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Appointing the right asbestos analyst: new analyst guidance

Written by Nick Garland on 25/05/2017
 

Here’s Nick Garland’s summary of the draft of the new Asbestos Analyst’s Guide from the HSE and what it suggests for hiring the right analyst.

The HSE’s new Asbestos Analysts Guide is coming soon or so we have been confidently told for the past year. The current tentative publication date is June 2017, but I have heard that even this is likely to slip. When we do get it, it is designed to help both Analysts and their clients comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and its ACoP.

It’s the client I am particularly aiming this summary at, but those with technical backgrounds should also find it useful. It is also for this reason that I largely don’t cover the appendices – in of themselves a whopping 178 pages’ long!

This is obviously a summary and clearly not intended to replace the Guide. In particular, the appendices contain a lot of important detail and should still be studied to gain the fullest picture. A note of caution, this is a review of the ‘draft for consultation’ – there may well be changes before final publication.

Pointers on appointing an asbestos analyst

The early stages of the guide cover the critical areas of how to appoint an analyst and what quality control measures should be implemented by the consultancy.

Appoint the analyst direct, and do not rely on the licensed asbestos removal contractor to do it for you

This is the first time we have been given strong guidance on this subject, though it has long been the perceived best practice. This contractual relationship is critical to ensure independence and the control you will need

It’s all about the planning

With this starting point, the HSE then require you to discuss the project in detail with the consultancy. The aim is to ensure that the consultancy understands what you the client wants and for you understand what you are going to get.

Areas to address:

  • Reasons for the sampling
  • Your aims and objectives
  • Where the sampling will be taken from – specific reference for special arrangements (e.g. sampling at height)
  • Making good (in case of bulks)
  • Health and safety issues for normal occupants of the building
  • Timings – how long will certain activities take (e.g. the visual inspection)
  • UKAS accreditation (as before, mandatory for analytical services)
  • How it will be reported

The wording for this last point is particularly interesting. Reports should be designed to satisfy the client’s needs, not just perceived UKAS requirements. The frustrating ‘our reports have to look like this, it is part of our UKAS accreditation’ or ‘no we can’t give the data in that format, because…’ should all be a thing of the past.

The whole appointment and subsequent planning phase is intended to mimic the changes first introduced in the Surveying Guide in 2012. Planning (especially between the client and the surveyor) has become the major route to success. It is intended to get around the issue of “why do I never get what I asked for?” – the answer normally being “you didn’t ask for it…”

Construction (Design & Management) regulations

Underlying everything in CDM15. Asbestos removal projects are covered by CDM, this is a long-accepted fact. However, the analysts guide gives us a new twist. Contrary to the wording in CDM15, the guide specifically states that the analyst will be treated as a separate contractor. This has dramatic implications, as all asbestos removal projects – even the smallest ones – will therefore require the appointment of a Principal Contractor (PC) and a Principal Designer (PD).

Many of the asbestos consultancies have upskilled to take on the PD role, but the smaller ones may not accept the additional liabilities. This then is another duty for the client – appoint a PC and a PD to the project – and be confident that they have the skills to do it. This could be an asbestos consultancy that can accept the wider duties or a specialised PD that has the expertise in asbestos.

A key client responsibility in CDM15 is to ensure that the project is being run safely. Without this engagement and contractual control, ensuring safety would be largely impossible. Even then, without some expertise, you replace ‘ensure’ with ‘hope’.

The first step?

The advice I always give clients is simple – become an educated one. Either train someone in your organisation or appoint a consultant independent of the asbestos project teams to be your expert advocate.

Duty of care and consultant responsibilities

Employers must prevent or minimise exposure and as with all guidance, the phrase ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ is used. It also suggests that ‘live’ enclosure entry should be avoided – as this could lead to exposure above the Control Limit and with it, mandatory asbestos medicals.

I take two things from this: firstly, the pre-visual, much loved by contractors, is being officially frowned upon, and secondly the guide is suggesting that not all analysts need medicals. In my experience, site analytical work (clearances, leak air testing and so on), inevitably leads to exposure above the Control Limit at some point. I have two examples from my past, both seemingly very low risk that led to high personal exposure. The first, a contractor was removing a cement flue with hidden pure fibre in the flanges – a surprise failure at stage 3. The second was a straightforward Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) job, where the High Efficiency Particle Air (HEPA) filter failed in the Negative Pressure Unit (NPU). Consequently, I believe all analysts should have medicals.

The guide makes clear that two copies of the Certificate for Reoccupation (CfR) must be issued – the building controller and the licensed contractor.

Not just duty of care

Personal exposure for analysts should be air tested (personals rather than static). The purpose of personal monitoring is not ‘merely’ duty of care and the data must be used for:

  • the proximity to the Control Limit
  • risk assessment
  • the adequacy of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
  • the effectiveness of controls

It gives direct guidance that personal monitoring should be performed in ~10% of case, targeting:

  • disturbance sampling inside enclosures
  • bulk sampling
  • any live enclosure entry

How much is good enough?

Whilst the control limit is highlighted, I find the other element more interesting. Minimise so far as reasonably practicable, risk assessment and effectiveness of controls drives the responsibilities of the employer much, much lower than just the control limit. There is therefore no ‘good enough’ and we should be striving for ever lower exposure. This has an impact on how long we run the tests for and what Limit of Quantification / Detection we set.

Quality control

Whilst the number of required audits has stayed roughly the same, other checks to be recorded and studied have increased:

4-stage clearance inspections

Approximately 5% should either be shadowed or blind inspected immediately afterwards:

  • Paperwork available including the Plan of Work (PoW)
  • Correct PPE and RPE
  • Follow correct decontamination procedure?
  • Complete the correct checks for ‘Stage 1’?
  • Complete adequate checks of the transit / waste routes?
  • Spend sufficient time on Stage 2 (visual inspection) and was any identified issues dealt with appropriately?
  • Use the correct equipment for Stage 2 – e.g. access equipment, mirrors, torches and so on?
  • Conduct adequate air sampling (location, duration, disturbance periods, analysis time and so on?
  • Sufficient photos

During the consultation period, I know that there was some call for making the audits more specific – i.e. what type of clearance was it? This would bring it into line with survey audits.

Photos?

The last bullet will be new to those that have not read the draft guide. The new 4-stage clearance process must include photographic evidence to support the decisions taken along the way. These will include such things as proof that the enclosure was free from gross contamination and dry before the visual inspection took place. The time and date stamp on the photos is intended to evidence the stated durations of each stage.

Logs of all activities

Maintain individual logs of all work completed by your analysts. These logs should record:

  • pass / failures
  • reasons for failures
  • variance between predicted and actual visual inspection duration

Comprehensive internal review

Six monthly auditing of Analysts’ performance (including a review of the above detailed logs).

Impact on competence assessments

Essentially the guide is calling for audits to record significantly more detail. Once we are collecting more we will have to do more with it. This will drive assessment of competence and training to new levels.

The difficulty is that a huge amount of data can be very time consuming to process. Just as the removal contractors found with the drive for competence on their side of the fence – the consultancies will have to develop new sophisticated systems to collect, analyse and present the data in meaningful ways.

Training, qualifications and competence

Common sense

The guide immediately highlights something that has been clear to me for a long time. What we ask of our analysts often strays from the standard UKAS requirements into other areas:

  • Interpretation of results and reports
  • Management of asbestos work
  • Other inspections e.g. contaminated land, non-licensed work

The guide also highlights the need for H&S training, in my opinion – critical basic training for any analyst.

We must also recognise that the very act of passing or failing a 4-stage clearance is a potentially stressful and intimidating situation. Consultancies should therefore provide support mechanisms and procedures to mitigate or eliminate. This will help ensure that analysts’ actions and decisions are impartial and independent. Personal qualities of ‘resilience’, ‘determination’ and ‘integrity’ will be required.

The guide covers the UKAS recognised proficiency training modules. Also highlighted is the requirement for sign-off by senior manager before any unsupervised work. However, the regulations tell us that Competence is not just a matter of a training certificate – we must ensure an employee is competent to do the job. But as I cover in my competence blog pieces – we can’t just leave it at that – just because I was signed off as competent last year doesn’t mean I still am.

Is this project being managed?

The required participation of the client in the plan, plan, plan process is likely to expose a longstanding industry misunderstanding. When a client hears ‘Project Management’ they expect:

Initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints.

However, in most cases, Analytical Consultants mean:

Specify the project, review the method, supply an analyst to run air tests, provide a report after the clearance

The client sees the latter as a given, and assume that the asbestos consultancy’s definition of project management is the same as for other areas of construction. This disconnect from expectation and delivery leads to much of the dissatisfaction in the industry.

Is it really common sense?

So how common are these skills:

  • Interpretation of results / reports
  • Management of asbestos work
  • Principal Designer
  • Personal qualities of ‘resilience’, ‘determination’ and ‘integrity’?

It is a rare analytical company that even has these as categories on the skills matrix, never mind measures or audits them. They tend to be what we assume an analyst can do, without training. Managers have often described it to me as a ‘gut feeling’ about an analyst that leads them to promote them to a more senior role.

The guide’s focus on soft skills and project management presents a challenge to labs. Most companies currently do not even identify these soft skills in their competence matrix, never mind measure them.

The clear steer is that to be ‘competent’ (i.e. knowledge, skills and experience) an analyst needs to go far beyond just the ability to operate within a UKAS environment. We see far reaching implications for training and competence – a consultancy’s approach in this key area should form a key part of the selection process.

How we can help

Get in touch with us to discuss how Assure360 can help with:

  • Individual staff competence tracking
  • Exposure monitoring and analysis
  • Industry benchmarking
  • Training needs analysis
  • Comprehensive auditing and trend analysis

Call 0845 226 4318 or book a demo on our contact page.

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Richard Bennion, Asbestos Compliance Manager, Royal Mail Group