This past month has seen the launch of a potentially game-changing new app for asbestos contractors: the Asbestos Labour Feedback App (ALFA). Developed over the course of 20 months with feedback from various parties, ALFA is designed to provide ARCA licensed contractors with a measure of operative performance, helping them to improve industry standards.
The introduction of the app could have a huge impact on the almost 50% of asbestos removal contractors licensed by ARCA – and more importantly, the operatives who work for them. Amid concerns from labour unions about the ramifications of the app, here’s everything you need to know about ALFA, and what it could mean for the asbestos removal industry.
What is the Asbestos Labour Feedback App (ALFA)?
The Asbestos Labour Feedback App (ALFA) is a mobile app which allows ARCA licensed asbestos removal contractors to rate the performance of short-term operatives from labour suppliers. They can do this using nine key metrics covering employee performance and behaviour on a particular assignment.
The ratings for each assignment undertaken by that operative are then averaged to produce an overall star rating. This rating is visible to ARCA member contractors when using the app, alongside an average rating for each of the nine categories. Contractors can then use this information to ensure competence and identify training needs.
Why is the Asbestos Labour Feedback App necessary?
With asbestos still present in huge quantities across the UK, demand for asbestos removal professionals is as high as ever. Yet many asbestos removal contractors have listed the quality of labour available to them as a primary concern, with contractors apparently lacking the competence, skills and behaviour needed to manage and remove asbestos safely.
As a result, licensing body ARCA opened discussions with its members in the asbestos removal industry, with the aim of finding a way to improve performance and raise standards among operatives. The result of this process was the creation of the app, with the hope that widespread uptake would highlight areas for improvement, and motivate people to undertake training.
What are the benefits of the Asbestos Labour Feedback App?
The ALFA is designed to reassure asbestos removal contractors that the operatives they are receiving are competent, and have a good attitude towards their work. This will help to improve the quality of the work being done by contractors and ensure it is done safely, reducing their liabilities and protecting the operatives in the process.
By rating operative performance, both operatives and contractors have the opportunity to encourage improvements, and identify where further training may be required. The app also allows operatives to manage their certificate information (helping to keep track of expiring certificates), as well as automating part of the supply agency process.
What are the concerns around the Asbestos Labour Feedback App?
Labour union Unite has been quick to raise concerns around the use of the app, claiming that the use of a ratings system for operatives could be abused. This system could lead to operatives receiving unfair ratings with little recourse, and being effectively blacklisted as a result of poor ratings, preventing them from gaining further work.
Unite has called on ARCA to evidence any safeguards within the app against blacklisting and discrimination, and to suspend the rollout of the app if these do not currently exist. This is likely to be unwelcome news for ARCA, having gone through a 20-month development process and pilot scheme for the service.
I’m an asbestos removal operative – what should I do?
It’s likely that your agency will inform you if they are planning to adopt the app, and you may find that you are required to use it. In this instance, you may want to contact your union if you have one. However, it is important to note that the end goal of the app – improving safety standards and general quality of work – is an admirable one, and not something that should be opposed by default.
ARCA is only one of the licensing authorities in the UK, with BOHS and ACAD being the other popular standards. If your agency is not ARCA registered and you do not work with ARCA registered removal firms, you will not need to worry about using the app. However, it may be helpful to familiarise yourself with it in case you ever consider changing roles.
Ultimately, the best way to safeguard yourself against the potential for upheaval is to improve your level of training. This will not only provide you with qualifications that will undercut any accusations against you, but will also give you the skill set to more readily demonstrate your abilities, and build up credit with your agency and employers.
This is likely to take the form of advanced training specific to asbestos removal, such as ARCA’s Industry Refresher for Operatives course or Use, Inspection and Routine Maintenance of RPE course. Other certifying bodies include UKATA (Asbestos Removal Operative Refresher Training) and the CITB (Asbestos Removal Operative).
Asbestos removal continues to be a valued service across the UK and beyond, owing to the huge amount of asbestos that still exists in public and private buildings. As this asbestos degrades, the need for qualified operatives is likely to continue. This may either mean that the app falls by the wayside in the push for adequate numbers, or that the app continues to gain ground as a way to find the most qualified operatives.
The best way to ensure a position in the industry is to continue learning and training yourself to the highest possible level. Anyone who is interested in becoming an asbestos operative – or entering the asbestos assessment and removal industries – may want to start with an online asbestos awareness course, helping you to learn about the substance, how to identify it and how to deal with it safely.