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The Ultimate Guide to Asbestos Software

Everything you need to know about asbestos software.

Looking for asbestos surveying software for your business? Then head over to Flow Mobile Surveying, the fastest asbestos surveying software for creating high-quality reports.

In this guide, I'm going to walk you through everything you need to know about asbestos software.

As one of the co-founders of Flow Mobile Surveying, I've talked to hundreds of asbestos surveyors. In the last year, I've delivered over 180 software demos.

Talking to surveyors every day has given me a unique insight into the asbestos industry. I know our competitor's software products inside out. I know the features asbestos surveyors need, and the problems they face.

I can't wait to share my insights with you. By the end of this guide, you'll have a thorough understanding of asbestos software. I'll talk about why asbestos software is used, common features, pricing, and everything in between.

So grab a cuppa ☕ and settle in, because this is a long one. It's not called "The Ultimate Guide to Asbestos Software" for nothing!

Why Use Asbestos Software?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires duty holders to manage the risk of asbestos by maintaining up-to-date records of the location and condition of all Asbestos containing materials.

Asbestos surveying software helps you record the location and condition of asbestos using a mobile phone or tablet device. The software automates many of the repetitive tasks required to create compliant asbestos survey reports.

It an asbestos management platform where you can store, search and update all of your asbestos compliance documents in one place.

Creating reports by hand is SLOW

Without software, you need to carry out dozens of repetitive tasks to create a single asbestos survey report.

Before the survey:

Before you've started the work, you need to create flexible templates for your asbestos-related work. Most people create templates using Microsoft Word, or something similar.

On-site:

  • Carry out the the survey with pen and paper.
  • Take photographs using your camera 📷.
  • Save photos into the Cloud (e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive).

Back at the office:

  • Copy up notes into your template.
  • Manually copy and paste photographs in your template.
  • Resize images.
  • Format the report.
  • Manually calculate risk scores.

✍️ So manually writing reports is pretty time-consuming. It takes up to 2-hours to write a single asbestos survey report by hand...

Creating reports with software is FAST

With modern asbestos surveying software like Flow Mobile Surveying, the same report takes minutes. The processes above can be automated into a single click!

Now that you understand the need for asbestos surveying software, let's look at some of the common features.

Asbestos Surveying App

The mobile app lets you collect survey data on-site; this will later be used to create your asbestos inspection report.

Historically, asbestos software was only available on PDA’s and tablet devices. Now asbestos software is widely available on mobile phones as well.

Mobile Phones vs Tablets

Modern asbestos software will work on both mobile phones and tablet devices. Each mobile device type has unique advantages and disadvantages. But ultimately the "phone vs tablet" argument comes down to personal preference.

I usually recommend phones over tablets because they're easier to carry and have better cameras. 

📱 Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are easy to carry and fast becoming the mobile device of choice for asbestos surveying apps.

In my experience, asbestos surveyors are sometimes reluctant to use mobile phones for surveying at first. But after a short while, it becomes their preference.

Complete asbestos surveys using your iPhone or Android device

Advantages of Phones

  • Easy to carry when working at heights.
  • Easy to carry in crawl spaces.
  • Superior cameras compared to tablets.
  • Cheap and robust carry cases 💪.
  • You generally have your phone with you at all times.

Disadvantages of Phones

  • Small screens may be hard to read for some people.
  • Typing onto phones while wearing gloves can be difficult.

iPads and Other Tablets

Tablets such as iPads can be challenging to carry and cause repetitive strain to elbows and wrists. Any surveyor who has experienced repetitive pressure on their joints knows that it’s no joke!

Advantages of Tablets

  • Big screens makes it suitable for drawing floorplans.
  • Easier to read for those with poor eyesight.

Disadvantages of Tablets

  • Expensive to replace if dropped.
  • Another device to carry - you already carry your phone.
  • Repetitive strain injuries from holding tablets.

iOS and Android

iOS and Android devices make up around 99% of the global market share for mobiles.

So you can expect both of those operating systems to be supported. If not, the asbestos software is probably an antique.

Market share for Android and IOS devices

67% of surveyors using our asbestos surveying app, Flow Mobile Surveying use iOS, compared to 36% who use Android devices.

Mobile App Installation

Mobile apps are generally installed in one of two ways:

  1. App Store Apps -This is the installation method for 90% of asbestos apps. Depending on what operating system you're using, the mobile app will be installed from either the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Once installed, the mobile app will be automatically updated when the developers release new versions.
  2. Progressive Web Apps - Alternatively, some asbestos software vendors offer a Progressive Web App, which is installed via the mobile device browser. Progressive Web Apps do not have access to some of the devices native features like advanced camera controls, and have been known to drain power, so may not provide the best experience.

Offline Support

Asbestos surveyors often work in rural or remote areas with limited internet access. So it's crucial for asbestos inspection software to work while offline. 

There are two types of offline support:

  1. Manual synchronisation - you must press a button to manually sync your data once you have an internet connection.
  2. Automatic synchronisation - Data is automatically uploaded when your mobile device reconnects to the internet. You don’t need to do anything. 

Manual data synchronisation is the most common type of offline support. In both cases, data is stored locally on your mobile device as you work offline.

Getting Directions

Asbestos surveyors travel a lot, it's the nature of your work.

So the ability to get directions to your next job is great feature, and saves you having to ring the office for directions.

Surveyors should be able to tap their mobile app to get directions using Google Maps. Or copy directions and use a navigation app like Waze to find their next destination.

Here's how you can get directions in Flow Mobile Surveying...

Back-End Features

Job Management (the dashboard)

The dashboard is the heart of your business operations.

Before a survey begins, the job must be scheduled. Once the job is finished, the survey report will be printed and issued to your client. This is all done using the dashboard.

Back-office admin staff use the dashboard on a daily basis to:

  • Schedule jobs.
  • Check staff availability.
  • Update job statuses.
  • Upload floorplans.
  • Check report quality.
  • Print reports.

The online dashboard can be accessed using web browsers such as Google ChromeFirefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Manage your asbestos jobs and work in progress using a dashboard

Client Portal

A common feature offered by asbestos software is a client portal. This feature provides additional value to your clients’ clients, the duty holders themselves. 

A client portal allows asbestos duty holders to view their live asbestos register at any time via an online web portal. Councils and Housing Associations often find this a helpful feature since it gives you a complete overview of your housing portfolio. 

Common Client Portal Features:

  • Search for your reports.
  • Download your asbestos reports as PDF files.
  • Share compliance documents with subcontractors.
  • Manage asbestos reports and compliance documents.
  • View scheduled activities on your properties.
  • View audit history.

Client portals are accessed through your web browser. Specific permissions may be assigned to limit access to asbestos duty holders or subcontractors.

Most client portals have an audit trail of events, so you can see when someone views or downloads a compliance document.

Lab Results

During the asbestos survey, you will collect samples of any suspected Asbestos-containing materials. You’ll then send these samples to a UKAS-accredited laboratory for analysis. 

After a day or two, you’ll receive the sample results on a Bulk Sample Test Certificate. Using the dashboard, you will cross-reference and link the Sample ID's with the confirmed asbestos type; Chrysotile, Amosite, etc.

Any samples that were non-asbestos containing will be marked as NADIS (No Asbestos Detected in Sample).

Download Reports

As an asbestos surveyor, the asbestos survey is what clients pay for, but the report is what they see. So the survey report is, for all intents and purposes, your product.

You should present the survey report clearly, highlighting any dangerous areas and making it easy for readers to understand the outcome of the survey.

PDF reports

DOWNLOAD AN EXAMPLE PDF REPORT

Surveying software normally outputs asbestos reports as a PDF format.

This is an excellent file format for several reasons:

  • File sizes are small.
  • Documents print well.
  • Files are secure.
  • Clients cannot accidentally change values.
  • Can be password protected.
  • Can contain hyperlinks.

Word reports

Sometimes it may be convenient to download reports as a Word format rather than a PDF.

The good thing about Microsoft Word files is that they can be easily amended. But this may not be desired behaviour if you don't want your client tampering with the report!

Exporting Data

Not every software provider has an export feature, but you're always entitled to get access to your data by law.

Morally speaking, your software provider shouldn't be able to hold your data hostage - but some will charge you to export data in a meaningful format.

Reasons to export data:

  • Importing data into a 3rd party system.
  • Leaving the software platform and taking your data with you.
  • Creating Business Intelligence reports.
  • Graphing your activities.

Data is normally exported as a CSV or Excel format, so it can be easily filtered and manipulated.

Local authorities and housing associations:

Local authorities maintain their system of record using a system such as Keystone Asset Management. So being able to export data in a suitable format for Keystone is often an essential requirement.

Report Features

Asbestos Register

The asbestos register is the most critical part of your survey report. It shows where you discovered asbestos within the building.

The primary goal of the mobile app is to allow surveyors to record the location of asbestos. Suspected asbestos may be either sampled and sent to a laboratory or presumed using the surveyor’s experience.

Once the lab analyses the samples, the surveyor enters the results into the software. The software then generates an asbestos register outlining any positively identified asbestos.

Automatic Risk Scoring

Your inspection observations and the lab results are combined to calculate the overall asbestos risk score automatically.

Risk scores may be calculated differently, depending on the standard for your country. If you're following the UK's HSG264 standard, the material risk score ranges from 2-12. The following factors contribute to the score:

  • Product Type (or Debris from Product).
  • Extent of Damage / Deterioration.
  • Surface Type / Treatment.
  • Asbestos Fibre Type.
Risk scoring following the UK's HSG264 standard

Floorplans

The appendix of the asbestos survey includes any floorplans. Plans include annotations to show the location of any asbestos, sample points, and areas of limited or no access.

Asbestos software may have built-in floorplan drawing tools. Or you may be able to upload floorplans from the floorplan software of your choice.

The software needs to be flexible since many asbestos surveyors prefer using 3rd party floorplan software.

Drawing floorplans using the mobile app

Some asbestos software providers offer built-in floor planning features —an excellent time-saving feature for those who want to complete plans on-site or have limited experience with other floor planning software tools.

In-app floor planning tools let you sketch floorplans directly from within the asbestos surveying mobile app. You can also annotate your plans with Sample ids.

In my experience, in-app floorplan drawing tools are more suitable for smaller, simpler floorplans but not complex buildings.

When the complexity of plans is higher, it's often better to use dedicated floorplan software or outsource your floorplans.

Uploading floorplans

With a wide variety of asbestos floorplan software available to choose from, the ability to upload floorplans gives flexibility to the asbestos surveyor and your clients.

Many surveyors are skilled in specific floorplan software packages, such as Microsoft Visio or AutoCAD. Creating reports in these packages and then uploading them directly to the survey report is an attractive option.

Your clients may have a preference for floorplan format too. For example, some clients may want plans drawn up in AutoCAD and receive copies of the original files. So the ability to upload floorplans is helpful for both surveyors and clients.

What about floorplan sketches?

One of the fastest ways to create floorplans is to take an on-site sketch, then draw plans up in the office using floorplan software.

A neat way to do this is to take a sketch, take a photograph of your drawing, then upload the photo to your asbestos software.

Asbestos survey floorplan sketch

3rd Party Software Integration

Every company wants to operate as efficiently as possible. And that means automation. So if you're running multiple software systems (you will be), you may want to integrate your software.

Software integration means that an action is triggered in another system when something happens within the first system. The resulting action could be to create an invoice or send a reminder email automatically.

Integrating your asbestos software with 3rd party software reduces duplication of effort, data entry and eliminates human error. So your staff will have more free time to work on other tasks. Neat!

Integration with Invoicing Software

Although some asbestos software has built-in quoting and invoicing features, it's always better to use dedicated 3rd party invoicing software.

Invoicing software providers like Xero and Sage have hundreds of developers working on their products constantly. As a result, they are very user-friendly and feature-rich.

And since you'll already be running an accounts system like Xero or Safe anyway for your regular bookkeeping activities, there's no sense in running a dual invoicing system within your business!

Here's a simple automation process that you can set up between your asbestos software and 3rd party invoicing software to save time.

Integration between asbestos software and invoicing software

Integration with Scheduling Software

As your company grows, so do your scheduling requirements. Large, distributed workforces need extra planning.

Before scheduling jobs, you need to check staff availability. And once you’ve scheduled appointments, you need to let staff know. There's usually a lot of "telephone ping pong" involved.

Luckily, you can often integrate asbestos software with your calendar. So you can connect your Google Mail Calendar or Outlook Calendar to automate calendar bookings.

Integration between asbestos software and calendar software

Support and Training

Most products are simple to pick-up. That said, training and support are essential to get the most out of your asbestos software.

  • In-person training should be available. There is almost always at a cost. Post-COVID, we expect more live training to be delivered online.
  • Online training resources are a must. Even after in-person training, the product will change, new features added and refined. Online resources help keep you up-to-date. The best resources are well structured, broken down into simple, bite-sized chunks and use videos. Long-winded training documents are challenging to read.
  • Ideally, the vendor will have a “university” or online-course where your staff can follow along and keep up-to-date.
  • The supplier should have email and telephone support too.

Asbestos Standards

In many countries, the asbestos market is a highly regulated industry. So asbestos software should be designed to follow the standards of the relevant country. 

In the UK, the law requires that duty holders must reinspect their buildings every 12-months.

United Kingdom

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for asbestos standards in the United Kingom

Asbestos surveyors work to the HSG264 standard in the UK, which is freely downloadable on the HSE website. The HSG264 standard outlines best practices for asbestos surveying and the risk scoring criteria for asbestos.

UKAS regularly audits accredited asbestos surveying companies to ensure that they are working to the highest standards. So surveying companies must have software that follows the rules.

New Zealand

Worksafe is responsible for asbestos standards in New Zealand

New Zealand based companies generally work to the Worksafe standard. This standard is similar to the UK's HSG264 standard, with some differences in risk scoring.

Unlike the UK, where asbestos types are given different scoring based on assumed severity, New Zealand scores all asbestos types the same. So the risk scoring is more straightforward.

Buying Asbestos Software

There's plenty to consider when buying asbestos software.

  • Will it solve your business needs?
  • What are the long-term costs?
  • Will it be a good return on investment?
  • Will reports match your current style?

You'll likely be using the software for several years. Perhaps even the lifetime of your business. So when buying asbestos software, make sure you do your research before committing to anything.

Off The Shelf or Bespoke?

Developing bespoke asbestos software could be a better alternative than using an off-the-shelf software platform, but only if you’re a large company.

But building software from scratch requires lots of resources and it's costly. It's only viable for the biggest surveying companies. Need convincing? Check out our guide on Should You Build or Buy Asbestos Software?

Before creating Flow Mobile Surveying, my brother (and Flow co-founder) David developed bespoke asbestos software, NexGen for Lucion Environmental. So we've seen both sides of the fence.

For 99% of surveying companies, using flexible off-the-shelf software is the way to go.

Choosing an Asbestos Surveying App

So you've decided to choose an off-the-shelf software solution for your asbestos management.

There are plenty of asbestos software providers on the market. Each software has it's pros and cons -- and we're happy to list our competitors. No, we're not going mad. We just want to show you all the options.

Each software has its merits, and you'll need to determine which software is best for your needs. Check out our Guide to Choosing Asbestos Survey Software.

Free Trials

When evaluating asbestos software, it's worth asking the provider if they offer a free trial.

A free trial is an excellent way to de-risk the purchase, as you can try the software before committing to a license.

Remember, watching a curated online demo is one thing, but you don't want to buy software before your team has tried using it on a few jobs, especially if there's a minimum term.

At Flow Mobile Surveying, we offer unlimited access to a 'demo' account. The demo account provides all the regular features, but PDF reports have a watermark, making them unsuitable for clients.

We also offer a 30-day free trial, which offers all the features you'd get from a paid account. So you can get the whole experience.

Other software providers offer a free trial too. I'd suggest trialling several products before committing to a purchase. It's the only way to know which software is the best fit!

Is There a Minimum Term?

Some asbestos software companies have a minimum term: the minimum period maybe six months or a year. I've even heard of a company with a minimum term of four years.

I don't think any software provider can justify contracts like this, particularly to new businesses who don't know if they'll still be trading in 6-months to a year.

Look for asbestos software with a monthly rolling contract, where you can cancel anytime.

Check the Reviews

Before buying asbestos software, it's always advisable to check the reviews. What did others think of the user-experience? Were those companies a similar size, with similar problems to you?

You can find usually find reviews on the app store. If users were unhappy with their experience, they’d often leave a review there.

Google Business is also an excellent place to find reviews on the software company and its product.

Alternatively, you can check testimonials on the software vendors own website. Although the software provider themselves will curate these, so they'll always paint a rosier picture!

Software Pricing

Pricing varies considerably between asbestos reporting software. Generally speaking, all asbestos software will have a free trial. Or perhaps even a free tier.

How to find out the pricing

Some software providers are transparent with their pricing and show it on their website (including us - here's a link to our software pricing).

Other software providers hide their pricing, so you'll need to get in touch with them for a quote.

There may be several reasons why companies don't advertise their pricing. It's not always shady behaviour. Sometimes their pricing is just complex. Or they discount some clients and not others. It's difficult to say for sure.

We've spoken about this topic before in a general sense. Check out our article on why our competitors hide their pricing.

What are you paying for?

Setup costs ✔️

The majority of asbestos software vendors will charge you a one-off setup fee.

Up-front setup fees can run into thousands of pounds for a single surveyor. That's a significant overhead if you're a freelancer or just starting your business.

We've waived all setup costs for Flow Mobile Surveying because we want to nurture long-term relationships and make sure our clients get value before they pay us a penny.

No-one wants to pay thousands of pounds for the software before they've even used it.

User licenses ✔️

Every asbestos software I've encountered has a monthly license fee. The monthly payment is linked to the number of users and covers ongoing costs.

A monthly licence fee is usually a fair model since more users mean more overheads for the software provider, more support tickets, and so on.

Since pricing is linked to the number of users, as your team grows, so will your monthly license cost. And that's to be expected.

Support and Maintenance ✔️

The monthly licence cost usually includes support and maintenance costs. However, there are a few software vendors that charge extra for this.

All asbestos software should come with a basic level of online, phone, or email support. If not, warning bells should be ringing!

Additional templates or "modules" ✔️

Do you offer multiple services, like surveying, four-stage clearances, lab work, and so on?

If so, you might need to pay for additional templates or modules. Some vendors will hook you in with a low price for a single template but then upsell you on templates for other services.

Hosting charges⚠️

I think charging for hosting is a bit cheeky. After all, you're already paying for licenses.

But that's the reality with some software vendors. Use your servers and don't pay for hosting. Use the software vendors servers and pay them an extra fee.

Maybe this makes sense for large companies, but how many small asbestos surveying companies manage their servers? They're asbestos surveyors, not web developers!

So I find this charge unnecessary 🤪

App download charges ⚠️

An app download cost will annoy you if you've already paid for the software.

Some software providers have an additional charge when you download their app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. You've already paid for the software. Isn’t that's enough?

"Banded Pricing" vs "Per-User" Pricing

Banded pricing is where you have different prices for a different number of users. Here's an example of banded pricing:

  • Up to 2 users = £250 / month.
  • Up to 5 users = £400 / month.
  • Up to 10 users = £700 / month.

Banded pricing can lead to some unexpected results.

The software provider may be penalising you for growing your team. Something that looks cheaper as you grow might just do the opposite!

Check out our blog article on When Banded Pricing Costs Too Much!

The alternative to 'banded pricing' is 'per-user pricing'.

Flow Mobile Surveying uses per-user pricing as we believe it's more predictable and transparent for our clients.

Calculating the Return on Investment

I’ve talked about the features provided by asbestos reporting software, but what about the financial impact? How do you how if asbestos software is a good Return on Investment?

First, you'll need to sum up the costs. Then you can estimate the financial benefits of each benefit and see how both sides stack up together.

Check out our guide on How to Estimate the Return on Investment when Buying Asbestos Software.

Switching Asbestos Software

If you're already using asbestos software, then switching software may seem daunting. But there can be tremendous upsides too.

Your current asbestos reporting software may be a financial bottleneck, holding your business back without you even knowing it.

So it's worth considering the "lost-opportunity" cost of sticking with your current software.

We wrote an entire article called Should you Switch Asbestos Surveying Software. (hint: if your software is old, you may be better off switching 😉).

Conclusion

I hope this article gave you a good understanding of asbestos reporting software. David and I are constantly learning, and I'll revise this article in future as I think of more topics to cover!

So what's this Flow Mobile Surveying software I keep mentioning? It's the fastest asbestos surveying software on the market for creating high-quality reports. Get in touch for a demo.