Assure 360

FAAM conference report – more than a virtual success

Written by Nick Garland on 10/12/2020
 

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

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

The control limit

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

** Brand new test – see below

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

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

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

Short-duration activities

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

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

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

The day of the trial

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

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

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

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

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"The new system is better. Obviously it takes a few days to get used to the app, but once you do it's quicker. It's exactly the same checks you'd be doing with a paper system, but you haven't got the folder. You haven't got the paper there, it's just done on a small screen. It's made my job easier."
Mark McGonagle, Major Works Supervisor, Asbestech