The UK asbestos analytical industry is a diverse church. On one extreme you have the ‘rack ’em and stack em’ analysts and on the other you have the quality focused analysts. The reality is that most consultancies fit somewhere in between but fill follow one of those two guiding philosophies.
These philosophies exist in all walks of life (see Harry Enfield’s ‘loads a money’ and CSI’s Gill Grissom above) and we are led to believe that in the end the diligent Gill will win the day and the quick buck Harry will get his comeuppance.
But in the world of asbestos analysts this doesn’t really seem to happen. You very occasionally see a report of an analyst being prosecuted for failing to do their job properly but over a decades experience has taught me that when you show the client the poor quality of previous work they rarely take action against the contractor or analyst.
More often than not they will swallow their rage and pay to do the work again, probably because they have lost the paperwork or don’t want to make the issue public.
The problem is this skews the system in favour of the ‘stack ’em high’ analysts. These consultancies will give analysts a lab van and expect them to do 2-3 clearances a day on sites all over town. The quicker you get your 3 done, the quicker you go home. By putting this pressure on the analyst they are able to keep their prices low, sometimes offering to do a clearance for a couple of hundred pounds.
When these analysts inevitably miss something (probably because they are busy looking at their watch or have the boss on the phone telling them to hurry up) the company will simply fire them and offer to come back and do the clearance again. The cost of re-visiting is more than covered by the profits made by rushing it in the first place
Analytical companies on the quality side of the spectrum (of which Adams is proudly one) are put at a disadvantage by this system because they don’t believe in putting that pressure on analysts. We tender against the ‘stack em highs’ for contracts at day rates befitting the time and focus required to do the job right, but more and more the clients QS or Project Manager will look at the day rates and go with the cheapest.
And who can blame them? After all, they don’t necessarily have knowledge of how this industry works. They can see we all have UKAS accreditation and the necessary certificates and insurance. So why wouldn’t they go for the cheapest?
The current format for formal analytical accreditation assessment is perhaps the issue. The once a year audit, where an analyst is on their best behaviour and doesn’t have any other jobs that day, doesn’t provide an accurate representation of how the company operates. Neither does having a brilliant paper trail with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. A system of regular but random spot check audits by a third party body is desperately needed to re-level the playing field and ensure that quality is accurately measured.
At the moment Adams diverse client base largely have something in common. They have often been let down by poor quality work by others in the past. They understand that we maybe more expensive than some, but they also understand the value of our quality focussed approach and how that will save them money in the future and, most importantly, protect their employees and building users.
Whilst we admire their commitment to Adams and trust they continue to work with us, it shouldn’t be the case that they can’t rely on the industry to provide a consistent high quality product. Given the dangers associated with asbestos I strongly believe that as an industry as a whole we must do better.