Denis Morgan has worked as a divisional technical manager within SOCOTEC’s Asbestos team for the last 18 years. Splitting the majority of his time between quality control, consultancy and training, he is responsible for ensuring that all laboratory analysis is consistently carried out to the highest possible standards, while also preparing and delivering courses for facilities managers and duty holders across the UK. Below, Denis discusses the various challenges he faces in his role, as well as outlining some of the highest profile projects he has worked on during the course of his career.
How did you become a technical manager within the asbestos sector?
I worked in the construction industry as a chemist until 1999 before finding work with a small asbestos consultancy as a quality manager. One of my first tasks was to guide the firm through the process of becoming UKAS-accredited; this was something that I found particularly interesting and led me to pursue further work within the asbestos sector. I joined SOCOTEC’s Asbestos team as a team leader in 2001, before eventually becoming divisional technical manager and have been with the organisation ever since.
What does a typical day as a technical manager look like?
At present, a large proportion of my role is spent carrying out consultancy work, which tends to vary from day to day. I can be doing anything from reviewing asbestos policies and management plans for clients on such areas as retailing, health, ports and manufacturing; designing bespoke training courses for clients; investigating asbestos exposures on behalf of clients and producing reports based on the findings.
Can you go into more detail about the training aspect of your role?
I am responsible for preparing and delivering Asbestos Awareness training with a UKATA-approved syllabus, which often involves making parts of the course bespoke to a client’s requirements. The purpose of these awareness courses is generally to make delegates aware of the potential risks associated with asbestos exposure, all while teaching them how to maintain a safe environment for the inhabitants of the building.
Most of these courses are run on our clients’ premises across the UK provided that the location is suitable, as delegates are required to take an examination as part of the course. As a result, I am used to spending a large deal of my time travelling to and from various training locations. We are hoping to increase our number of course offerings in the future, given the increase in interest surrounding asbestos in soils and non-licensed work, as well as the fact that SOCOTEC has UKATA membership.
I find developing training requirements that correspond with each clients’ individual needs to be a particularly rewarding aspect of my job. No two clients are the same, so a wide range of factors need to be considered in order to cultivate a bespoke training programme that matches their requirements and equips them with the skills and expertise to work with a range of asbestos-related scenarios in a safe, practical manner.
Given the technical nature of your role, how often do you liaise with trade bodies?
I regularly attend National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC) meetings. These are very useful, as they provide a forum for discussion on asbestos-related issues alongside other UKAS-accredited organisations. I am also a member of the HSE’s Fibre Proficiency Testing Steering Committee, which oversees the UK operations of the various proficiency testing schemes associated with asbestos. Meetings are held frequently to review these schemes, as well as to discuss any formal complaints and queries.
Most recently, I became a member of the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) in 2018 by virtue of holding the BOHS qualification, CoCA, and having nearly 20 years’ experience in the asbestos industry.
Does your role involve working alongside other areas of the business?
There has been a noticeable interest in asbestos in soils over the years, which has led to increased cooperation with SOCOTEC’s Contaminated Land unit. We have provided many of their staff with training on asbestos in soils across various sites, and I often have queries regarding asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), associated risks and recommended precautions and control measures that I can also share with their team. Being part of a large multidiscipline group allows our teams to bring significant benefits to our clients, who are often dealing with asbestos as part of a wider contamination or health and safety remit.
What are some of the highest level projects that you have been involved with during your career?
Becoming a British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) trainer for modules P401, P402, P403 and P404 was one of the highest level projects I have been involved in, and I also served as an external practical assessor for these courses. Additional career highlights include being asked to present at the annual BOHS Asbestos Roadshow at venues across the UK in 2017, developing the procedure for the determination of asbestos in soils and obtaining UKAS accreditation for this.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced while on the job?
I had to act as a temporary business manager in SOCOTEC’s East Kilbride office pending the recruitment of a candidate for the position, and I also spent a short period of time working as a temporary divisional manager for the whole of Scientifics (a precursor to the current SOCOTEC Asbestos division).
While developing bespoke training courses for clients is an especially rewarding part of my position, it still comes with its fair share of challenges. Researching content for these courses takes up much of my time, as the specific needs of the client need to be taken into account, as well as such areas as business operations and building size, type and reasons for use. Content also needs to be engaging, informative and easily accessible in order for clients to be able to get to grips with what can often prove to be complicated subject matter.
Do you have any advice for individuals starting a career in technical management within the asbestos sector?
A prerequisite to qualifying as an asbestos technical manager is to obtain a Competent Person in Asbestos qualification, which requires you to complete and pass a training course and undertake an oral examination. In order to succeed, individuals must appreciate how large and complex a matter asbestos is. There is always something new to learn, so you need to have a keen interest in the subject and be prepared to go the extra mile.
You also need to gain as much industry insight and experience across a range of areas, such as analysis, air monitoring and surveying. This will not only allow you to specialise in an area of the industry that interest you the most, but also enhances your technical knowledge so that you can easily translate complex information into concise and coherent language on behalf of clients.
For more information on SOCOTEC’s asbestos management services, click here.
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