Nick Garland is the CEO of Assure360. He has 25+ years of experience in the industry. He tells the story of where the vision for Assure360 came from, the hurdles along the way, and what’s coming next.
Where did the idea for Assure360 come from?
It was effectively a happy accident.
I was an embedded H&S Manager for several licensed removal companies. I was designing and participating in audit schemes, completing training needs analysis and competence systems, undertaking the analysis of exposure results… again and again. The Assure360 system already existed, but as a series of interconnected Excel spreadsheets. I was repeating the same tasks over and over again which was incredibly time-consuming and prone to error.
In the space of a month or two I met an app designer (Matt Glover, who still works on the project) and a database company that I was reviewing for the Royal Mail. The penny dropped – what I needed was an app to record the data quickly, and a database to do the clever legwork.
What was it about your experience and background that fuelled this idea?
I have been working in the asbestos industry since 1992, at first as an analyst. In 1999 I retrained into health and safety (H&S). This was initially just an extra string to my bow, but I quickly realised the obvious – asbestos removal was just a construction project with a complex and highly regulated hazard attached. In 2004 I made the switch that most consultants never do, and started advising licensed asbestos contractors on H&S. It was this that really completed my education. Without direct experience of both sides of the industry we professionals can be very blinkered.
Working in the licensed sector – and for several different companies simultaneously – has given me a deep understanding of how the HSE thinks and what it requires. In recent years I’ve been able to strengthen this through close contacts with senior HSE figures: their insight was instrumental as we helped customers through the licence renewal overhaul in 2019.
Smaller removal contractors – especially ones that go to the expense of hiring a H&S manager – also taught me something else that makes all the difference. They recognise that looking after their people and, that precious licence, is of critical importance. They don’t want to pay for advice couched in clever terms or so caveated that it is opaque. They want clear advice that represents your opinion – even if that is a hard truth.
How has Assure360 developed over time?
The solution has evolved to add additional functionality. Our system now helps tick off all of the tasks that the HSE demands, but which are very difficult to achieve and remain commercially competitive.
Training and competence
We started with competence and training needs which ordinarily would be a massive additional task to add to an already busy team. By making the audit smarter we created a tool that could do this task for you at no extra effort.
Recording exposure testing was next. This always seemed a fruitless task that only kept the HSE happy to no practical use. The Assure360 database changed that, so that every test and daily exposure became an audit of the removal method – driving improvements.
Accident, incident and near-miss reporting
Recording and analysing near misses and incidents is critical to avoiding serious accidents in the workplace. Next we developed Assure360 Incident, our reporting app, to provide insight into safety performance and trends. Crucially, it helps identify the process, equipment or training gaps that could be putting people at risk.
Paperless safety checks
We’ve recently redesigned Assure360 Paperless, the latest addition to our suite of apps. Since its original launch, the app has been streamlining the record-keeping process, allowing supervisors to focus on actually supervising. Meanwhile, the office can process and review checks as they’re made – instead of having to wait for the site paperwork to come back.
In the new version we’ve made the process even easier, reimagining the Site Diary feature to use drop down entries and photos – a far quicker way of recording the day’s significant events. We also added Android support, lowering the cost of entry to the Assure360 solution and opening it up to more users.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Paperless has been the biggest challenge, without a doubt. We had to solve seemingly insurmountable twin requirements. We needed offline data capture, meaning that it was not susceptible to the vagaries of poor signal. We also had to work out what happens if the iPad was lost or damaged – we had to make sure customers wouldn’t lose all their paperwork.
We cracked both challenges by using data – rather than forms – so we only ever deal with tiny snippets, rather than whole files. The information stays on the iPad, but the app chirps updates back to the cloud whenever it has a little signal.
Of course, more recently everybody has faced a huge challenge in the shape of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the construction and asbestos-removal industries certainly haven’t been immune. We knew that Paperless was the ideal product to help reduce site visits and the need to handle paperwork, so from early on in the crisis we offered our customers free access. We’ve now formalised this into a free three-month trial.
As well as offering ‘wipe-clean paperwork’, we’ve introduced Covid-19 specific audit questions into the system. And throughout we’ve been publishing regular updates on safe working on our website and in the newsletter.
Any lucky moments along the way?
The birth of Assure360 was, in a way, a lucky happenstance. The need was always there, but meeting both the app developer and the cloud database designer in short order led to a lightbulb moment.
What’s new on the horizon?
We continue to add to our series of How To videos, which have been warmly received by clients. Many are using them as the core of their training on the system (although we can offer tailored support). We haven’t stopped at updating the Paperless app – we’ll be refreshing Audit and Incident, and will add Android support for both. The People and Plant sections of the system will also develop into full modules designed to help Admin and Stores.
What keeps you interested in this work?
It’s important. As the HSE’s Dr Martin Gibson has put it: “Britain was the first to have an industrial revolution. We were the first to start importing asbestos, and we have imported the most asbestos. In fact – we imported 40% of the world’s capacity to produce amosite* in the 50s, 60s and 70s. We have so much asbestos that we have to manage the problem.”
* amosite is the most common of the highly dangerous amphibole (needle-like) forms of asbestos
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