Asbestos Surveys: No alternative to UKAS as BOHS announces the closure of ABICS
The British Occupational Hygiene Society [BOHS] announced the closure of the Asbestos Building Inspectors Certification Scheme [ABICS] last week. This means that individual Asbestos Surveyors who don’t work for UKAS accredited organisations, can no longer demonstrate competence, as recommended in HSE’s guidance HSG 264: Asbestos, the Survey Guide.
The failure of the ABICS follows on from a similar scheme established jointly by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors RICS and the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA). This scheme failed due to a lack of voluntary support.
John Richards, Managing Director of UKAS Accredited Asbestos Survey Firm, Thames Laboratories said:
“In other correspondence issued by ABICS they have indicated the only 30% of candidates passed the initial certification leading to competency. This figure is similar to that of the NIACS scheme and raises the question about the thousands of individuals undertake asbestos surveys in terms of competency and ability to perform the task.
Given the failure of both ABICS and NIACS we would hope that compulsory accreditation is only a short way off”.
Steve Perkins, Chief Executive of BOHS, states, “Despite the support of the Health and Safety Executive [HSE], the cooperation with UKAS, and the high level of initial interest from individual surveyors that ABICS has always generated, we have come to the conclusion – after eight years of significant and unsustainable investment - that a voluntary certification scheme is not viable in the extremely competitive environment of asbestos surveying.”
It was recognised many years ago that there are individual asbestos surveyors who are competent but who operate as sole traders or in small companies outside UKAS accredited organisations, and who are not likely to apply for UKAS accreditation for commercial reasons. The concept of personal certification was developed out of recognition of this need, and ABICS finally achieved UKAS accreditation as a personal certification scheme in February 2009, launching as a cost-effective alternative to company accreditation for individuals and smaller companies.
BOHS say they remain committed to the control of exposure to asbestos at work and in the community, and they maintain their original position, behind the decision to develop ABICS in the first place, that competence is key in this particular sector where lives can be put at risk through incompetence. It is estimated that there are between half a million and a million non-domestic properties which still contain asbestos, and there is an increasing requirement for the more invasive refurbishment/demolition surveys which are particularly demanding. In the worst case scenarios, incompetent surveying can and does result in uncontrolled exposure to asbestos if a tradesperson disturbs a material they wrongly believe to be free of asbestos: there are some 4,000 asbestos related deaths annually in the UK, with the greatest occupational risk for tradespeople, such as electricians, plumbers and joiners, etc.
Many BOHS members have seen the results of poor asbestos surveys and report that dutyholders – anyone with repair or maintenance responsibilities of commercial premises who must have a plan for managing any asbestos containing materials within the premises they own or occupy - are often unsure how to identify high quality surveyors. “Unfortunately, the closure of ABICS means there is now no means for individual surveyors to demonstrate their experience and competence”, explains Martin Stear, Chair of the ABICS Management Committee, “but without a mandatory requirement built into legislation, this clear need for personal certification, and the high level of interest in ABICS, is not translating into an adequate demand in the form of actual applications from surveyors or specifications from Dutyholders. Sadly, therefore, the trustees and directors of BOHS have made clear that the Society can no longer justify support or resource for a scheme which is clearly not working.”
FAQs - BOHS announces the closure of ABICS