Is It Really Just a Man’s World?
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday November 10th 2022
As the Godfather of soul James Brown said “This is a man’s world but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
When I entered the asbestos industry and became an analyst back in the early 1980’s I quickly became aware of how few women or girls were part of my work life. This was quite a time when the man was typically seen as; the bread winner, the home owner, the person in charge with women almost being subservient and unlikely to really have meaningful careers. After all the woman’s role was to have children and then stop at home.
At the time I never really wondered too much as to why there we so few women carrying out site analytical work and clearance testing. I became quite used to the routine derogatory comments, which usually came thick and fast when I failed an area as unsuitable. I was repeatedly reminded that I was competing in a man’s work environment and couldn’t show any signs of weakness so just shrugged everything off as something which came with the territory.
During my years on site as an analyst I suffered a wide range of both verbal and physical abuse and each time was reminded that there was no point in even trying to raise this. After all, what else did I expect and more so who would believe me so just suck it up and get on with the job.
Over the years the amount of clearance testing I was doing naturally reduced as I moved into more senior and management roles. During that time the world also moved on with more recognition of women in the workplace. Naively I also thought that the experiences I had encountered on site would also have been a thing of the past. Unfortunately, how wrong could I have been.
As part of the FAAM Asbestos 2021 Conference I had agreed to do a session with regards to the role of the female analyst and clearance testing. At the outset my intention was to demonstrate how things had changed over the decades but I also wanted to try and understand why females are so under represented in the sector. An initial poll had shown that less than 10% of clearance testing analysts were female, even though employers said they aways made great analysts, so clearly something wasn’t right.
As part of my research for the conference I spoke with a range of female analysts; some who had been around for more years than myself right through until current day analysts. I was quite horrified to find that the verbal and sexual abuse which I had endured on numerous occasions was not a thing of the past but was and is still occurring today. At the time of the conference, I took the nervous decision to recall some of my more horrific site experiences. Including how I was convinced by the rapist (aka site supervisor) that no-one would ever believe me and what else could I expect. After all, if I wanted to work in a man’s world, I had to bear the consequences. On this first occasion I did ask my manager to be removed from the job but was too ashamed to say why so ended up having to stay to suffer the same on more than one occasion.
As difficult as the conference session was, it did however help to open up this previously unspoken side of things. As a result, other analysts have come forward with equally horrific experiences. As with many things once you are aware of a problem it poses the question as to what can be done. In order to look at this whole topic in better detail a working group was established in December 2021. This Female Analyst Working Group comprises of females who have analytical/clearance testing experience and includes stakeholders such as HSE and UKAS. The working group has a number of strands as the issue is fairly complex and intertwined between the analytical side and also the asbestos removal contractor side. We have been providing updates on the work of the group at various conferences and also begun similar at the current round of ACAD Regional Member meetings. Whilst each audience will be different and more interested in some areas than others, one area which has been welcomed is with regards to Decontamination Units (DCUs). It has been a long-established practice that site analysts, whether male of female, will use the LARCs DCU. This will be, as a minimum, for undressing and changing into their PPE and often will also include going through and showering after leaving the enclosure after the visual inspection. If we then consider when an analyst is showering and at their most vulnerable what safeguards are there in place to prevent anyone else entering the shower unit at the same time? This occurs quite frequently, often as a genuine mistake where everyone is completely embarrassed but, in some occasions, occurs for more sinister reasons. When trying to consider what or if anything could be done to tackle this dilemma, we looked at all sorts of solutions but each always had as many downsides and in some circumstances could even make the situation worse. For example, the use of a traffic light system to warn that the shower was in use. This would prevent the accidental and embarrassing entry into the shower when it was already in use but could also act as an invitation to someone who had more sinister reasons for entering.
After various suggestions one proposal was put forward by Beacon International which allows for the safety and security of the analyst whilst using the DCU. This proposal uses a magnetic locking system which is operated by the analyst flicking a switch when they enter either the clean or dirty end of the unit. This then locks the whole unit so that the analyst has complete control and also displays a traffic light system to make others aware the unit is locked and in use. Once the analyst has finished the just unlock the unit as they exit it. A simple but very effective solution.
The CDM Regulations require that sites must have separate washing facilities for men and women but where this cannot be provided that the facility must be capable of being locked from the inside to allow males and females to wash separately. This new magnetic locking system also allows DCUs to comply with this requirement of the CDM Regulations.
It’s important to share the details and areas of work of the Female Analyst Working Group as everyone will have a part to play. Again, as James Brown said “This is a man’s world but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”. How many would want their wife, partner, girlfriend, daughter etc. having to experience what female analysts are still enduring? We need to do what we can to keep everyone safe and well.
Assure360 – Innovation Finalists at the Contamination Expo 2016
Written by Nick Garland on Thursday September 15th 2016
Assure 360 uniquely allows you to audit asbestos projects, measure competence, complete Training Needs Analysis, and record exposure monitoring in one, time-and-money saving cloud based system.
We’re pleased to announce that not only will we be exhibiting at the exciting Contamination Expo 2016, but we have been shortlisted for the Asbestos Innovation award.
The expo is to be held at London’s Excel arena and Nick Garland, our founder will be giving a seminar ‘Competence Systems, the Good the Bad and the Ugly’. The 30-minute seminar will outline what competence means within the asbestos industry and why we should care (including the regulatory imperative). It will cover the various ways to observe and measure it, the pitfalls and the benefits that can be gained from a well-designed system. It will close with a short demonstration of how Assure360 ticks all the boxes and why we get testimonials like this:
At our recent license renewal, the HSE inspectors were amazed by the power of the system and couldn’t believe everyone wasn’t using it.”
It’s a must for all senior management in the asbestos industry wanting to make a difference.
Nick will also be on our stand, to answer any questions. It is well worth popping by the stand, where Nick will be able to demo the highlights of the system
Our many customers extol its virtues with comments like:
“The home page gives an instant health-check and reports are all done at the touch of a button. When you factor in the time saved – it has been a bit of a no-brainer.”
“Assure360 is now integral to how we work. Our BSI assessors were really impressed by the system, noting all of the improvements it allowed us to introduce.”
“The HSE’s response at our recent license renewal was that they had never seen such a powerful and comprehensive system.”
East Coast Insulation
Visit our website to learn more, or book a demo.
Get your free tickets HERE and visit us at stand 854.
Asbestos removal and CDM – the elephant in the room
Written by Nick Garland on Monday March 16th 2015
Many in our industry mistakenly believe that the the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations do not apply to asbestos removal projects. Contradictorily, it is also often believed they only kick in when the notifiable triggers are exceeded. With CDM 2015 just round the corner, the following piece is a summary of the changes and how they pertain to the asbestos removal industry.
CDM either applies or it doesn’t. The extra duties imposed by notification, are just that – extra duties, for when the project is officially large. So the first question to answer is – do the new regulations apply to asbestos removal projects or not?
Regulation 2 states that:
“construction work” … includes:
(a) … de-commissioning, demolition or dismantling of a structure;
(d) the removal of a structure, or of any product or waste resulting from demolition or dismantling of a structure…’
These two clauses (incidentally also there in 2007), make it clear that asbestos removal projects are indeed covered and the duties it specifies flow from there.
CDM 2015 makes some sweeping changes, one role disappears, another arrives, client duties are expanded and some duties are taken on-board whether you like it or not.
There are five defined roles:
- The Client
- Principal Designer (replaces the old CDM Coordinator)
- Principal Contractor
The main changes surround the Client and the new Principal Designer role. However, despite remaining largely unchanged the Designer might have the biggest impact on asbestos projects.
CDM 2015 takes implied responsibilities from the 2007 regs and adds liability significant phrases such as ‘must’ and ‘ensure’. The main changes are as follows:
- Ensure sufficient time for the project
- Ensure that a Construction Phase Plan and H&S File are created
- Provide pre-construction information to every Designer and Contractor
- Ensure arrangements for managing a project are in place and are maintained
- Ensure the project is completed (so far as reasonably practicable) without risk to any person affected by the project
- ‘Reasonable steps’ are taken to ensure that the Principal Contractor and Principal Designer fulfil their duties
- If the Client does not feel competent – they must obtain competent advice
- Where there is more than one contractor, the Client must appoint a Principal Designer and Principal Contractor (in writing) – or assume all of those duties as well!
With the exception of domestic clients**, the regs therefore no longer make the allowance that Clients don’t know what to do and now insist that they must, or employ competent advice so that they can.
** Note the duties of domestic clients are assumed by the Principal Contractor or in the case of very small jobs, the single Contractor.
Whilst this is not a new role and the duties are not tremendously different from before, it is worth understanding who a designer is and what duties they are committing to when they take it on. The regs tell us a Designer is an organisation or individual who
prepare or modify a design for a construction project (including the design of temporary works)
It goes on to say this includes, writing specifications, project management, drawings and anyone that design and modify work are included. It is therefore clear that the familiar role asbestos consultancies take on – is unarguably that of a designer.
The following key duty is therefore assumed by anyone in the role:
Must identify foreseeable risks to health and safety and apply the principles of prevention (avoid, reduce or where you can’t, control)
… identify foreseeable risks… this is where the problem comes in, whilst a good analytical consultant fully understands the issues presented by an asbestos job, our industry is often guilty of being blinkered to the host of other hazards that surround it. Therefore when specifying a removal technique, the Designer must consider if that manual handling issue can be tackled in any other way? Do the operatives really need to be exposed to vibration and noise to remove the last minuscule traces of asbestos (blasting techniques)? Does the average Asbestos Consultant have sufficiently broad H&S knowledge to identify all ‘foreseeable risks’ or the understanding of them to apply the principles of prevention? My guess is that most don’t even know what they are.
As an aside – an interesting sentence in the ACoP states that statutory bodies (e.g. the HSE?) who stipulate design changes outside of strict legal requirements, take on Designer duties.
The Principals (Designers and Contractors)
Any project that involves more than one contractor e.g. LARC, Scaffolder, Electrician (for isolations) etc… must have both a Principal Contractor (PC) and a Principal Designer (PD). If the Client fails to appoint them, they assume the duties.
The two main changes for the PC is that the notification bar is higher. A project now needs to be notified if > 500 person days or if >30 working days AND >20 workers at any one time. The HSE believe this will halve the number of projects to be notified. However a Construction Phase Plan is now needed on ALL projects, not just notified ones. The significance of this on asbestos projects where the LARC is the PC or sole Contractor is that they must produce a Construction Phase Plan (CPP) as well as their method statement. For the small removal project most of the detail required in a CPP is already present in a good quality method Statement. But in any case the HSE are planning on providing a template.
Whilst the PC is largely unchanged, the PD is the new role on the block, replaces the old CDM Coordinator, takes on all of those duties and more. The duties are:
- Coordinating the Pre-Construction phase
- Identify and remove / control foreseeable risks
- Ensuring co-ordination and co-operation of all team members
- Assist the Client with Pre-Construction Information
- Assist the PC in preparing the Construction Phase Plan (now needed on ALL projects)
- Prepare the Health & Safety File
Remember, unlike the Designer where your can sleepwalk into the role, you can’t accidentally become a Principal Designer. Both a PC and a PD must be appointed in writing.
The role is essentially an organisational one, plus:
- Identifying project risks – perhaps with a full team meeting discussing the project and thrashing out what hazards are to be expected – agreeing how they would be mitigated and assigning responsibility
- Identifying residual risk (for the H&S File) – this will flow from the initial meetings, hazards identified that remain after the job is finished.
From experience I have found that next to nuclear, asbestos is by far the most complex hazard facing construction projects. It is therefore less of a challenge for a specialist in asbestos to up-skill in general H&S, than a generalist trying to master asbestos. In this, help and advice is available – the old CDM Coordinators are busily rebranding themselves as advisors to Designers. The asbestos consultant is therefore ideally placed to own this role. Rather than something to avoid, with the right skill set and advice this is genuine project management, which can be charged for appropriately.
In summary, it is not just the Contractor that should be concerned over high temperatures in a boiler house, or the introduction of unnecessary noise and vibration hazards (blasting techniques). We all need to become more educated and aware of areas outside our specialisms. Asbestos Consultants need to recognise the fact that they are Designers and the responsibilities that come with the role.
With Clients, the Designers have a duty that a project is completed without risk to those affected. They are mandated to get actively involved. Rather than just make design requirement, they must look at all of the implications. As this is the most liability significant duty and is automatically assumed by most consultants, the short hop to Principal Designer no longer seems onerous. But ignoring the issue will leave you badly exposed to regulatory and legal action.