By Robin Bennett, Start Software director and designer of the Alpha Tracker asbestos software system
It’s time to share an initiative we’ve been working on for the last few months, called OpenAsbestosTM. OpenAsbestos might well be a force for good in our industry as it has the potential to unlock asbestos data wherever it is stored.
Before going any further, I need to explain that OpenAsbestos isn’t a Start Software or Alpha Tracker feature. OpenAsbestos is an initiative for the whole industry benefiting all organisations working with asbestos data. If we gain enough momentum, OpenAsbestos will become a separate not-for-profit body run by a steering group of industry stakeholders. In getting the initiative off the ground, I’ve been talking to competitors as well as clients - an interesting experience as you can imagine!
OpenAsbestos is an API which enables the exchange of asbestos data between software systems. It is an idea I’ve had for a few years but was sparked into life after a conversation with Andrew Paten about his UK National Asbestos Register (UKNAR) initiative (see https://uknar.org/).
(A quick geeky comment to bring everyone up to speed. An “API” is a means of exchanging data between systems, often over the Internet. APIs are secure and provide the glue between compatible systems)
Andrew’s idea was that UKNAR QR codes would display registers or surveys deposited with them. With enough industry support, this would be a game-changer, for sure. My concern was that any stored copy could be out of date or could have been superseded. Most managed sites in the UK already have live asbestos data within Alpha Tracker, TEAMS, Micad or wherever. My idea: with modern API technology, live registers could be retrieved and instantly displayed from a UKNAR QR code. This is the essence of OpenAsbestos - a single, open mechanism which enables data to be shared between compatible systems.
The OpenAsbestos API now exists in an early draft form and the principles have been discussed with leading consultancies, UKNAR themselves, and other software companies. So far, I’ve had a good reception with a few understandable reservations. We have a draft steering group board membership, too.
OpenAsbestos doesn’t store any data, only pointers to where the data is held. There is no additional copy, only a record which points to the system and location where the live register or latest survey can be found.
There are layers of security and authorisation built into the API but we certainly won’t have thought of everything, yet. That’s why we need more industry heads involved to make sure that the API can only be used for good.
We’re looking for more collaborators and wise heads to help develop and expand the idea. Competitors working collaboratively on a project feels slightly uncomfortable but the goal of the project, to make asbestos data more available for the common good, makes it worthwhile I would say.
Published on Wednesday 24th August 2022