How do you ensure you get the asbestos contractor for the job and for surveys? The big question is what determines a good surveyor or a competent surveyor?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) strongly recommends you use UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) to find UKAS accredited companies. UKAS is the government-backed body for accreditation for testing, surveying, analysis and anything that can have a process driven element in it. It is the sole one in the UK – you cannot be accredited by another body.
It is mandatory to use a UKAS accredited company for air tests inside and if you are looking at having a laboratory do an asbestos test, they must be UKAS accredited to carry out samples and tests.
UKAS accredited company or non-UKAS accredited company?
HSE defines competence as training, knowledge and experience. To get UKAS accreditation, an organisation will have had to meet the required standards and be audited annually. The auditors like to see different people every year, so the company cannot always put forward their best surveyors. Often new staff members are chosen to ensure surveyors are bringing their new people up to meet the required standard and to get an idea of the standard of the new people coming into the industry.
When UKAS do our annual review, they spend a week with us in the office and on site. UKAS also expects firms to improve on their previous assessment and to continuously try to raise the bar. This is good for us at Acorn as this is in line with our core values of innovation.
That’s what demanded of a UKAS company so what is a non-UKAS company like? They do what they like and are not externally assessed. UKAS accreditation is expensive and if they are a one-man band, it won’t be cost effective for them to have UKAS accreditation. There are individual surveyors who perhaps have 25 to 30 years’ experience who may be equally as good but they haven’t got that external verification by UKAS, so they must prove their competency in a different way.
For companies that are not UKAS accredited, there are quite a few things that you should be asking for, to prove that they are good enough to do the work.
So, what can you check? On the removal side, there are the trade organisations which don’t offer accreditation but their members are externally audited and must achieve a benchmark of minimal requirements. This does not apply to the consultancy side of the industry.
What should you look for in an asbestos contractor?
If you are going to use a non-UKAS accredited company, or even a UKAS accredited company, we would always advise you to check their competence.
Here are some examples of the things you should check:
- Has the surveyor got the relevant experience and training? A qualified surveyor should have a minimum of six months’ experience before they are let loose. Look for P402 or other relevant qualifications. At Acorn, we are UKAS accredited and we train in house. Our staff have to fill in training diaries and provide evidence on what experience they have had and what types of work they have carried out in different types of buildings. They must build up enough evidence to prove they have the necessary experience and are ready to be audited to become qualified to survey a particular type of building. It is a long process
- Look at their experience. For UKAS, a surveyor must have a minimum of six months’ experience before they can go out on their own and have to be audited several times to prove competence within a specific area. On the surface, a company might appear to have experience, but you need to do a deeper dive on what other things they can offer. You want to know who will be carrying out your survey. If they have been in the industry for a long time, are they up to date?
- Ask for previous survey reports they have produced on particular types of buildings to give you an indication on the type of experience they have. For instance, we work a lot in Grade 1 and Grade 2 listed buildings and properties
- Ask for references from previous clients to see what they did. Don’t just ask for written references, ask for contact telephone numbers too. You may pick up on an element in a conversation, things such as they overran, turned up late etc. You can gauge a lot from a conversation, including the tone, which doesn’t come through in a written reference
- If you have a complex site, ie a chemical plant or power station, and you have got some serious things that could go wrong, these need to be highlighted to the surveying company as this will help you gauge whether they are competent
- Are they independent and impartial? Find out if they are an asbestos removal company also offering surveys or whether they are linked to asbestos removal companies?
- Have they got a management system? Do they know ISO9001? At Acorn, ISO9001 and UKAS are integrated into our manual. What a manual does is it controls how we operate, how we meet standards, how we deal with clients, how our processes happen so that every client goes through the same process, has the same customer experience and has the same outcome. It shows how we select suppliers and how we control everything within the business, even down to whether we determine if we can complete the job the client is asking about.
- Are they working towards the correct guidance? If they start talking about Type 1, 2 and 3 surveys they are out of touch. You need to ask if they are working to current guidelines.
What else can you do to make sure you get the right person?
You need to keep up with the industry standards so you can be sure the people you employ are also up to date.
UKAS accreditations help us to get the relevant information and encourage us to actively look for new information by checking the HSE website, reading the latest memorandums and being part of active online communities. They ensure we provide professional development and refresher training for staff, directors and managers. All our staff members must have refresher training in the fields their authorised fields in order to stay qualified.
We also have checks in place around the surveys and post surveys audits. We have a ‘while auditing system’, which takes a lot of time, but it means we are prepared in case of an unexpected audit.
Re-inspections are a key element to checking. If you are not accredited, how do you meet a re-inspection requirement because who is going to re-inspect your work if it is just you?
We’re a professional asbestos consultancy helping businesses deal with asbestos compliance using asbestos surveys, asbestos testing, and asbestos removal. Please call one of the team, or use the online form to obtain your free quotation. If you would like further information or advice on asbestos and asbestos training, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .