Assure 360

Regular readers might remember that, last summer, I wrote a summary of the monitoring, health and exposure guidance that the Asbestos Network has been working on since 2019. I’m reliably informed that, with a fair wind, this guidance will actually be released this summer.

I’m aware I’ve said this before, but the latest draft has come quite a long way since my last review. Now it really does feel like it’s nearly there, but this also means that it’s worth revisiting – as a lot has changed.

I’m going to cover the main points in this update to my previous review, but I strongly suggest you give the original a read. It’s also worth providing your feedback through the trade organisations, as there’s still time for your input to help shape the outcome.

In this review I’m going to highlight how Assure360 users are already prepared. Essentially, this new industry best practice has been Assure360 standard practice for years. It’s all powered by Assure360 Paperless, which is both compliant AND massively more efficient than using Excel and paper.

Overview

Since my last review, the guidance document has been honed down to eight pages, plus appendices. The Asbestos Network recognises that this is first and foremost a communication piece for licensed contractors, and by focusing on that audience it does the job well.

That said, there are nuggets for clients, which give the guidance a wider reach. The likes of FAAM will be looking at it closely in their attempts to investigate and improve the personal monitoring skill set of analysts.

The first couple of pages set out the what and the why. The ‘what’ summarises the tests that need to be done. It’s now been honed down to a simple four-bullet list:

  1. Four-hour Control Limit Time-Weighted Average (TWA)
  2. Specific Short-Duration Activity (SSDA)
  3. Ten-minute Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL)
  4. Assessment of suitability of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Those who need more detail can find it in the appendices, but two tests are picked out as being key, and these get a bit more detail within the main body of the guidance. Not surprisingly, these are the 4Hr TWA and the SSDA tests that I’ve written about before. As a reminder, here’s my analysis of the techniques:

Specific short-duration activity (SSDA) Monitoring

This is the workhorse test that you will use most of the time. It’s used to test a specific activity. The guidance talks about the importance of really focusing on the individual task. To this end it stresses that it’s no longer good enough to, for example, talk about removal of asbestos insulation board (AIB) – now you need to detail the fixing too. An example given is breaking out a single AIB panel, followed by fine cleaning. This should be viewed as two separate tasks, and either you should test them separately, or prioritise the high-risk element.

As the purpose of the test is to examine an activity, you are allowed quite a bit of licence. The flow rate (how hard the pump is working) should be between two and four litres per minute, and the minimum volume tested should be 120 litres. These recommendations are very much intended to ensure you get a decent limit of quantification.

Four-hour time-weighted average (4Hr TWA)

The dreaded 4Hr TWA should be far less opaque if you’ve read my previous articles on the subject. Its main purpose is to discharge your duty to ensure workers are not exposed above the Control Limit (after taking into account the mask protection). Essentially, if an employer causes an operative to be exposed to asbestos, we should be able to tell them accurately how much they have been exposed to. The testing rules are set internationally, so the results can be accurate and comparable.

As 4Hr TWA is all about the person, rather than the activity, it can’t be used to populate the SSDA data. However the reverse is not true – if you select test parameters that comply with both, then you will be able to satisfy both duties in one. In short – if your default SSDA test is run for two hours at two litres/minute and 200 graticules – you will get a good accurate test that can also be used to populate the 4Hr TWA data. As Assure360 users will know, the system automatically does the calculation for you, provided your test follows the rules.

The guidance then goes into more detail on the ‘why’, mostly pointing you at the various regulations that demand compliance. However, littered through the document are more ‘whys’. Fundamentally, it makes the case that exposure monitoring – if done correctly – can be a practical management tool for testing competence.

Strategic guidance

The next part of the guidance focuses very helpfully on strategy. The starting point is to give an indication of absolute minimums – for example if you have a small, stable team, with consistently low readings and a predictable list of project types, you should aim for at least one test per month.

The first very important steer that you need to be aware of comes next. The traditional approach for LARCs’ exposure strategy is that 40% of all AIB jobs, 60% of all pipe insulation, and 100% of all flock jobs get a personal. This isn’t going to be good enough anymore.

Just as with audits, you should be targeting high-risk situations over low risk. The guidance gives you areas to consider when setting your strategy:

  1. Work activities – ultimately all should be covered, with a focus on high risk, but what constitutes high risk? The obvious first trigger is the asbestos-containing material, so AIB and pipe insulation are higher risk than floor tiles and cement. The next trigger is the fixing. Nailed is clearly higher risk than screwed, as is hard-set insulation over sectional. Finally, anything new – for example techniques that you haven’t used before – should be prioritised.
  2. People – everyone should be tested. People who are new-to-you, inexperienced, temporary (agency), or who have had high readings, should be seen as high risk, and targeted for higher frequency testing. Your long-term, experienced employees with good results are less so.

To obtain this data, the LARC therefore needs to be very clear as to what they want. No matter who is actually employing the analyst, you need to specify when, where, doing what, and who (will be doing it).

This new granular strategy, able to focus on individual removal techniques and the experience of a worker is going to really test your Excel skills. For Assure360 users however, it’s again very easy. We allow you to set targets for individual activities, and the system tracks how many times anyone uses each method on site. With every recorded instance it reassesses your strategy and alerts you to any personals you might need to do. Again, it’s all automatic through the Paperless system. We can even tag agency or new starters to increase their testing frequency.

Looking to the Construction (Design and Management) regulations and the duties that these place on clients, the guidance makes the point that personal monitoring data is a valuable measure for management of a project, and that clients should therefore insist on personal monitoring data in the contract. The implication is that if the client is appointing the analyst as good practice dictates, they should specify personal monitoring, along with leaks and clearances.

The LARC should view the dynamic between themselves and the analyst as customer and supplier. At this moment, no matter who actually pays the analyst, they’re providing the LARC with a service. To further underline this new way of looking at the relationship, the LARC should ensure the competence of the analyst to conduct personal monitoring, just as they should with any supplier.

The implication is that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is starting to believe that United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation alone isn’t enough. But the guidance doesn’t suggest how a LARC can be assured a consultancy has demonstrated competence in this area. Possibly this is where the likes of FAAM step in to investigate and improve the skill set across the board.

As delays in getting personal monitoring data could lead to increased exposure to asbestos, the guide states that analysts must provide the certification ASAP, no matter who is paying for the service. There is a stark warning that failure to do so could be seen as a breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Using the data

The second half of the guidance is very heavy on how you should analyse and use the data – which takes us firmly away from the thoroughly outdated idea that ‘we test because the HSE says we must’. The key to all of the points I’ll detail now is that you need to be responsive in how you interact with the data.

The supervisor needs to analyse the results, and there are two triggers for intervention:

  • Above the control limit – this is after the protection factor of the mask is taken into account. If this happens you should stop work immediately and investigate. This is not surprising, as the control limit when wearing a full face mask is a huge four fibres per millilitre.
  • Above what you anticipated for the works (with a 10% buffer)

With some training, the supervisor should be able to keep on top of this for you. Assure360 users have an extra layer of control, as any elevated result automatically sends an email to management and tracks what action has been taken.

All of the results must be reviewed by management, and the guidance tells you what you need to be checking:

  • Individual employees, and how they compare against each other at a given method
  • Trends – both for the tested method, but also for individual employees

There are really only two ways that you can do all of the analyses that the full guidance requires. The first is through a spreadsheet, which involves some skill with software and a great deal of time entering in the data from paper site records. The other is with Assure360 – there’s no real alternative system.

Our software takes the data that the supervisor is routinely recording, and does all the analysis for you. This doesn’t happen by luck, for years we’ve been exploring how to use site data more intelligently to provide greater safety and insight.

As our industry guidance increasingly calls for smarter data collection and analysis to drive safety, Assure360 customers are already reaping the benefits of this approach. In the words of one HSE inspector – ‘Assure360 presents all the information to you on a plate, allowing you to make sensible decisions’.

If you’ve got concerns around the guidance and the changes you’ll need to make, or simply if you’re yet to see what Assure360 can do for you, why not contact us? We’d be delighted to give you a demo, and set up a free pilot of the system.

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"Paperless has helped us build smooth processes around our critical site checks and record keeping. The app will be a fundamental part of helping us maintain quality and efficiency as we scale up."
Tony Loughran, Managing Director, Amianto