In its 2018 report on the asbestos analysts inspection programme, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the practice of personal sampling was very poor. Tests were predominantly run for only 10-30 minutes and included very limited information on what the operative was doing at the time. Together this leads to such small sample sizes that the reported results are alarmingly high, yet it provides no information to understand what led to ‘hugh’ reading. In short, it’s near useless.
In contrast, the HSE judged background monitoring to be good. It found accurate counting of fibres, plus floor plans and contextual information that illustrated clearly what was going on.
But here’s the issue: the skill set for both of these areas is fundamentally identical, and yet one was found to be very poor and the other excellent It seems to me that the problem is one of ignorance about what the tests are for. Background tests are broadly understood, but personal monitoring much less so.
Getting more useful results
To get more useful results, we need licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) to focus on why they need to do the test. Despite what many will tell you, they’re not doing it to check that the exposure is below the control limit. In fact they’re attempting to measure how successful their own control measures have been, and use this to drive improvements.
For this to be effective we need as low a limit of quantification (LoQ) as possible. And to achieve this we must have high flow rates, longer durations, and the full 200 graticules read.
Assure360 and its member companies are taking this principle to heart, but we’re also using data to add to a collective, community-based approach. By analysing data shared among the group, we help each other drive improvements. Assure360 members have been recording, analysing and sharing personal monitoring data since 2014. And at the time of writing, 17,818 tests have been processed through the system.
HSE Asbestos Exposure Project
The HSE Science Division (previously HSL) has been conducting further research into improving the quality of sampling results in its Asbestos Exposure Project. The study is examining the life-cycle of asbestos removal projects. It includes working methods, types of masks and air monitoring during the work – and clearance testing at the end.
The research not only shadows the air test results of on-site analysts with electron microscopy, but uses biological monitoring of the removal operatives. The latter involves sputum and breath condensate. In-mask samplers have also been used to determine levels inside the RPE – i.e. asbestos that has bypassed the filter completely. The aim of the study was to establish how effective protective methods are, and whether any changes are required to the guidance.
In the course of the work, the HSE became aware of our vast library of personal monitoring data. Following a request by lead researcher Daniel Barrowcliffe, our member companies asked for it to be shared not just with the research project, but with the wider community. Accordingly I’m delighted to attach two appendices providing the anonymised data from our community.
Appendix 1 – Benchmark Report
Appendix 2 – All Personal Monitoring Data
I’m proud that we’re in a position to help with such an important, and potentially lifesaving bit of research, and I’m particularly grateful to our customers for their willingness to share this data. In particular I’d like to thank Asbestech, Asbestos Essentials, Gwella, Hendersons, Horizon and Sperion for their help with the project.
By sharing our data, I hope we can help drive a greater understanding of the risks faced by asbestos-removal contractors. And, returning to my initial point, I hope we can help push more LARCs to focus on more thorough personal tests. Ideally, we’ll contribute to a change of focus that sees personals not as a box-ticking exercise, but as an opportunity to reduce exposure and risk for those on the front line of dealing with asbestos.
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