HSE chief wages war on safety card schemes

9 January 2013

Top construction inspector puts “competency” under spotlight as part of CDM regulations overhaul

Philip White: campaign

The Health and Safety Executive’s chief inspector for construction has called on industry bodies to come together to consolidate and reform the plethora of card and pre-qualification schemes required to prove health and safety “competency” as part of a bid to sweep away the bureaucracy and tick-box mentality that is engulfing the sector.

In an interview with CM on HSE priorities for 2013, Philip White said it was important that health and safety processes were simplified across the board and that the industry got back to processes that add value in reducing ill health and accidents on sites, rather than generating information and paperwork for the sake of it.

The HSE is putting processes under the microscope as part of its overhaul of the CDM regulations. The review will focus on three key areas — the role of the CDM coordinator, the competencies of construction professionals, site personnel and organisations, and the continued need for the Approved Code of Practice accompanying the regulations.

On professional competency, White criticised the variety of trade-specific skills cards which employers often demand as evidence of the skills and health and safety “competence” of on-site operators. White said: “Research published last year indicated that there are some 300 cards from over 40 certification schemes. Some are competence based, such as the scheme for scaffolders and the plant, but others are a record of having passed a test. Just because you have a card doesn’t mean you are competent. It’s also difficult for site managers and smaller businesses who really don’t know what all of them mean.

“There needs to be more mutual recognition between schemes and some rationalisation. By improving the mechanisms that deliver training, qualifications and cards, and by achieving common understanding on key principles, delivery of a simpler framework of competence will benefit the industry.”

White also said the plethora of questions asked in PQQs — which often asked for nonsensical information about the health and safety competencies of architects and other professionals — should be reviewed. “One would hope these skills are dealt with by the professional institutions without the need for gathering more information, much of which adds little to no value. What do people do with this data? It becomes purely a box-ticking exercise.”

On the review of the CDM ACOP, White also said that a role of CDM coordinator could be rolled into the job of lead designer or project manager rather than it being a standalone professional. The duty of a CDM coordinator is to ensure arrangements are made and implemented for the coordination of health and safety measures during planning and preparation for the construction phase and has created a whole new professional specialism.

White said: “People think of it as an individual who carries out this role, but it is a corporate function that needs to be discharged and as such could be carried out by the lead designer, project manager, or client themselves, which might deliver better value.”

The Building Safety Group, which provides H&S advice to projects on a consultancy basis, concurred: “The idea of the CDM coordinator was to have a member of the project team solely looking at the buildability, maintainability and usability of a building in regard to health safety and welfare, but this role has lost much of its credibility since 2007 so we would feel it is time for a change.”

The consultation document that will spell out the HSE’s proposals has been delayed and is expected in the spring.

Members question need for SMSTS training

If the HSE is serious about trimming back the overgrown landscape of health and safety accreditation, many CIOB members would be happy to see a more proportionate approach to the Site Manager Safety Training Scheme.

A five-day general introduction to running sites safely, the course costs £500-£600 and must be renewed every five years.

It was introduced following the 2007 revision of the CDM regulations as a means to demonstrate an individual’s “competency” to run properly managed sites.

But job-seeking CIOB members complain that the course is being set as a gateway to employment by many contractors and recruiters, while their ICIOB and MCIOB qualifications are ignored.

Stephen Sugg ACIOB, who is studying for the CIOB Level 4 Site Management diploma and also has a CSCS Black managers card and extensive experience, says that not having the SMSTS is disbarring him from applying for assistant site manager roles.

“I can understand the need for a CSCS card, but everything on the SMSTS course is covered in one module of our CIOB course. Why should I pay £500 for the course, plus £700 for a week off work?” he said. “I want to work for a major industry contractor, but it looks like I’ll have to pay up to do this course if I want to get on.”

Project manager Bob Reynolds MCIOB said that he could see the value of the SMSTS course for anyone moving up from the tools to a management role, but that it was redundant for anyone who holds a CIOB qualification.

“Where some of us have taken our exams and become chartered, why do we need SMSTS?. “Employers ask for it in case there’s ever an accident on site and they need to prove to HSE that it was run by a ‘competent person’. But if we have MCIOB it means we’re deemed competent.”

Health and safety “competency”: gone too far?

Dr Billy Hare MCIOB, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of the Built and Natural Environment.
“I’d like to see the HSE take control of the card schemes. The proliferation of [competency] cards within the industry is a problem. It is perfectly practical for the industry to have one card under the standard of the HSE. It could be run along the same lines as the old CORGI registration system. A single HSE card would remove all commercial interests from the system. I appreciate that the CSCS card has evolved to incorporate a sweep of qualifications, but it is still essentially seen as a safety passport within the industry, and I think it is far better if the HSE took charge of the industry’s safety accreditation.”

Building Safety Group spokesperson
“The Building Safety Group has long campaigned on behalf of its members to reduce the unnecessary duplication of information demanded by separate bodies. SSIP (Safety Schemes in Procurement) has helped in this direction but the perception of self interest by accreditation bodies still exists.

“When CSCS was launched, other trade associations (such as HVCA, ECA and NASC) decided to combine the CSCS affiliation with a skills grade card, so because there are many trades with different skills in construction there are a large number of cards. Everyone needs to recognise the idea behind all of these schemes and find the common purpose and spirit of them.”


Rooflights and occupational cancer: White sets out priorities for 2013

As part of his interview with CM, Philip White said that a key issue on its agenda is implementing its Fee for Intervention scheme, which began in October. “Generally, our inspectors have not been subject to as much resistance as we might have expected. But it will be interesting what the reaction is when the invoices go out in the New Year,” said White.

White said that 11,000 “proactive” visits would be carried out this year alongside reactive work investigating complaints and accidents. The work split is roughly 50:50 between proactive and reactive work.

As yet, evidence did not point to the recession leading to an increase in accidents generally, though White said he was concerned what impact it might have in future. “Some contractors have said to me that they avoided taking on projects because they cannot be delivered safely for the price. But someone is taking those jobs on, how are they managing it? We’ll certainly know the impact in two years.”

One area where the HSE had noticed an increase in accidents was workers falling through rooflights. On average there are six fatalities each year from falls through fragile surfaces, but initial figures show an increase in this number over the past 6-9 months. “We’re not sure why this is, it could be that the bad weather has damaged more roofs and made for more repairs, which tended to be carried out by jobbing builders, which are a hard-to-reach target. We certainly need to try to raise our game in this area,” said White.

White added that in 2013 the HSE would also step up its efforts in trying to prevent ill health — particularly in refurbishments that involve asbestos removal, and activities that generate carcinogenic silica dust.

More than 5,000 occupational cancer cases are estimated to arise each year as a result of past exposure in the construction industry, said White.


It is interesting to read Philip White's views in advance of his report to be considered and agreed by the HSE Board. It would appear that the HSE is proposing to resurrect the idea set out in CDM94 that the role of the Directive's Co-ordinator could be rolled into the job of lead designer or other members of the project team. The fact that this was shown not to work and was a key factor for the introduction of the CDM-C appears to have been conveniently forgotten.
Whilst I would agree with the Building Safety Group's outline of the CDM-C role, I would be very interested to learn what evidence the Building Safety Group has to support its statement that the role of the CDM-C "has lost much of its credibility since 2007". In order to fulfil the role within the project team, the CDM-C needs to be appointed at the outset. A survey of APS members
indicated that of a total of 2926 projects, the CDM-C was appointed before design work commences on only 17% of projects and during early stages of design on 38% of projects. On this basis, I find it difficult to understand how the role's credibility has been or indeed can be assessed.

Brian B. Law, 9 January 2013

Lets face it, if the Industry was serious about health and safety, training would be provided Free by the CITB. Heaven know it's about time they did something for the industry apart from being a total burden.

The reams of paperwork, once submitted, are totally ignored!

Bill Price, 11 January 2013

From a subbies point of view, why are there schemes set up by individual contractors which need to be adhered to before you work on their sites - be it WD, Mansells, MS, Kier, etc - they all seem to have their own agendas and all require you to sign up to their "approved" courses, pay their fees to be part of their interpretations etc. Why can't there be one document that everyone adheres to ? Even when you register for CHAS as is required before you can even tender for some contractors, you still lose out when your are undercut by someone who hasn't registered. The whole set up is a mess and there a lot of people making a lot of money out of all the confusion !

Liam Power, 11 January 2013

This might be fantastic news for the industry if Philip White and the HSE really get to grips with the bloated, self-serving training and accreditation schemes that have been pushed and cajoled into being by the main contractors and government controlling bodies.
The adoption of a 'tick box - must have' mentality to accreditation cards; as being the precursor to entering and working on site and or creating a financial ceiling for personal development; has seriously damaged the industry’s image and or precluded eminently suitable candidates.
There was a time when the industry provided excellent on the job training / development of skilled and semi-skilled operatives, engineers, staff etc. through simple mentoring and learning-by-doing schemes, now we just have a Catch 22 situation. Where you need a piece of paper before you can enter the industry by fair means or foul, and or where small companies endeavour to find ways to avoid providing these altogether by working under the radar.
One thing that has not been delivered by these schemes is better meaningful skills, yet it is only by skill and experience at the end of the day, can we deliver an improving safety conscious environment and a construction industry which is growing to meet these challenges.

David Truscott, 11 January 2013

I agree with Brian, it's the HSE itself that lacks credibility, how many prosecutions have there been for Clients failing to perform their duties? What interest have HSE Field Ops Inspectors had in anything other than what happens on site?
And who are the BSG to speak for CDM-C's? Not members of the APS, they offer non accredited training and still quote Planning Supervision on their website.

Paul Murphy, 11 January 2013

Well it's about time someone took the lead on this issue. At the moment there are far too many "add- on" within the industry. This has a major impact on freelance site managers who have to spend thousands of pounds, not hundreds, on silly add-on courses. If you are lucky enough to be employed full time by a large well-resourced company, add-on courses are paid for, the individual is paid for being in attendance, hotel and travel expenses too. But for a freelance site manager it is enough to finish ones career.
Why should someone who has acheived the industry benchmark standard for a site manager, NVQ 6 and black CSCS card, as well as holding NEBOSH qualifications be required to pay £600 for a 5 day SMSTS course, which is almost impossible to fail! For example actual SMSTS question
When should you sound the fire bell?
A never
B when the pizza has been delivered
C when there's a fire
D to let people now site is closing.

That is an actual question! There is no acknowledgement of the fact that an individual has acheived a much higher level of qualification. NVQ level 6, MCIOB, ICIOB simply not requested in the criteria for vacant site manager roles.
At present in Britain most companies insist that people must prove competence by showing their CSCS card. With the exception of the Site manager who does not have to prove competence, on the basis of owning a 5 day SMSTS certificate. This is double standards at the least, but also dangerous. I know good experienced lads who are qualified, but have had to leave the industry completley because they cannot afford to do additional add-on courses.
As I have mentioned before and I will say again, the widespread acceptance of SMSTS as proof of competence is REAL reason why ICIOB members are not taking further development and gaining MCIOB. Why should they when the farcical 5 day, multiple choice, SMSTS certificate is deemed a higher qualification.

Anthony Porter, 11 January 2013

Let's be honest about it: CDMCs are never appointed early enough to provide the H&S benefits on a project that could be realised. Many lead designers are keen to cooperate with H&S matters and do a good job. Many (designers) though still don't seem to fully grasp the basics, churn out lots of large, and in many cases, worthless risk assessments, paperwork etc. Too many times I hear about the CDMC role going to lead designers and surveyors who just happen to be in a start-up meeting, well after project inception, and someone shouts up, "we need a CDMC", as an afterthought. Their main role, in these cases, seems to be collecting a fee with many project/design managers saying they never see them again except near P.C. when they demand the HSF from the principal contractor. This isn't made up. This is quite often told to me by project and design managers for large national/international companies on large projects in the UK. I can't see the point in transferring the role back to organisations that might only pay lip service to the CDMC role. Bona-fide stand alone CDMCs and organisations that do the job properly, provide value for money and bring benefits to a project need to be encouraged and supported. The other 'hangers-on' need to be weedled out. Sure, there will always be tensions and issues but all-in-all the CDMC role as it stands, if allowed to be done properly by all interested parties, has to and should be encouraged to thrive otherwise we will be taking a step back. I'm looking forward to the consultation document so I can provide my full input.

DAVE JUSTICE, 11 January 2013

How can Stephen Sugg comment on the content of the SMSTS course if he has not gained the qualification. I have taught both courses over the past 20 years and would recommend both courses for site managers etc as they are both required to run a site safely and all the managers and senior management who have attended the SMSTS course say they definitely gained the knowledge required to carry out their safety duties more effectively and with more confidence.

michael , 6 July 2013

It's nuts I'm a qualified crane operator and slinger/signaller on mobile cranes and hold a National Plant Operators Registrations Scheme (NPORS) ticket for both but now I have to complete exactly the same theory and practical tests costing over £3000 to get my Construction Plant Competency Scheme (CPCS) for exactly the same competencies and to add insult to injury I have phoned both CITB and NPORS and no-one can tell me why?????? They say that it has to be this way because they are two different companies but surely the industry can see the CITB has muscled in on a (from what I can see) a profit making and highly bureaucratic industry rather then a industry that can join together to have a better regulated competency scheme.

Greg Allen, 23 September 2013

i have worked on site all my life, why are cpcs courses so expensive, mostly unaffordable to most people, this is why the industry is struggling to pull people into the construction sector, people cant afford these ridiculous prices, there are no attraction for the young to come into the industry, my cards have all expired and I cant afford to refresh them, now im unemployed I can barely afford to pay for a cscs card, to many jobsworths sat on their backsides behind a desk somewhere justifying their own jobs, but yet probably never set foot on a building site since leaving uni, and these are the people we have to listen to and be dictated to by, site safety is a must I agree, but you should do at least 2 years on site to prove you have the ability and common sense, just because you have a cscs card doesn't instantly give COMMON SENSE ON SITE

DEVIN HENNEN, 19 November 2013

Lets face it, a piece of paper never saved anyone's life. As a senior H & S Manager, I deplore the reams of what people see as backside-covering paperwork. It is not just the Construction industry though..which seems to take the hit...but insurance companies need to take a very close look at themselves.

In the main, I have found that the paperwork has stemmed from a rake of claims made against companies, (99% spurious in my mind) and in turn, they, to cover for the insurance, have invented yet another 'scheme' to cover such future claims. All these cards prove nothing, let's get back to basics and train 'apprentices' in the true manner of the word. Having trained SMSTS Courses, I agree with those above, it became silly. I had electricians on one course who will never run a site in their lives....what a waste of their time and effort. I say this because the course covered fictional sites, and the running and planning of such sites. These lads all had their 'safety' cards though...

As for the CDMC, again, I would like to see where the foundation of the comments that it has lost credibility. The CDMC role is paramount in my eyes and yes, it is a corporate function not a singular. I insist on a team effort from ours, and I get it. Again I see the problem is of too many consultants producing reams of generic waste paper such as design risk assessments, and the like, when in fact they should be 'doing their job' as described above and in the Regs and ACoP.

Even as a H & S man, I support most of the comments written, and will continue to do my bit, and scream and shout as I do, to try and help sort this problem out. Maybe I am a breath of fresh air, but hand on heart, I get more out of my sites by 'being there at the coal face' and not by driving a desk, ticking boxes. Our CDMC's are brilliant and supportive, as they too 'do their job' and more in most cases. I always use a phrase when I train, and that it; The four C's of CDM will never change, Competence, Co-operation, Communication and Co-ordination. That's all that is required, and very easy to execute, when all this is put together.

All the very best to all.

Chris C, 31 January 2014

CPCS has the monopoly on training. HSE does not state operators must have a CPCS card, Insurance Companies do not either. You now have to go to a Training Centre (none local to us). We hire mobile cranes and would like to expand, however, getting a trained mobile crane operator has proved impossible. Who would want to come into our industry, when its costs on average £3000.00 for the course, along with having to get HGV licence? We used to be able to pay for a qualified CITB trainer to come to our premises and run a crane operator course, using our crane, this saved alot of money. CITB put a stop to it. CITB are a disgrace.

louise shires, 15 May 2014

I see a lot of whining about the costs of these courses, including the absurd comment, 'I can't afford to do this course so now I'm unemployed' this person must surely be stupid enough to not be allowed on site.
That said, CSCS is a complete and utter con, and the level of questions is so pitifully simple that the cards are pointless. I finally gave in to pressure and bought a CSCS card ( yes that is how I view it) about 3 years ago. My then 13 year old daughter sat and answered the questions in the CSCS book and got more than 95% of the questions right. According to most large corporations and government employers she would be safe to allow on a building site unsupervised!
Moron managers have produced this situation where a CSCS card (and other similarly worthless providers) is deemed to prove competence, when everyone who has ever sat the test knows the only people who ever fail the test must be so stupid they shouldn't be allowed out on their own in case they hurt themselves.
I was so incensed by how simple the test was that I looked into reporting CSCS for FRAUD. The only thing that stopped me was the need to continue making a living in the sector. Which is presumably why I can't find any feedback on the web for the various Contractor H&S SCHEMEs (funny how they use the term "scheme" isn't it? like Dastardly and Muttley's schemes evil and never work) because nobody dares say what they really think about the schemes for fear of losing their contracts.

If anybody reading this has any comments they would like to make about the various CHAS type schemes please PM me. I need to commit to one of the schemes that Scottish Water insist upon CHAS, Achilles, BS OHSAS18001, or safe contractor accreditation.
As I do not believe any of them will be of any value whatsoever to my company (employing a massive two people, including myself) I'm trying to find out which scheme is least expensive, onerous, pointless.
Anyone who can offer advice would be most welcome. Thanks.

Paul McGuinness, 2 June 2014

To the man who says he has been running these courses for 20 years, seeing as SMSTS was introduced in 2007 I suggest he undertakes another course, its called maths for idiots. Many people are now leaving construction because it is too expensive. CITB and cpcs is a money laundering service who have jumped on the bandwagon of charging people excess money for training, the construction industry will eventually grind to a halt as there wont be enough people to fill the so called skills shortage that cpcs created themselves. Wake up before its too late.

Tony, 6 June 2014

I have worked in the construction industry for 32 years, was an improver steel erector when 18 until 21 run by the union. Skilled men at that time showed me the job, not sat in a classroom or on a touch screen. Now this should be my turn to show the youngsters the trade but for me to even get a steel erector card as a TRAINEE I have to pay £1500 Don't think so, that's one less experienced guy in the CSCS CPCS Rip off Industry.

J Stevenson, 23 March 2015

I was told I need blackj CSCS . I have to take nvq level 6 . Citb said level 4 . I called pearsons training recommended by citb . They said level 6 . I told them citb said level 4. They refused to budge . 1700 pounds and I can't do it unless I'm fully employed . Rip off and forcing me out of industry I've been in all my life . Then I find out CSCS black card is available for 40 pounds from skillcard it's aitomatic if your smsts is less than two years old .or sit cscs map test and two references .so I did saving thousands This is a joke it's a con . And smsts a donkey can pass as most offer garenteed pass . Even for CSCS . I'm sick of it . The whole system is s mess

Robbie gordon, 20 April 2018

Cscs is just a money maker. Health & safety is very important on said any one can get a card . When did a 20 year old man with a cscs card. Suddenly have more knowledge & experience than a man with 30 years in the trade& no card. He didnt. Most annoying issue been that it has to be renewed every 5 years. Should be like driving licence. Once you have it that's it. But then us workers won't have to give our very hard earnt money away. School leaver can't even get on site until 18. By that time he's learnt other ways to earn a quid. Years ago he would have 2 years experience in chosen career. Bring back 1980.

Martin dunne, 21 April 2018

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