For some years, there’s been a question mark hanging over the Health and Safety Executive’s licensing regime for asbestos removal. With variable licence periods creating confusion among clients and an unintended hierarchy being created within the industry, attempts to overhaul the system are to be welcomed by everyone.
For those who don’t know, the existing system is a permissioning regime. Would-be licenced asbestos-removal contractors (LARCs) and those who want to renew must demonstrate to the HSE that they have the necessary skills, competency, expertise, knowledge and experience of work with asbestos, together with excellent health and safety management systems. The outcome is either no licence, a three-year licence, or any period between. Additional conditions are sometimes attached.
It sounds simple enough, but there are multiple problems. While nobody is meant to infer anything about competency from a company’s licence term, in practice customers choosing a LARC often treat the full three-year licence as a prerequisite. In addition, LARCs can’t notify a project that extends beyond their licence period – that means that bidding for complex, two-year-plus jobs is effectively restricted to the 35% or so of LARCs with a three-year licence.
Against this, in recent years the HSE has been less inclined to give out three-year licences. Among other things, that’s resulted in an increased workload for inspectors as they conduct more regular licence inspections. There’s a burden for LARCs, too, as there’s a considerable cost and administrative overhead to each licence application.
Time for a change
It’s no surprise that the HSE wants to shake things up. It’s already started to pilot a new regime that shifts the onus away from licence inspections, and more onto LARCs to provide evidence of their competency. In the new system, first-time applicants still get inspected, whereas existing LARCs re-apply via an electronic form.
A couple of years ago I called for an end to the fixed-term licence, and the introduction of monitoring visits. Essentially if you’re good enough, you get a licence. If not – you don’t. it’s recently emerged that in the pilot scheme the HSE are moving towards just that. As ACAD’s Graham Warren explains in a LinkedIn blog post:
“Some eagle-eyed people have been asking ACAD why all renewals [under the electronic pilot scheme] seem to be issued the full three-year term. HSE have confirmed this is not some chance occurrence, but actually how the new system works.”
At renewal, companies either won’t get a licence, or they’ll be licenced for the now-standard three-years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that LARCs that would previously have received a one or two-year licence will be turned down. In all cases where a company is judged competent, the HSE will issue a three-year licence, but it may require a formal review to ensure any improvements are fully implemented. Crucially, this review period will remain confidential, unless the LARC fails to make the required improvements, so it won’t affect the LARC’s ability to compete for contracts.
Improvements, and consequences
The change is virtually what I called for, and it’s a vast improvement. By settling on a single, three-year period, the HSE will reduce the confusion among clients who see one and two year licences as less of a vote of confidence. Moving the major work of re-licencing onto a three-year cycle will reduce the burden for LARCs, allowing them to concentrate on making the improvements the HSE wants to see at the review meeting.
For the HSE, it means less licence inspection work, and a relief from the commercial pressures to grant three-year licences to the biggest contractors, who may previously have needed them to bid for the most complex works. A more centralised approach by the HSE (all applications are reviewed by a single team) will mean much more consistency, too.
As Graham points out in his post, there may be some interesting consequences. With clients no longer able to select LARCs by licence duration, they’re likely to look for other ways to determine which companies are working to deliver the highest standards. Being able to demonstrate fastidious record keeping, management and analysis – for example through membership of a trade body such as ACAD – will become more of a competitive edge.
Assure360 can really help here, too. Our data-based system makes it easier not only for LARCs to manage asbestos removal, but for them to demonstrate the high quality of their training, competency, and analysis of key safety factors such as exposure monitoring.
In fact the new regime fits seamlessly with the Assure360 ethos. Being a health and safety system, specifically designed by asbestos industry experts for the asbestos industry, Assure360 has always allowed you to showcase your expertise. Vast quantities of evidence are now required in advance of the licence assessment, and Assure360 customers can simply provide it by running a series of reports. The database presents all the proof that the HSE could ever ask for. And with the new Paperless solution, even site files can be viewed with real date and time stamps on the certification.
We’ve got a great track record of helping clients prepare for, and excel at licence renewal: under the existing scheme our customers have consistently proven far more likely to achieve three-year licences. Under the new regime Assure360 will streamline the process even further, as our reports are mapped against the questions the HSE are asking.
So if you’re applying for a first-time licence, or preparing to renew an existing one, why not get in touch and see how we can help?
Assure360 will be at the Contamination Expo on the 11th and 12th of September – stand J7, directly opposite ACAD. So if you’re looking for guidance and insight into the new process, pitfalls to avoid and strategies to help – there couldn’t be a better first port of call.
I will also be speaking on the first day – 12:30 – 13:00 at Theatre 21 The subject – you guessed it is the only one that matters right now, the New Asbestos Licencing system and how electronic solutions can help.
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