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October 7, 2010

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Viability of accreditation schemes rocked by closure of asbestos register

The failure of an accreditation scheme for asbestos surveyors could fuel concerns over the proposed similar scheme for health and safety professionals.
The closure of the Asbestos Building Inspectors Certification Scheme (ABICS) was announced yesterday (6 October) by the British Occupational Hygiene Society, which ran the scheme. The Society’s chief executive, Steve Perkins, said after eight years of “unsustainable investment” it had come to the conclusion that “a voluntary certification scheme is not viable in the extremely competitive environment of asbestos surveying”.
The scheme was aimed at individual asbestos surveyors who are competent but operate as sole traders, or in small companies and so were unlikely to apply for UKAS (United Kingdome Accreditation Service) accreditation for commercial reasons. It was accredited by UKAS as a personal certification scheme in February 2009 and was strongly supported by the HSE, which publicised it on its website and via a series of roadshows.
According to a spokesperson for the BOHS, awareness of the scheme among surveyors was not the issue. She told SHP: “Most asbestos surveyors were aware of ABICS as a route they could go down, but they chose not to. We always had faith in the awareness and acceptance of the need for a competence accreditation scheme and we stand by that need.”
When pressed on why it nevertheless failed, the spokesperson said: “It wasn’t viable because it wasn’t mandatory. It was a voluntary scheme in a very competitive market. There has to be ‘pull’ as well as ‘push’, but that didn’t happen.”
She also conceded that duty-holders, or clients, were part of the problem in that they simply didn’t look closely enough at suppliers’ qualifications, or ask for proof of competence. Martin Stear, chair of the ABICS management committee, agreed, saying: “Individuals are clearly getting enough work from duty-holders who don’t require, or perhaps want to pay for, competence, or accreditation.”
Stear added that lack of confidence on the part of the service-providers was also an issue. He told SHP: “Certainly, there are a lot of people who are not competent, or who don’t think they are competent enough to apply. A lot of people have come into the asbestos-surveying industry in recent years and they just didn’t feel ready to apply for accreditation just yet.”
The HSE agreed that the level of demand from sole traders was insufficient to make the ABICS scheme work but claimed it is “difficult to use the experience to inform the proposals for the register of health and safety consultants”. A spokesperson explained: “The ABICS scheme was also voluntary, but it was a highly-specialised register, whereas the consultants register will be aimed at general safety advisors.”
Tim Everett, executive director of professional services at the CIEH – which is one of the lead institutions, together with IOSH, in the consortium of stakeholder groups involved in the new scheme – said the proposed register for health and safety consultants would undoubtedly be subject to the same pressures as the ABICS scheme.

He told SHP: “The question of voluntary versus compulsory did, of course, come up in our discussions, the uncertainty being: will people sign up? But until we try it, we just won’t know! If the voluntary scheme doesn’t seem to be working, then we will go back to the HSE and the Government and try again.”

The “crucial difference” between the new scheme and the ABICS one, he added, is that by using accredited health and safety providers, clients and duty-holders should be able to save money. He explained: “A big part of the reasoning behind the development of this scheme was to address gold-plating by unqualified consultants. Lots of businesses incur extra costs by using the wrong people, so the message to them must be: if you use people who are not on the register, you may be incurring more costs than you need to.”

In terms of its plans to ensure duty-holders are aware of the new accreditation scheme once it is up and running, the HSE said it will ensure that they are “appropriately informed and sign-posted, through the HSE website, to guidance and the actual list [of accredited consultants]”.

Everett emphasised that a continuing challenge for the regulator in the current economic climate, and with spending cuts looming, will be how to ensure that available resources are focused on areas and issues where the impact will be greatest.

As for those specifying asbestos services, the HSE recommended that “those employing a surveyor should ask them for evidence of their qualifications and experience, and how they will be carrying out the survey, in accordance with best practice as set out in HSG 264”.
The Executive is waiting for the publication of Lord Young’s review of health and safety before providing further details of what the proposed health and safety accreditation scheme will entail.

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13 years ago

The most likely reason it failed is due to the costs to get accredited increasing the cost of asbestos fees of consultants. Maintaining Health and Safety is already an expense that most companies resent as it is often seen as a non-essential service that imposes costs on a business. The irony is companies can employ persons who are not chartered status but considered competent, but a consultant will not be considered competent unless chartered status, again increasing cost of services.

13 years ago

The ABICS voluntary scheme was never going to work with a price tag of £850 per person. The HSE / Government may well “recommend” but they cannot make any scheme mandatory without allowing a choice of competitive providers. CIEH / IOSH should take the failure as a warning before they launch a voluntary Register of H&S Consultants. “Crucial difference” between the two schemes? Good luck.

13 years ago

I was an asbestos surveyor for 12 years and was accredited with UKAS as a company as I needed it for the lab as well, this is the reason ABICS failed as it was just not needed. All good asbestos surveying companies will be UKAS accredited.

13 years ago

It’s no wonder that this scheme has failed. it seems that the only way to gain accreditation was to work for a large ACM removal company. Competant Surveyors that are sole traders or work for small organisations had no means of gaining the “experience” that this scheme required.

The P402 certificate (issued by the BOHS) requires Surveyors to submit 2 reports before gaining the qualification. If they feel these reports are insufficient to demonstrate competancy why are they still being issued

8 years ago

I really like it when people come together and share ideas.
Great site,continue the good work!