Following changes to the HSG248 and UKAS Lab 30 guidance in July 2021, asbestos laboratories have been undertaking a transition to accommodate the changes in requirements and update the ISO17025 accreditation. From the 1 February 2022, dependant on a successful application and review process, most labs were awarded the updated accreditation and should now be in a position to provide identification and quantification services in line with the new standards. Any lab who did not meet the deadlines for the group transition will now be going through that process individually and timeframes for completion will be dependent on availability within UKAS to review and assess. The changes to the process include:

  • Stipulations on sample volumes to mandate a 1l container (to provide >1kg of soil), with also recommended minimum volumes of dried sample to then review under stereomicroscope. It remains feasible to process samples on smaller volumes but the indication should be given that the results may not be as representative of the whole. The inspection/review of a larger sample volume may have impacts upon costs, timescales for analysis and lab capacity
  • Previous method guidance included a ‘pinch’ test as part of the identification process, which the new documents have supplanted with a ‘drop’ test using the review of multiple slides prepared from a soil/water suspension and is considerably more involved than the method it replaces, adding both time and cost to the process and potentially limiting capacity
  • The processing of different types of asbestos analysis by an individual is scored based on a set of criteria established and updated in the standards, with the intent of limiting the amount of work one analyst can perform without additional review and checking. Some of the changes made may have an impact in reducing the number of samples an individual can process in a day and therefore limiting capacity
  • There are also a number of additional “invisible” changes to process which affect the data collection, data management and quality control performed by the lab which will impact upon the change process and also the ongoing performance. The ability to manage some of these changes will also impact the contract review process as the potential levels of service vary more than with historical analysis

All the incremental changes have and will generate increases in resource requirements in the asbestos testing sector, with more P401 trained and qualified analysts being needed. This has resulted in recruitment bottlenecks as the pool of workers is limited. Equally, there are limited options for the provision of training, leading to a potential issue across the industry in maintaining operation capacity.

Why the changes?
While the previous version of the documents/guidance provided detail on the performance of asbestos identification, there was less in terms of definitive guidance relating to the quantification – something that was attempted to be addressed by the development of the SCA Blue Book method between 2014 and 2018.Both actions are intended to provide more consistency across the industry and also provide ultimately a standard to which labs can be held and assessed. In HSG248 it has also been attempted to address the safety and assessment of site workers in a way not previously covered, with existing lab methods looking more at generating data with a view to longer term/end use risk assessment in the contaminated land industry.

Further changes?
Some changes instigated with the document updates are mandatory and will continue to impact the ongoing service, but others are recommended with the intent of improving the level of service and data across the industry. In an attempt to address some of the recommendations, various industry groups (AGS, EIC, JIWG, SoBRA, CL:AIRE) have looked to publish an additional standard method based around the SCA Blue Book and hopefully provide an alternative standard on which work can be based, a process which is ongoing and being led by labs and data users in the contaminated land sector.