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In the third part of my summary of the new draft Asbestos Analyst’s Guide from the HSE – I’m concentrating on reoccupation certificates and clearances.

For those of you who have read either of my first two summaries – this stand-alone article is a continuation. If you want to read the first two instalments:

Part 1 – Appointing the right asbestos analyst

Part 2 – Testing for asbestos

This time I am concentrating on the critical issue of reoccupation certificates, or for the layman – the final validation that an asbestos enclosure has been cleaned well enough.

The HSE have been running a well-publicised investigation into analysts and clearance practices, the findings have clearly informed Martin Gibson’s work here. Ordinarily I tackle bigger sections of the draft guide, but this area has so many changes and is of such significance that I thought it best to concentrate.

When is the finished guide due for publication?

The latest heads-up on a release date for the finished guide, is that it should be back with Martin Gibson (the author) in September. Not sure how that translates to publication – but clearly the tanker is being manoeuvred.

Whilst I am still writing for the layman – this instalment reviews some dramatic changes that all professionals will need to prepare for.

My usual health warning – this is obviously a summary and clearly not intended to replace the Guide. The appendices contain a lot of important detail and should still be studied to gain the fullest picture. Finally, this is a review of the ‘draft for consultation’ – there may well be changes before final publication.

Cleanliness of premises and plant

This is the legal phrasing used to cover the duties imposed when returning an area back to normal use – after some asbestos removal.

You might recall from the previous posts that the guide gives some pointers on when not to test. The one I repeat here is during the 4-stage clearance for external works. A common example would be soffit removal. Historically, this was an area that often confuses removal companies and analysts. External asbestos removal (i.e. no enclosure) still requires a 4-stage clearance (4SC), just not the actual air test section (Stage 3). The Certificate for Reoccupation (CfR) should be completed as normal – but this part would be struck through as N/A.

As an aside – the guidance on roofless enclosures to tackle domestic enclosures is so onerous that it is almost a statement – ‘don’t do it’. The requirement to place tarpaulin on the ground under the scaffold is virtually impossible to comply with. This should extend 2-3m beyond the footprint of the platform. It is a rare (possibly mythical) property that does not have bushes, trees, sheds or the neighbour’s property in the way of this. Guidance being guidance, you are not compelled to follow it exactly, but you must introduce something equivalent or better. Just because it’s hard to do – it can’t be ignored and the designer needs to get imaginative. I would suggest it is probably cheaper and easier to build a bigger scaffold and put a traditional enclosure on top.

The 4-stage clearance process

The process by which an analyst passes off an asbestos enclosure is very familiar:

  1. Preliminary check of site condition and job completeness;
  2. Thorough visual inspection inside the enclosure/work area;
  3. Disturbance air monitoring (see above);
  4. Final assessment post-enclosure/work area dismantling.

All 4 stages should be completed by a single analytical company (accredited to ISO 17020 and ISO 17025), and preferably the same analyst. To ensure the long since required independence it is now “strongly recommended” that the analytical company is employed directly by the building owner / occupier direct.

This is a much firmer stance on the issue and potentially marks time on the removal contractor rolling the clearance into the package and employing the analyst themselves. This has been the advice that all consultants have given for years (me included). I can hardly argue against it now – but it will have a cost impact – contractors always seemed to negotiate very competitive rates from analysts!

The requirement that all 4 stages must be completed and passed, with a failure at any point leading to the issue of an incomplete certificate remains. As does the requirement to carry out a separate inspection and clearance of the decontamination unit used by the asbestos removal workers.

The guide stresses that the analyst should plan the 4-stage clearance ideally at appointment stage, but certainly before work starts. This would involve specific conversations with the LARC about issues that could disrupt or impede the process. Sufficient time must be allowed for the 4-stage clearance and particularly the visual inspection. This last (for the layman) is the detailed hands-and-knees examination by the analyst that all asbestos and even visible dust has been removed.

Changes to requirements for the visual inspection

There are some fundamental changes:

  • High resolution colour photographic evidence of the various steps*. These should be embedded into the certificate.
  • Prediction of the time required for the visual inspection and justification if this differs from reality.
  • All new Certificate for Reoccupation (CfR), to incorporate the above.

* With time and date stamp. The photographs required are quite extensive and would be a minimum of 12, plus one for the DCU. Substantially more for complex enclosures. The unspoken implication is that date and time stamped photos would prevent fraudulently forged certificates.

The guide includes a table in the appendices on suggested times for visual inspection:

If the difference between the estimated and actual visual inspection duration is >20% (longer or shorter), the reason should be recorded on the CfR. However, it does not state what should happen if the reason given is inadequate. I am aware that this was raised during the consultation process, so hopefully it will be clarified later.

The analytical company should build up a data set of estimated and actual times to enhance/improve their service in the future. This should also allow internal (or UKAS / HSE) investigation on the reasons stated for variance. Questions could be asked if significantly lower visual times are recorded. The date and time stamped photos would make massaging of these stats much harder.

Documenting clearance

Separate copies of the CfR should be provided to the building occupier / owner and to the LARC ‘promptly’ on completion of the process. This may cause issues for entirely electronic systems that do not produce completed certificates on site.

The clearance certificate for the DCU is a mandatory part of the process irrespective of who has employed the Analyst. i.e. if the contractor is not employing the analyst directly for the CfR, they do not have to pay separately for the DCU element of the test. Whilst this is a good improvement, it does raise some additional questions – there will be several variants, but I think this example sums it up:

  • Housing estate where there are 2-3 clearances in a day.**
  • DCU stored securely overnight in the central compound.
  • 2-3 DCU inspections in a day?
  • 1 inspection per day – but how do you record it?
  • 1 inspection at the end of the week when the project ends (as is often the case now).

** this number of clearances might not be possible anymore – see below.

Time spent on clearances has dramatically increased (a very good thing indeed!). When I started my career in Manchester in the early ‘90s, four and five visuals in a day were not uncommon. Given the recommended visual times – more than one would be unlikely.

The guide finally ends debate on correct use of PPE – more on this later, but as entry into enclosures for 4SC procedures:

carries a risk of exposure and contamination, the Analysts entering enclosure should only be wearing appropriate RPE and PPE. No other clothing should be worn.

The role of the contractor in clearance

It is not the analyst’s role to supervise or manage the above, but to validate that it has been completed successfully. Cleaning the enclosure therefore remains the responsibility of the contractor. The analyst should not start the 4-stage clearance until the contractor has conducted their own thorough visual inspection and is satisfied that:

  • All asbestos has been removed.
  • The enclosure / airlocks are clean and dry.
  • Sacrificial polythene has been removed.

Sealant / encapsulant should not have been applied at this stage.

I have heard talk that the time spent by the supervisor on this visual inspection should be the same as for the analyst. This was not detailed in the draft guide and I do not know whether this will be in the final version, inserted into the Contractor’s Guide when that comes out – or left out completely. If it is brought forward, it would of course prove to be a dramatic change. Supervisor visual inspections can often be quite cursory – the suggestion that this should increase to 1-2 days for a large complex boiler room, will probably be met in some quarters with incomprehension. Guidance on this key element of the job has been a long time in coming. Clearly it would have a significant cost impact.

The guide makes a brief foray into defining “Environmental Cleans”. I understand that this was met with such opposition in the consultation process that it will be dropped. Martin Gibson (HSE author of the guide), clarified his thoughts at a BOHS seminar. Areas with the occasional tiny spec of suspected asbestos debris should not be considered licensed work, and therefore wouldn’t require a 4-stage clearance. As I say this whole section is likely to be dropped or heavily re-written.

Much, much longer clearances, possible transforming changes to the role of the asbestos supervisor and a courageous definition for environmental cleans. A shorter chapter this time, but I think you’ll agree possibly the one with the most dramatic implications.

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