Graham Warren ACAD Manager, details the challenges facing local authorities in the management of asbestos.
When it comes to the management of asbestos, local authorities (LAs) and similar organisations are in an unenviable position. Issues are varied, and include a huge variety of buildings under their control as well as the constant turnover of people with responsibility for managing asbestos on a day-to-day basis.
Budgets have been squeezed which creates pressure to opt for the cheapest quote on projects, and when this issue is added to the cutbacks in staff numbers, including the failure to replace staff members retiring or moving on, leads to a concentration of responsibilities on those who remain in post. These pressures can inevitably all come together to create asbestos management breaches, which all too often result in an exposure incident that can, and often do, end in prosecution.
Only the worst examples end in prosecution and a fine, but any breaches of regulations can now leave authorities with a significant bill to pay in the form of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Fee for Intervention scheme.
The HSE can, and do, charge for their time if they identify a ‘material breach’ of a health and safety law. A ‘material breach’ is where managing agents have broken a health and safety law and the inspector judges that this is serious enough to notify them in writing. The hourly rate for intervention is £124 – and charges add up very quickly. The HSE budgeted for an income in the 2013 financial year of £17m and planned a 35% increase to £23m in 2014/15.
In my experience of working for LAs, management of it has improved dramatically with a number of organisations developing and promoting best practice. Unfortunately, due in part to their unique situation, the risk of accidental exposure will always remain.
Exacerbating this situation is the often limited investment in systems and staff. Sending an employee away for a few days’ training does not make them competent to manage asbestos, but all too often this is the situation many employees with responsibility for asbestos find themselves in. With this in mind, there is a growing movement for schools to be given a special position in asbestos management, and move to a programme of phased removal instead of the current best practice recommendation to manage asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in situ.
On a wider stage, a resolution was adopted by the European Parliament in 2013, calling for the removal of all ACMs from public buildings by 2028 and an information programme for people about the risk of asbestos contamination in their homes. This is a mammoth task. It still remains widespread throughout public and private sector properties and it is against this backdrop that LA asbestos managers operate.
About 45,000 people have died from asbestos-related diseases since Duty to Manage regulations came into force almost 10 years ago.
By now, most organisations have undertaken surveys and developed management plans for premises under their control. HSG227 (A comprehensive guide to Managing Asbestos in premises) provides a seven-point strategy, and the more recent HSG264 (Asbestos: The survey guide) provides a simple flow chart to aid the management of asbestos.
In addition to the published guidance, most organisations also call upon the knowledge and expertise of external contractors to assist with asbestos management. Both HSE licensed removal contractors as well as surveyor or analyst organisations can offer expert help with this.
But how can you be sure that the organisation, in whom you are placing your trust, is well placed to be providing these services?
You should, of course, obtain suitable references but one solution is to look for ACAD membership and ACAD training. Our trade association is dedicated to the promotion of best working practice and as such is a long-standing member of HSE groups including the Asbestos Liaison Group and the Training and Competency Subcommittees. This close working relationship feeds into our audit activity and training, allowing us to continue to develop services from a long-standing position at the forefront of the asbestos industry.
Being a not for profit organisation, allows for reinvestment for any surplus income in the quality of our training and represents all aspects of the industry. All members undergo a rigorous vetting process as part of the membership procedure, passing initial and follow up site audits.
As part of our programme of continual improvement, we are moving to a new phase of unannounced site audits to provide the best learning opportunities for members and an ever-higher level of assurance for client organisations. All our trainers have excellent technical knowledge and represent ACAD at a variety of events and groups including the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC.)
Underpinning all of our activities is the Technical Committee, containing a number of industry experts, who are held in the highest regard throughout the asbestos and related industries. Members continue to influence current policy, including the recent consultation exercise to produce the new Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) for the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
When you have vetted and appointed an organization to assist you with the management of asbestos, an often overlooked element to remember is your own development and knowledge base.
To help fill this gap ACAD has introduced a new membership category, designed specifically to help improve clients’ knowledge through regular information updates and our trade magazine –TICA Times, published 3 times per year.
Local Authority Membership is FREE to public sector organisations, which do not hold an HSE Asbestos Removal Licence.
ACAD membership is designed to give local authorities the best advice, support and updates to keep pace with the requirements of managing asbestos in their buildings in the 21st Century.
Tel: 01325 466704