checks and serving up enforcements to ensure things are done better. To recall Darren Evan’s point, companies need to know they cannot cut corners, because they will be caught.

 

Will it happen?

I’ve focused on these five very positive recommendations, because together they would improve our knowledge of the problem, make the scale of the issue visible, and leave dutyholders in no doubt that they need to act appropriately. However, they would also represent an increase in costs to business, an increase in health and safety regulation, and an increase in funding for a public body (the HSE).

None of these things have been particularly popular with the UK government for a decade or more. For several years there has been an effective ‘one in one out’ rule for new regulations. Consequently, much of the HSE’s excellent guidance of late has had to be be sneaked out as appendices to Asbestos Network meeting minutes – not exactly the ideal situation.

I would like to end, though, on a point of optimism, from Charles Pickles from the campaign group Airtight on Asbestos. Responding to the report, he told me it was a rejection of the existing line that asbestos was “yesterday’s problem: nothing to see here”.

Instead, he said, it’s a move to acknowledge that “we have a problem with current exposure, and we need a plan to deal with it”. The Work and Pensions Committee has asked the HSE for its plan, and soon. And as Charles put it: “That really is a significant move.”

Five ways to reduce accident risk in your business

Written by Nick Garland on Friday November 9th 2018

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

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

1) Understand your workforce

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

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

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

2) Tailor your training

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

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

3) Learn from your projects

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

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

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

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

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

4)Learn from near misses

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

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

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

Accident Triangle

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

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

5) Cut the paperwork

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

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

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

Nail the fundamentals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Events preview: the best events and conferences for asbestos and safety professionals

Written by Nick Garland on Friday October 5th 2018

Here are some dates for your diary – Nick Garland has put together his list of upcoming events for asbestos and construction safety professionals. We’ll update this page regularly.

Assure360 Paperless Webinar

27 February 2019

Join our February webinar and find out why more and more supervisors and managers in the asbestos removal sector are using our latest Paperless app to streamline on-site paperwork. Created by our expert team, Nick Garland will take you through everything you need to know about the system and demonstrate how it saves teams time and money. If you’d like to register for our February webinar simply sign up and we’ll send you more information.

Sign up here

IOSH No Time to Lose campaign – spotlight on asbestos

18 February 2019

University of Reading, Agriculture Building, Whiteknights Campus

In this free evening event chaired by IOSH vice president Michelle Muxworthy, the IOSH addresses the role and significance of asbestos in workplace cancer.

Find out more

OH2019 Brighton

1-4 April 2019

Hilton Brighton Metropole

Occupational Hygiene 2019 is the leading conference in the field of worker health protection in the UK, focusing on occupational hygiene and the prevention of occupational ill-health and disease. The conference programme combines inspiring and thought-leading plenary sessions with scientific and technical sessions, as well as a range of interactive workshops and case studies. The conference will bring together researchers, practitioners, regulators and other experts from around the world to discuss the very latest in issues that affect health at work.

Find out more

The Health & Safety Event

9-11 April 2019

The NEC, Birmingham

The Health & Safety Event provides the perfect networking and educational opportunity to anyone responsible for running a safe and efficient workplace, anywhere in the UK. The CPD-accredited seminar programme will feature over 130 speakers from across the world of safety, fire and facilities.

Find out more

ACAD Annual Awards Dinner and Golf Day

6 June 2019

Location to be confirmed

Save the date for the annual ACAD golf day and awards dinner.

Expo 2019

11-12 September 2019

The NEC, Birmingham

Registration for the Contamination Expo Series 2019 is now live. Claim your complimentary tickets to the Hazardous Materials Expo with seven events making up the Contamination Expo Series. The Assure360 team will be on stand J7, opposite ACAD.

Find out more

 

If you’re hosting or attending an event you’d like us to list here, please get in touch.

Hazardous Materials Expo – what we did, what we learned, and why we’re going next year

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday October 2nd 2018

It’s been a fortnight since Contamination Expo 2018, and those of us that attended, exhibited or spoke have had time to decompress. I say that because, for those who haven’t done an Expo yet, it is something to behold, and leaves you somewhat dazed.

The 2018 event was a big change on previous years. Relocated to the NEC in Birmingham, it was significantly larger, having been merged with the established RWM (Recycle and Waste Management) Expo. Both changes together meant we had to plan our visit a bit more carefully, and had me wondering – would Assure360 be invisible in such a large show?

I needn’t have worried. The whole event was a great success, with our Expo Fringe meet and greet session a particularly positive highlight. Here we got the chance to share drinks, nibbles and a Q&A with customers and new contacts, and the evening evolved into some free-flowing customer feedback. The fact that we’re now in discussions with some potential new customers is a welcome bonus.

Launching Paperless

We officially launched our new app and database solution, Assure360 Paperless, which addresses one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Asbestos removal is hazardous and highly regulated, so licensed contractors need to complete – and record – a vast number of safety-critical checks. Once a project is finished, checking the associated paperwork can take the admin team days or weeks.

The onsite admin consumes hours of valuable supervisor time, but until now the only alternatives have been expensive bespoke solutions usually built on ‘smart’ forms. And while these may save time on site, they’re effectively bits of electronic paper: they don’t reduce admin.

Assure360 Paperless is the Holy Grail for the asbestos industry, solving the admin problem by applying our granular, data-based approach. When any check is converted to data, we can instantly report on just that tiny element – not an entire form. Also, as it’s data, we can automatically sense-check it – massively reducing the admin time required afterwards.

Whilst we are a data company, I am asbestos and H&S, so when we create a solution it’s with a fundamental understanding of the industry. Assure360 Paperless applies our insight, freeing the supervisor to supervise, and increasing productivity throughout all aspects of your asbestos removal projects.

Interested? Discover more about going Paperless.

Talk highlights

At the event itself there were numerous fascinating talks, but two that stood out for me were by Graham Warren from ACAD, and Yvonne Waterman and Jasper Koster of the European Asbestos Forum (EAF).

In their talk on hidden asbestos, Yvonne and Jasper presented frankly shocking revelations of just how much of the material still comes into Europe, despite national prohibitions.The list of sources went on and on, and included items such as children’s toys, electrical goods and jewellery. My jaw dropped at the revelation that China permits products to be described as ‘asbestos free’ if they contain less than 10% asbestos.

If you get any chance to hear Yvonne and Jasper speak, you should take it. I’ll be sure to highlight any future events they’re attending in our events calendar – roll on the next EAF conference, in 2019!

In his talk, ACAD’s Graham Warren had some startling figures for the ‘average’ licensed contractor. By dividing the number of supervisors and operatives in the industry by the number of licence holders, he revealed that the average LARC has about 14 operatives, and seven supervisors. If we accept that NVQs are the industry’s baseline competence qualification, and that going through the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) costs about £1,000 per operative and £2,000 per supervisor, the average qualifications bill works out at a minimum £28,000 per company.

But ACAD has driven through changes in how NVQs are delivered – first and foremost by creating a dedicated training centre, open to all. ACAD provides the centre and the internal QA, but anyone suitably qualified can take candidates through. The new structure looks like this:

New ACAD NVQ Centre structure

This egalitarian structure is a striking change, and it should address the fears of traditional training providers that the big boys will steal their lunch. It also introduces another interesting angle: there is nothing to stop a LARC getting suitably qualified at a local college and taking its own folk through the process. For this to be practical, of course, that LARC would need a detailed and comprehensive competence assessment system – all Assure360 users have this by default.

If an average LARC takes its own staff through the ACAD centre, that scary £28,000 training cost comes tumbling down to only about £7,000. And if that company is a CITB levy payer, it could benefit from grants to the tune of £15,000 – potentially netting an £8,000 ‘profit’ on the process.

All in all, then, the Expo was exhausting, useful and very interesting. We’ve booked again for 2019 – see you there!

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLIgwq5sEL8

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:

Technician

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

Associate

• P405 or P407, or

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

Licentiate

Certificate of Competence (Asbestos)

Member

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

Fellow

… 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

Better H&S – risk assessment vs prescription

Written by Nick Garland on Monday July 13th 2015

Asbestos risk assessment

This article is the second in a series of three, following on from my earlier piece “Why the Brits are best at H&S?”. I demonstrate in more detail the case for a Risk Assessment approach; but go further to explore where we can look for improvements. The final article will be a case study of two infamous and catastrophic incidents. I have taken a more academic approach this time – with a few references thrown in to show my sources.

The UK approach to H&S pre H&S at Work Act was highly prescriptive and targeted at specific industries, embodied in the Factories Act (Vermico, 2009). If government failed to predict and legislate, significant accidents could occur without any breach of regulation. The number of fatal accidents in the first half of the 20th century had steadily declined. However, during the 70’s, the rate had plateaued and then increased (Dalton, 1998, p. 2) – Lord Robens was tasked with creating better legislation. Realising that the workplace was getting more complex and faster paced, he didn’t believe that the established system of regulation was up to the task.

An horrific incident in the UK that deeply affected everyone was Aberfan. In 1966 a previously unknown underground spring found the surface under the dramatically increasing slag heaps. The spring turned the foundations of the heap to an unstable slurry and the resulting landslide killed 144 people, 116 of whom were children in the local school. Robens in his role at the National Coal Board, would have been aware that no regulations had actually been breached, because the regulators hadn’t predicted the risk. The impotence of the status quo would have been painful.

Robens believed that the traditional approach of ever-increasing, detailed statutory regulation was out-dated, over-complex and inadequate (Safety and Health at Work, 1972, p. 151).

The Robens report was trying to achieve a broader coverage, to all employees, not just specific industries or work place types. The reports main thrust, was those that own the hazards are best placed to assess them. This therefore is the core of the proposal, a simple goal based system (create a safe place of work), supported by guidance would allow the hazard creators to be flexible enough to control them.

However, in the decades after the publication of his report many aspects of how he saw the world of work were going to change. The effects of the information age, globalisation and the raw geographic distance between management and site require greater flexibility and a higher degree of autonomy for the front line workers.

Supervisors in particular have been transformed by the new management approach. Local responsibilities, especially in sites remote from head office, ensure that supervisors deal with strategic decisions. Effectively supervisors are no longer seen as workers and are now a key level of management (James Lowe, 1993).

Small and medium sized businesses are on the rise, providing the majority of all private sector employment.

The 70’s and 80’s were the peak of the union membership and these began to fall dramatically in the years to come.

TUC Membership

With the reducing numbers of union members their authority has also declined, limiting influence over safety management.

In other words, the modern world of work is effectively built up of cells, either multiple independent organisations working together, or semi-autonomous teams. The role the unions once played in tying these organisations together and enforcing a good H&S culture is weakening.

Robens realised in the mid 20th century that roles and responsibilities had drifted apart (between policy makers and policy doers). In the 70s this was to say that the government could not keep pace with industry, was not aware of the risks and therefore could not legislate in advance. So it has continued in the late 20th and into the 21st century, where the policy maker is largely the company management team and the policy doers are the operatives and Supervisors on site. Management design H&S Policy, but the workers are asked to interpret and implement it.

Whilst this new flexible management style is better able to cope with the demands of the modern world, Robens did not envisage it. He saw that rigidity and hierarchy could tightly control a safe system. Decision making imposed on front line supervisors undermine Robens’ central belief of who a worker is.

Over the past 30 years, the simplification process that was the other element of Robens’ plan has started to reverse. The flat structure of a single Act with supporting approved codes of practice (ACoP) and guidance is now more a labyrinth of regulation (Pomeroy, 2010, p. 3). It is widely believed that whilst law has got simpler how to comply with that law (due to the supporting regulations) has got increasingly complex (Cullen, 1996, p 9 and Vermico, 2009).

The asbestos risk assessment approach

Part of this reversal is due to the influence of European legislation. Once enacted, a member state has no choice but to introduce an EU directive into domestic legislation. The Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 was introduced as a direct response to the Considered Opinion. The HSE were effectively informed that the risk based approach that they had taken when introducing CAR 2006 was not in keeping with the letter of the European Asbestos Worker Protection Directive (AWPD). Consequently they were instructed to change it.

In addition EU law is by tradition more prescriptive. In Lord Cullen’s speech to the Royal Academy of Engineering (1996), he says:

When one looks at the six pack of regulations it is clear that they are more prescriptive than the earlier regulations under the 1974 Act and certainly more prescriptive than Robens would have envisaged.

And

… their language seems to go too far down the road of telling the duty holder exactly what to do.

He gives an example taken from the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 where approximately 80 words are used to specify the seating arrangements that are required on a site.

For many, many years the UK asbestos industry has used wetting techniques to damped down the material before removal – this prevents the fibres from being released into the air and therefore breathed in. This is so embedded now that we can not envisage a job done in any other way. However in Holland, fully compliant with the AWPD, they still remove asbestos dry and damp removal is a revelation. I believe this is a direct result of complying with prescriptive regulation rather than aiming for a goal – ZERO worker exposure.

The following figures were taken from the HSE’s European Comparison report (2011). Whilst accident rates have fallen, we can see the fatal accident rates remained largely flat in the 8 years following the introduction of the Six Pack.

Standardised incidence rates

Standardised incidence rates (per 100 000 workers) of fatal injuries at work in GB and the EU, 1998-2007, and GB 2008 estimated incidence rate (Eurostat).

The Six Pack was introduced in 1999, which was immediately followed in the UK by a sharp rise in in the fatal accident rate. The Revitalising Health and Safety initiative was introduced by the HSE in 2000 to tackle the stagnation in the UK accident figures (HSE, 2000).

These statistics suggests that the increase in the prescriptive nature of the legislation was incompatible with the goal based regulation of the UK. Cullen suggest that the increase prescriptive nature of the European Union legislation is contrary to the systems generated by HSWA 1974 (Cullen, 1996, p. 6). The Revitalising Health and Safety strategy could be seen as extra support for the British companies, effectively as a patch to rectify the effects of the Six Pack.

The US has a similar proscriptive approach to H&S. In fact going further to pull the teeth of the regulator. The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) introduced in the mid 80’s. VPP is a process whereby companies can introduce certain controls and systems including a cooperative agreement between management and workers, an active occupational health and safety management plan and to pass an OSHA audit every three years. In return they are free from unannounced visits, effectively un-policed self-regulation.

James Pomeroy wrote in his SHP article International Safety Systems – Workin’ USA, (2010) that Mr. Michaels returned this damning assessment on the OSHA:

OSHA is constrained by both budget and legal authority. The ratio of workplaces to inspectors is more than twice what it was when the organisation was set up. Most OSHA standards are ancient and inadequate, and the organisation lacks the resources, or political clout to issue an adequate set of new ones. Many injuries and fatalities occur in the absence of violations of existing standards. Consequently, changes in the number and type of inspections are unlikely to have more than a minor impact on OSHA’s mission.

The US model, so far as they can be compared to the United Kingdom has produced starkly inferior accident figures. James Pomeroy (2010) compares the fatal and non fatal accident rates in the USA with the UK. In 2007 the US reported figures of 3.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees. This compares with 0.8 in the UK. In addition the non-fatal accidents were reported as six times greater. Indeed the fatality rate of 3.8 is worse than the figures reported by Poland and Bulgaria in 2008 (European Comparisons Report, 2011).

With so many similarities to the discredited Factories Act, taking lessons and elements from the US system is in effect drawing from the UK’s own past.

But – we can’t escape the fact that many of Robens’ assumptions have been weakened. The rigid hierarchical management structure and the strong influence of the unions has gone. The UK governments control over its own domestic H&S legislation is no longer absolute. Even the concept of who is a worker and who is management has changed. But the central core of the proposal, those that create the hazard are best placed to understand and control it, remains a powerful argument.

How therefore do we improve? Other than the US and EU model of prescriptive legislation, there is another alternative approach to the UK’s – the Canadian Resposibilization.

The Canadian Criminal Code states that individuals who undertake, or have authority, to direct how another person does work have a legal duty to prevent bodily harm to others (Gray, 2009, p. 327). This key shift in emphasis makes individual employees responsible for their own H&S.

Ontario has introduced a H&S ticketing regime (similar to parking tickets), these are directed in the main at workers and supervisors found not to be taking personal responsibility for their own H&S (Gray, 2009, p. 330).

The system has flaws and has been criticised as unfairly targeting the worker. The tickets available to the inspector are predominately aimed at the operative and the Supervisor (Gray, 2009, p. 331). However it quite clearly re-enforces the tenet that the employee has a responsibility to act safely and it is not just the management’s problem.

This, if used alongside the existing UK system of management, would adjust Robens proposal that safety was a function of management and only required the cooperation of employees. Employees wouldn’t just need to cooperate with employers, but help enforce good safety.

Conclusion

The main problem that Robens identified was that hazards were changing too rapidly for government to regulate. His solution was essentially simple; give the goal, create a safe place of work, to the individuals who understood the hazard the most, give them help to do this and police the system to ensure that it was done. He effectively predicted the shift in management theory, allowing decisions to be made closer to where they would have effect.

However he did not appreciate that the change that he was witnessing was only the beginning. Nor did he realise that his assumption that a supervisor was a worker and not management would be questioned.

In addition, Robens could not have predicted the influence European legislation would have on the future UK legislative framework. Whilst the law, is simpler at its core, compliance is increasingly complex. With the umbrella responsibilities of HASWA 1974 looming over companies, we get a system that is trying to be both goal based and complex.

To tackle the dramatically changed landscape, Robens needs to be strengthened at the same time as evolving.

Where regulation cannot be further simplified due to the influence of Europe, the regulators need to return to the collaborative and supportive vision Robens had originally. This will assist companies to comply with legislation.

The largest influence on H&S is management. However, the belief that an employee only has to cooperate is unhelpful. H&S management should recognise flatter company structures and supervisors as the first rung in management. This would involve taking lessons learned in Canada with the Responsibilization strategy and blending it with Robens. The ticketing system could be used to bring about a shift in the view that H&S is mainly the responsibility of senior management. Employees and especially frontline supervisors would recognise that if senior management create an unsafe environment, cooperating with this, is in effect condoning the procedure.

The flaws of the Canadian system, that it unfairly targets the worker, would be removed if the fines attached to the employee tickets were comparatively low and the fines attached to the employer ticket high. The existing system of enforcement notices available to the HSE would ensure that the focus remains on management.

The duties enshrined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 should remain. These ensure that Robens’ core statement that H&S is principally a function of management continue to be our focus. The addition of the ticketing regime would expand the duty holders all the way through the organisation, ensuring the policy makers remain connected with the policy doers.

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

References

Lord Cullen. (1996). The Development of Safety Legislation. Paper presented at the 1996 Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society of Edinburgh Lecture

Dalton, AJP. (1998). Safety, Health and Environmental Hazards at the Workplace. London: Cassell.

European Comparisons. (2011). Retrieved from the HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/european/european-comparisons.pdf.

Gray, G.C. (2009). The responsibilization strategy of Health and Safety – Neo-liberalism and the reconfiguration of individual responsibility for risk. British Journal of Criminology, 49, 326–342.

HSE (2000). Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy Statement. London: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Lowe, J. (1993). Manufacturing reform and the Changing Role of the Production Supervisor: The Case of the Automobile Industry. Journal of Management Studies, 30 (5), 739-758.

Pomeroy, J. (2010, March). International Safety Systems – Workin’ USA. Retrieved 13 March 2012.

Safety and Health at Work (1972a). Volume 1. Report of the Committee 1970–72. Chairman, Lord Robens. Cmnd. 5034. London: HMSO.

Vermico, P. (2009, July). Time to Act?. Retrieved 13 March 2012.

Is Chrysotile dangerous? Myths debunked at EAF15

Written by Nick Garland on Monday June 1st 2015

The very first European Asbestos Forum conference was held in Amsterdam last week and I was lucky enough to attend. The stated aim was to improve professional networks and promote the exchange of knowledge. With the ultimate goal of helping our industry grow into a collaborative one.

I was asked to attend to share my expertise on Competence. My talk was entitled Using Technology to Deliver Competence with the case study of the Assure360 system as a demonstration on how it can be done – more on that later.

The highpoint of the morning session was a very powerful speech by the ex US Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Richard Lemen where he comprehensively debunked the claims from the asbestos producers that chrysotile is non hazardous.

Particular points from his speech to highlight would be:

The WHO figures just released indicate 125,000,000 people are exposed to asbestos every year. It is also estimated that 107,000 preventable deaths are attributable to asbestos. That is one person every five minutes. Even more shocking Dr. Lemen revealed that this figure is about to be revised UP to 194,000 per annum.

Very sobering.

The backdrop of his speech was the fact that many countries do not have a universal ban on asbestos (including the USA!). Some of this is down to commercial and political lobbying by the asbestos producers (notably Russia). Russia produces 2 million tonnes of asbestos annually, half of which it exports.

Whilst deaths from asbestos in the developed world appears to be plateauing, In developing countries it is skyrocketing. I read a stat the other day that India has overtaken China in GDP growth, add to that the fact that they are also the biggest asbestos importer.

He went on to debunk the myth that chrysotile is non hazardous, showing source after toxicological source confirming its carcinogenic nature. The final eye-catching proof was that over 30 times more chrysotile than amphibole fibres have been found embedded within mesothelioma tumours.

As I said, the reason for me attending was to share my expertise on Competence, in short the key points to any good competence system is:

  • Measures the behaviour, skills and knowledge of allemployees by direct observation (from managers down to the individual operative)
  • Must be a continuous exercise not a snapshot
  • Identifies the skill gap between where the employee is and where you / they want to be
  • Delivers this information simply and clearly for TNAs

If a scheme misses any of these pillars it will fall over.

This amount of direct observation takes a great deal of time. Obviously I went into more detail but the solution that makes this practical and achievable is a cleverly designed tablet application synching with a powerful cloud database.

Innovation and the asbestos industry for many years hasn’t seemed to sit side by side. However, the technology session in which I took part, was exciting. Inventions and developments showcased were:

  • A rigid portable enclosure for windowsill removal that eliminates the need to expose workers
  • Web-based mapping of asbestos survey findings
  • A new H-type vac that uses cyclone technology to preserve huge levels of suction,
  • Wet injection for AIB, so the porous rear side of a panel is soaked

There was also a comparative study on the pros and cons of EU national approaches to tackling asbestos. I will do a separate piece on this next week.

The aim of EAF2015 was to improve professional networks and promote the exchange of knowledge. Certainly Dr. Lemen’s speech set the tone – we’re all in it together. The collaborative approach of the subsequent sessions re-enforced this message.

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

Asbestos training – change by stealth? (Part 2)

Written by Nick Garland on Monday January 12th 2015

Last time, I laid out where the change was coming from and why; now for what form the change is taking – unless we’re very careful.

On the basis of these few nebulous ‘competence’ phrases, licence assessments now focus on a company’s ability to demonstrate the competence of its workforce. Some organisations are rushing in to fill the gap with “come to us and pay ~ £800+ per person and we will prove competence for you”. These are exams branded as competence schemes and none of the main offerings entirely fit the bill. In addition, some of these new offerings are marketed as replacements for traditional learning.

What changes are being made to the asbestos training architecture?

Regular readers will be familiar with the three pillars of a good scheme:

  1. It measures the behaviour, skills and knowledge of all individual employees
  2. It must be a continuous exercise over their entire career
  3. It identifies the skill gap between where the employee is and where you / they want to be

Critically you then train the weaknesses away, and repeat the process.

An NVQ (very expensive unless through ACAD) fulfils 1 and 3. The old Open College Network exam from IATP (inexpensive) would satisfy 1 and if delivered by a responsible trainer would also bridge the skill gap (3). Neither however say anything of the subsequent years of the employee’s career. ARICs (very expensive) tests the competence at an instance in time but doesn’t give guidance on precise training needs. If a scheme is missing one pillar (never mind two) – it will fall over.

If you rely on these offerings exclusively, at the extreme, you could double or triple your training outlay, and still not demonstrate compliance with Reg 10. So if not one of the new breed of set piece exams or traditional training, what does compliance with Reg 10 look like?

Genuine compliance is a detailed knowledge of your workforce and a corresponding bespoke approach to training. If Bob is great at enclosure building, removing AIB (etc…), but can’t get his head around taking the overalls off in the middle stage – then his training course should focus on that. Barry, however, can’t roll a cube to save his life, so his training course needs to focus on that. George (Supervisor) never seems to enforce correct transiting and in addition he is weak on the correct protocol for making changes to the POW – his training needs to nail that.

The good news is that this kind of knowledge is only built up by the employer. Paying someone to ‘sort out competence for you’ is both eye-wateringly expensive, and ultimately a waste of money. Any decent removal contractor is making these observations routinely, there will be an unconscious recognition of ‘don’t send Barry on the domestic job, where he needs to roll 6 cubes before lunchtime’. The trick is only to get a system that records and presents them in a useable way. Articulating this knowledge, IS a Training Needs Analysis, armed with this – training can actually change for the better.

Once you know the precise weaknesses (and strengths) of Bob, Barry and George – the off the peg approach becomes a waste of everyone’s time and money. What is required is an overall catch-up session of changes in the industry, followed by masterclasses for individuals covering their individual needs. Supervisor and Operative training could overlap if the skill gap dictates. If you have the ability in house, some of these practical sessions could be led by your star employees. Both IATP and ACAD would advocate this approach – genuine TNAs driving quality training.

The trainer for the next decade would therefore be one that designs bespoke modular courses. One that will work with you and your competence system to create a tailored approach. The set piece annual one day refresher would disappear, replaced by a several 1-2 hour sessions.

The challenge for the training industry is to move from the rigid large scale, pack them in approach, to a smaller individualised service. As mentioned earlier, some of the smaller independents seem to have an advantage here, with the ability to provide a personalised course. The larger providers who produce a single course for multiple employers have the most to do.

The danger of the trainers not changing is that traditional learning will still fail to fit the bill and the rush to ‘comply with competence’ will leave them behind. Without genuine TNAs the only way for misguided souls to fake compliance with Reg 10 will be the exams and an awful lot of money would have been spent without actually improving anything.

Asbestos training – change by stealth? (Part 1)

Written by Nick Garland on Tuesday January 6th 2015

The asbestos training architecture is fixed by legislation, but with the new year upon us, is this going to remain the case? For those of us with possibly too much time on our hands it is becoming increasingly obvious that huge changes are coming our way and it is all being done by stealth.

The asbestos training architecture

Everyone is familiar with how it is at the moment:

Three day New Operative/Supervisor course followed by an annual refresher every year. This is mandated by Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations and it has been ever thus. However the standards of the training courses are often less than we would like.

Single class refresher training by large providers for multiple clients can not possibly provide the tailored approach required and can degenerate into an off the peg approach that most can sleep through and still ‘pass’.

Then there are the corrupt organisations that we’ve all heard about – where if you turn up to collect your certificate you are the star pupil.

Some of the smaller independents make a good stab at a bespoke course, but are hampered because they are never provided with detailed Training Needs Analysis (TNAs) by the client.

With some considerable justification the HSE are dissatisfied with the quality of training that has been churned out over the years. Where do we go from this not very satisfactory state?

Whilst change is needed, the drive for change is producing unfocused solutions and a great deal of vested interest.

The method by which change is coming about is the root of the problem – the vexing phrase ‘competence’. This has been a commonly used but little understood phrase in the industry for a decade or more. It is now being used to sneak in the transformation with precious little consultation and less representation by those affected. And because it is little understood, the solutions could be missing the mark.

Lets first explore where the change is coming from.

The Approved Code of Practice (L143 – the ACoP) tells us:

Para 40

Any reference in this document to competence, competent persons or competent employees is a reference to a person or employee who has received adequate information, instruction and training for the task being

Innocuous enough.

However;

Para 226 extends this with the following:

… and can demonstrate an adequate and up-to-date understanding of the work, required control measures and appropriate law.

“And can demonstrate” – leads an employer to ask how can the employee demonstrate this, when must they demonstrate it – all of the time? Annually? … And how can we as employers be confident that they can demonstrate it?

Para 227 then hits us with – ‘A training course on its own will not make an employee competent’.

Where on earth does that leave us? A situation where the only guidance available is for formal set-piece training courses, but then the ACoP tells us that it isn’t good enough – and then doesn’t help us with how!

Big changes are coming that without careful planning may cost a lot of people a lot of money. Licensed Contractors, employees, clients and trainers themselves will all be affected. The shifting landscape may very well destroy the latter.

Next time – what form the change is taking – unless we’re very careful!

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  enquiries@assure360.co.uk