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The Property Managers Lifeline to Asbestos Management.

Join two of Acorn's Directors, best-selling authors and asbestos experts Ian Stone and Neil Munro as they educate, guide and take the complication out of asbestos management.

Get the information you need to help manage your asbestos risk.

"Remember asbestos first, not last" - Neil Munro and Ian Stone.

Sep 16, 2019

In this episode Neil and Ian deep dive into how to ensure you select the right asbestos contractor. Covering everything from licenses, accreditations, memberships and financial stability.



Ian:      Welcome to Asbestos Knowledge Empire. I’m Ian Stone.

Neil:    I’m Neil Munro.

Ian:      So today we’re looking at contractor competence and how to check it.

Neil:    Previously spoke about the [unclear – 01:12] sort of failures and stuffs of [unclear – 01:17] companies.

Ian:      So this is more removal contractors, asbestos remediation, asbestos removal works, all those type of contractors. They kind of fall into two categories, don’t they, are they licensed or non-licensed?

Neil:     Yeah.

Ian:      Licensed contractors they are given a license from the health and safety executive to work on and with licensable asbestos materials. You need license if you’re going to potentially exceed the control limit so it’s kind of the work on the higher risk materials, higher percentage of asbestos would you say?

Neil:    Yeah, great risk there, more hazardous stuff such as pump installation, spray coatings, the removal of asbestos insulating board, that type of activity.

Ian:      And when I say they’re given a license. I don’t actually mean given. It is not like you go, “Can I have one?” They go, “Yeah, yeah.” It is a little bit more complex than that.

Neil:    Yeah, they are externally verified by an inspector.

Ian:      Health and safety executive inspector.

Neil:    Has slightly changed very recently and they’ve gone to an online system which has cause quite a few problems and delays and I know of quite a few contractors that have actually nearly gone over their license renewal date. So yeah I think there has been some problems with that so it’s just something to be aware of if you are employing a licensed contractor at this moment in time and their license is about to expire. It may be worth contacting them just to make sure everything is in place because there has been some delays in actually issuing that license.

Ian:      Yeah, and that’s very good point actually because if you employ them to do a job halfway through the job their license expires. Well, if they don’t get it renewed they can’t trade, they can’t work, so you are left with asbestos enclosure just sitting there on your site which kind of bugs everything.

Neil:    Yeah, because there’s lots of checks that they go through. Isn’t it?

Ian:      Yeah. They check also all your paperwork, all your procedures, following a license renewal, they do site visits as well and come and make sure that the supervisors, operatives are all working to your company’s procedures because although the overarching kind of guidance is out there. Different companies do do different things. So need to make sure that the employees are doing what they should be doing.

Neil:    Yeah, definitely.

Ian:      One thing to check on is for additional conditions on a license.

Neil:    Yup.

Ian:      Now, there is always a standard to add conditions but sometimes some contractors are given additional conditions. Now, that could be because they’ve had a visit or the renewal process they weren’t happy with something.

Neil:    Yup. For all the inspector probably have got an experience in a certain area.

Ian:      Yes, so for instance, I know of a company that they were required to send in audits every three months. Send an independent audit to the HSE because obviously

Neil:    They haven’t had any maybe.

Ian:      Hadn’t have any or there were doubts or concerns or something like that so that was a conditional license. And the conditions, let’s say, it is usually something is pretty much gone array or there is no confidence there so that’s why you should check for any additional conditions.

Neil:    It is not very common for clients to actually read the licenses. Is it?

Ian:      No, no.

Neil:    It is like okay you’ve got a certificate but do you actually read what’s actually written on the certificate.

Ian:      It is like a driving license. If you compare it to a driving license…

Neil:    It looks the same.  

Ian:      It looks the same. Everyone has got a driving license but actually is that a provisional, is it for motor bikes, is it for lorries, is it for towing? Exactly, there’s all those different conditions on it so if you think of it along that similar manner that’s why you should have a read through and check any conditions.

Neil:    Yeah, yeah. So with a licensed contractor you’ve got the HSE who are inspecting them their license granters. Is it [unclear – 04:43] and types of works. So what about non-licensed contractors? There is no kind of policing of those contractors.

Ian:      There is no licensed to trade in the non-licensed world.

Neil:    The regulations are still in place and they are governed by that but there is no sort of external body checking.

Ian:      That you are okay to do that.

Neil:    That you are okay to do that and you’re competent and etcetera.

Ian:      The owners has placed on the employer.

Neil:    Yeah, exactly that. So what does non licensed contractors… what do they need to do? So what’s that you can ask them have they go in place. Well, number one really is has that non-licensed contractor got the right risk assessments and method statements and plan of works, from the top works that you’re trying to employ them for.

Ian:      Yeah, and it’s a big one really.

Neil:    Can they actually identify the risk and have they got the procedures and work methods to actually do it correctly.

Ian:      Yeah, that’s correct definitely, because when you think about the different types of work in non-licensed world they could be working on vinyl tiles, gaskets, roofs and they’ve all got their own elements of risks.

Neil:    Control methods.

Ian:      Yes, the control methods and different removal techniques. So you wouldn’t use the same removal technique for floor tiles as you would have for roof. So you need to make sure that they’ve got that experience and the paperwork that backs it up.

Neil:    Definitely. And that kind of leads on to training doesn’t it?

Ian:      Yes.

Neil:    So have they had the right training if they’ve had asbestos [unclear – 06:11] training that’s not adequate for working with asbestos. So they would to have some form and evidence of this, non-licensed training.

Ian:      And it is the same for the licensed guys. The licensed contractors they need operative licensed supervisor training.

Neil:    And next, so once they’ve got that training, have they got the right personal protective equipment which includes your respirators, covers. Have they got the right equipment for the job? That’s kind of a standard practice to have all that stuff in place with the licensed arena. You know, they’ve got all that stuff in place as a non-licensed contractor. And now they do regular checks on that so they check in the respirators and keep records of those.

Ian:      Our guys face it.

Neil:    Big one. So equipment, have they got the right equipment. So as a standard I would expect to see a HVAC vacuum cleaner. That’s the standard contractor piece of equipment.

Ian:      That’s DOP tested as well.

Neil:    Yes, and regularly done.

Ian:      Yeah, every six months.

Neil:    It was done when you bought it but the vacuum cleaners are five years old.

Ian:      That’s been tested too.

Neil:    Which comes down to build a picture of this like not a lot of your average joe builders are going to have all this in place.

Ian:      No, and a lot of times you’ll get a roofing company, other builder or a roofing company. They’ve only got asbestos as part of their job. Yeah, we will do that. It’s only non licensed but when you actually look into it, look at their methods, all the rest of it, they haven’t got PPA, RPA, insurance, trainings, face fits. It’s kind of, yeah you can do manual lifting, cutting of the sheets all the rest of it.

Neil:    Taking it down and lumping it in.

Ian:      Yeah, but it is not being done properly.

Neil:    So this lead on to where else so proper disposing of the asbestos materials themselves they have to have this waste license.

Ian:      Yeah, waste carriers license for the vehicle.

Neil:    Or the only other way around that is they are using an external company [unclear – 08:05] Again, you need to be asking if they’ve got the waste carriers license.

Ian:      And that is kind of the split between the licensed and non-licensed. Non-licensed contractors you’ve got a lot more responsibility to check that all of these things are in place. Whereas if you use a licensed contractor and you do check their license and the other things like insurance and all those things as well. Because their license they have to have it all. So the licensed contractor really is kind of your safer option of employment competent contractor.              

Neil:    Just to add on to the license, the biggie, I’m insured to do it.

Ian:      And that is massive. Insurance is a huge thing because any insurance company out there for builders, whatever it is they purposely exclude asbestos from the insurance. When asbestos goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way and it cost a lot of money and that’s why they exclude it, so again that is again just for covering your own ass, peace of mind, that’s a biggie for you.

Neil:    Just a few points to add on to so that’s a non-licensed contractor and taking normal non-licensed activities if the works are going to be notifiable. This is just a few extra points that those contractors have to take into account. Don’t they?

Ian:      Yeah, they need to put a notification in before work starts which is different to the licensed. The licensed notification period is 14 days whereas the non-licensed stuff is before work starts, so that could be 14 days. It could be the morning of the work while they are sitting in the van before they start the job. It is just a form they have to fill on the HSE website completely all the information about how they are planning to tackle the job, do the job, etcetera. It just needs to go in before the work starts.

Neil:    Yes, and you also have to keep health records after the medicals for these operatives or anyone into taking their non-licensed works and be kept on record for those employees. So again, it is kind of like is joe builder doing all of that? I would question that.

Ian:      Definitely. But there are companies out there that are non-licensed. There are some roofing companies. They are fully aware of that and they fully comply with all of that.

Neil:    Yeah, but it is just something peace of mind to make sure that the non-licensed company using has got all that in place.

Ian:      Definitely.

Neil:    And where else can we look at to check competence?

Ian:      So I’ve look at any kind of accreditations.               

Neil:    Yeah, certifications, accreditation schemes, ISOs.

Ian:      Yeah, and what this is kind of doing is this is building a picture of legitimacy of the company if they have prepared to jump through and we’ll all know the hoops of ISO, and stuff like that. This will build a picture of if there are professional outfit, if they have got the 9001, 14001, anything like that.

Neil:    These are the schemes as well like [unclear – 10:52]

Ian:      ISSIPs so they kind of fall into the task and sub-contractor etcetera. They are all about assessing this sort of safety procedures and competency of not the asbestos element.

Neil:    The working element. Again if you’re looking at a company that got these things it doesn’t mean that they’re [unclear – 11:14] and you’re off the hook. But it does kind of hold your hand and takes you down the path a little bit of going, “You know what these guys, they have got X, or,  what it means is they’ve got that badge because they’ve got the right things in place in that scheme. Insurances we cover that. I mean on both sides if there is insurance in place that are big one to also check is the actual amount of cover is in place for your site or for the project. Again, because some asbestos maybe jobs are millions of pounds worth in size. And I don’t know you might have a site where you are working next to a big reactor or something and if that goes bad that could cost millions to put right. So again, you need those insurances in place to make sure if it does go wrong there is that cover there for you.

Ian:      Yeah, so we kind of talked about non-asbestos associations and accreditations, certifications. One to absolutely to look for is asbestos. Isn’t it? Any memberships for that contractor because they are quite important especially on the contractor side because really they are the go to points for industry updates. They are kind of the voice of the industry and they are stirring the direction of policies because they are on various committees aren’t they? I’ve seen you got more experience in and around that arena. What else do they sit on?

Neil:    Our current ATAC and ACAD all put forward members of the governing council or the management committee to sit on different things so there’s the asbestos licensing unit. How often the meetings on this. I think they used to be quarterly. I don’t know if they are monthly now or what but that’s why you sit down with the licensing unit.

Ian:      And this is the HSE?

Neil:    It’s the HSE so you sit in directly with the HSE as the voice of the industry sharing concerns, issues, things that you feel could be made better, all those types of things. So you’re actually talking to the heads of the licensing unit. There are all sorts, on the ATAC side again there is other committees that you’re involved with and you sit on and again you represent your members, the member voices of the industry.

Ian:      Yeah, and then the outcomes of those discussions are cascaded through to the members?

Neil:    Yes.

Ian:      So if you are a member of those trade associations you’re going to be kept up to date.

Neil:    You’ve got a toe in of what’s coming. That’s what they used to do, that’s what I used to do of you’d go to these meetings, have discussions. And if it does look like things might be going one way or whatever then we would share that around the regional meetings with the members, discuss to them kind of relay implications and things like that. So if you are using a contractor that’s a member of one of those. Like I said they’ve got toe in of what’s coming, whereas the contractor that isn’t a member of one of them well how they are getting that information? Where are they pulling that information from?

Ian:      It is definitely a lot harder to sort all that information individually yourself. It is something obviously to look for. Doesn’t mean to say that there are going to be a better contractor but also as part of that membership they are externally audited. So again it is not you have got an independent member or authority going out, looking and understanding of those works.

Neil:     You’ve got to meet the criteria. If you don’t meet the criteria you don’t become a member of ARCA. If you are a member of ARCA and whilst you’re a member of ARCA if you don’t meet the criteria of the audits, again, you are kicked out. Again, there are kind of standards in place that go again to give you more reassurance that your contractor is competent.

Ian:      And one thing to be obviously be aware of is if a contractor was ARCA just double check that they’ve still got that because they do kick non-compliant, non-performing contractors out. So if they have not meet their criteria they will kick them out.

Neil:    Yeah, they might the badge on their website, on their paperwork but they’ve not taken it down so they are actually saying they are a member. That goes the same with all of it. Like HSE license you can go online on the HSE website and check the license number against the license holder to make sure it still valid and current, some of the insurance cover. Don’t just take the fact that you’ve got an email through or fax of an insurance they’ve got. Pick up the phone and speak to the broker or speak to the policy holder and say, you know just want to check that these guys got have x. You know, definitely don’t be afraid of asking for the broker’s information and their contact details because that’s what they are there for to be checked upon.

Ian:      Yup, like Neil just said, it is exactly the same with the ARCA membership. How could you get kicked out you’ve been non-performing on audits, you’ve done some things?

Neil:    Go against the rules of membership? And there is this whole heap of things that you can do but a biggie is failing audits because ARCA wants their members to be of a certain standard kind of so that what we’ve talking of how do you check competence. Well, they want their members to be out there to a standard so then clients know that well if I use them they are of a standard so that’s why they have teeth. They have teeth and they use them.

Ian:      And there are a lot of [unclear – 16:06] on the removal side ask for that kind of because the reason you do memberships is because there is you know they have to meet a minimum standard.

Neil:    Yup. So what else can we look at kind of check competence? Well, this one is not necessarily competence but it is kind of competence from are they running a business properly so financial stability is what I’m talking about. Credit check the business. You need to make sure that they have good cash flow, they’ve got a good credit rating.

Ian:      To be one on the contractor side because, they have to fund a lot of equipments and labor. So when you are talking about asbestos removal works, there is a lot of polythene, there is a lot of equipments like vacuum cleaners, NPUs so Negative Pressure Units.

Neil:    Timbers to make enclosures out of.

Ian:      In terms of decontamination units have to be hired, all the transformers, cables, lighting even in enclosures.

Neil:    There is scaffold.

Ian:      Scaffolding if you got to do that, towers…

Neil:    Coil machines.

Ian:      Yeah, there is a lot to hire.

Neil:    If they don’t own it they’ve got to hire it. And if they’ve got to hire it, they have a good credit rating because the last thing you want is use a company with a poor credit rating where it is halfway through the job that I don’t know the hired company.

Ian:      Okay as well you’ve not paid any bill. I’m taking…

Neil:    Which I’ve seen happen and you will just literally left with a site that is sealed up and it’s half done and the contractor can’t get any gear from anywhere else because they’ve maxed their credit out everywhere  else. So will kind of shaft it which is not a good place to be. So financial, all I can say is it is not a competence thing per se but it is an overall looking at the business.

Ian:      Yeah, definitely. What about personnel? Could we do any checks on that?

Neil:    It is used to be CRB checks and now DBS checks. The checks that you send the details of a person of and essentially it is checking their records have they got a police record for anything.

Ian:      And it is particularly important in like schools, vulnerable sites, elderly or people disabilities or anything like that.

Neil:    Yeah, need to make sure the staff are closure and they can go and do what they say they are going to do without anything untoward happening. I know of a contractor a few years ago filled out the paperworks said, “No. I’m clean as a weasel. I haven’t got anything.” It was for a police station, the job, and just before work starts, the CRB it was back then came back and lo and behold one of the contractors that filled in the forms said, “No, no, I’m squeaky. I’ve got nothing.” It came back that he had thing on his record for common assault. However, that transpired that it was common assault on a police officer. It even transpired that it was a common assault on a police officer at that police station that he was going to work up. Again, people do  [unclear – 18:53] and again that’s like another check that you make sure that you’ve got the right people for the right job.

Ian:      Yeah, definitely. And kind of lastly, what else can you check these references isn’t it can you get to speak to or get information from people who have actually used a contractor before and what have they done in a similar fashion. In a similar fashion, how did they perform? Was it all good?

Neil:    And that’s the thing you want to check that because like what I was saying earlier different jobs have different removal methods. So a contractor might have loads of experience in removing asbestos insulating board however when you look at something that’s a bit more complicated in such as boiler room using injection machines or using Quill blasting machines.

Ian:      It is a different [unclear – 19:35]

Neil:    It really is and it is a lot more complicated, a lot more in depth, and again it is not just does the company have that record but do the site guys have competence in those works as well.

Ian:      Particularly the supervisor.

Neil:     Yup.

Ian:      Operatives ideally but the supervisors is the main ones doing the shift on site.  

Neil:    I always ask for reference. All I can say ask for the staff that’s similar to the works that you’re going to have done. Also, can you speak to them? Can you give us the information so I can actually pick up the phone number because I found time and again you have a and lo and behold you always put forward good references. You’d be dumb if you put forward a bad reference or a bad referee. But even when you put forward the good ones sometime by order of that conversation you kind of find stuff out and I know it could be…

Ian:      It was good but…

Neil:    And it could be something as simple as the work were all done fine, everything was great, but their lads on site really scruffy and they sore a bit.

Ian:      Which is not ideal if you are in a school.

Neil:    No. I don’t know the works are all done and completely. Everything was brilliant however they turn up late every day. Anything like that and it kind of again it’s all about giving yourself a level of competence about that. 

Ian:      Definitely.

Neil:    Now, we kind of put a form together that you can use and download. It ticks off a lot of these things, use it whether you do licensed, non-licensed stuff, whether you worked with a contractor before, whether it is a new one coming on board, every so often probably pan out again just due diligence.

Ian:      If there is a requirement if you are employing somebody that you should be checking their competence and this form is just a little freebie for you to use and it would be a good step forward for you taking that box of you’ve done your assessment on their competency.

Neil:    We are going to paste this into Asbestos Knowledge Empire Facebook community. It is a private closed community. You can join the community by going on to Facebook. There is a search bar at the top literally pop in there Asbestos Knowledge Empire, click to join.

            You’ll see our faces, our beautiful faces. And basically in there in the past information we paste it in there so you can use that. I hope you found that useful.

Ian:      Yup, and remember, asbestos first not last.