CPD: CSCS SmartCards
Many construction projects still use paper-based systems for checking workers’ credentials. CSCS SmartCards provide a more efficient way of managing site staff, as Alan O’Neile explains.
Managing construction workers on site can be challenging. With different cards for more than 400 occupations, it is important for site managers and supervisors to not only check that people are who they say they are, but also that they have the right qualifications and the right card for the job they do on site.
And yet, despite the availability of new technology, many sites still use paper-based filing to capture workers’ details. In a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) survey of 1,180 site-based staff around the UK, 69% of respondents said they were still checking cards using a paper-based system, with only 6% using “smart” technology.
This process is not only inefficient and time consuming, but requires a significant amount of dedicated administrative resource to process the information and keep it up to date.
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The survey also revealed that while 86% of cardholders had their cards checked, only 43% were checked to see if they were actually qualified to do the job. This lax approach raises questions not only about the qualifications of workers on these projects, but also about their health and safety credentials. Not thoroughly checking the qualifications of site workers puts the safety of others at risk and harms the reputation of the industry when accidents occur.
CSCS SmartCards provide a solution to these potential pitfalls. The cards allow site managers and supervisors to quickly access all relevant information about the cardholder, including photo, qualifications and the date the card expires.
Electronic card checks take no more than a few seconds, eliminating the need for paper records or waiting on the phone while the CSCS helpdesk checks a card’s validity. The information on the CSCS SmartCard can be saved onto a spreadsheet or secure database, removing the time wasted on scanning or photocopying cards. Checking cards electronically saves site management valuable time – and money.
But the CSCS SmartCard is capable of much more than simply confirming the holder’s identification, qualifications and health and safety test. The card can be enabled to access any database, with the appropriate permissions, giving site supervisors and managers access to a wealth of additional information.
How SmartCards work
The microchip on a CSCS SmartCard contains the same information that is printed on the card.
When a card is read electronically it links with a secure website containing the CSCS database. All data transfers between the microchip and the card reading device are securely encrypted.
There is no capacity to modify the core data on CSCS cards. The only way SmartCards can be updated is via the CSCS database.
Worker records on in-house training databases can be updated in real time. Whenever a card is read, site managers and supervisors can view the training already received, see when it expires and also update the record with any additional training given (see SkillSight case study below). The SmartCards also help with managing site inductions and toolbox talks.
It is essential that everyone working on construction sites is fully briefed on their roles and responsibilities and how to minimise health and safety risks. But sometimes workers are unsure which inductions and toolbox talks they have received, so site managers and supervisors err on the side of caution and deliver them to all workers entering their sites. This can result in duplication of training and unnecessary time off-site, leading to decreased productivity and increased costs throughout the supply chain.
By using the CSCS card to record inductions and toolbox talks, there is no need for tick sheets or manual data input. Simply swipe attendees’ cards and their records are automatically updated.
Willmott Dixon has estimated that each person working on its sites was inducted between four and 20 times per year. The time lost by site managers giving duplicate inductions, across all the contractor’s sites, added up to over £1.2m of unnecessary costs.
SmartCards can also be used with an access control system to provide site managers and supervisors with attendance data, including who was on site, when, where and for how long. This can assist with subcontractor payments, project cost centre allocation and an evacuation list in case of an emergency.
BAM Nuttall used CSCS SmartCards for access control on its London Underground Tottenham Court Road site and calculated an annual cost saving of £51,000.
Reading CSCS cards electronically is not just about saving time and money otherwise spent on recording data. It is also about improving the process of card checking so that no one with a fraudulently obtained or expired card is allowed on a construction site.
The dangers of construction card fraud have been highlighted by national media, which has demonstrated how valuable electronic card checks can be.
Last year a BBC Newsnight undercover investigation and a subsequent BBC Fake Britain programme identified two types of fraudulent activity where individuals obtained CSCS cards illegally.
Newsnight showed fraudulent activity at some industry-approved test centres delivering construction training, where candidates were using fraudulently obtained examinations to acquire cards.
The BBC’s Fake Britain programme highlighted how easy it is to purchase fake CSCS cards on the black market.
The cards are made to a high standard and site managers and supervisors struggle to spot a fake by simply carrying out a visual inspection.
While the number of people, cards and qualifications involved is relatively small, this type of fraudulent activity has the potential to undermine legitimate employees and harms the reputation of the industry. Workers using fake cards are not qualified to do their job and cannot demonstrate the required level of health and safety awareness that is needed to work safely on a UK construction site.
It is important that site managers and supervisors are able to trust the card certification schemes carrying the CSCS logo. This was one of CSCS’s primary objectives when introducing the electronic SmartCard in 2010.
When checking CSCS cards, managers and supervisors should be checking if they are valid, authentic and whether the holder has the correct qualifications for the job they do. Reading a CSCS card electronically is the most effective way to ensure a card’s validity and to make sure that only those workers who are appropriately qualified are allowed on to construction sites.
When a fake card is checked by a card reader, tablet device or smartphone it will be obvious that the card is not authentic as nothing will show up on the screen.
If fraudulent activity is confirmed at examination centres, CSCS has the ability to cancel all cards suspected of being obtained fraudulently. This will show up on the screen as “cancelled“ the next time the card is read electronically.
Obtaining a CSCS card fraudulently can constitute a criminal act and puts the safety of workers at risk. It is hoped the issues highlighted by the BBC have raised awareness of card fraud and encouraged site managers and supervisors to tackle this problem by reading the cards electronically.
With digital CSCS cards offering so many efficiency gains, not to mention time and cost savings, it is surprising that only a small percentage of sites have adopted electronic card checks.
The number of construction site managers and supervisors with first-hand experience of reading CSCS cards electronically is low.
But, as digital technology becomes widespread across the construction industry, let’s hope that more construction companies become aware of the productivity and safety gains possible from electronic card checks.
Alan O’Neile is communications and public affairs manager at CSCS
How to read a CSCS card electronically
Reading a CSCS SmartCard electronically is straightforward. Site managers and supervisors who prefer to work from PCs can just download the free Go Smart software from the CSCS website and purchase an inexpensive card reader.
Inserting the CSCS card into the reader brings up the information about the worker on the PC screen. If connected to the internet, the data can also be validated online against the CSCS database. Managers and supervisors can then choose to print the information or store it electronically on a secure database.
Smartphones or tablets can also be used to read CSCS cards. A free Go Smart app is available to download from Google Play or the Windows Store and the cards work in the same way as with PCs and card readers: holding the cards to the back of the phone or tablet brings up the information about the worker on the screen.
Note that when using a tablet device or smartphone it is important to ensure the near field communications (NFC) setting is activated.
Apple has introduced NFC capability to its latest iPhones but has not yet permitted third parties such as CSCS to create an app capable of reading SmartCards. For the time being, therefore, it is not possible to check the cards with an iPhone. As soon as this feature is available, CSCS will introduce an app.
Homebuilders forecast big efficiency savings with SmartCards
Top housebuilders are predicting huge time savings for site-based staff after the Home Builders Federation (HBF) launched a web-based application to improve the accuracy and speed of verifying workers’ CSCS SmartCards.
HBF’s director of external affairs John Slaughter says: “HBF members have undertaken audits of CSCS cards on their sites for some time. Although it’s a vital process to check that site workers have the correct qualifications to carry out their jobs, it has been time-consuming and relied on manual data entry. Through a successful trial, this new service has already shown that it not only significantly reduces the time taken to record the information but also improves the accuracy of reporting too.”
Phil Evans, grants and funding manager at Barratt, and Clare Horton, trainee programmes manager at Redrow, provided industry input and feedback to ensure the system meets the requirements of homebuilders.
Evans says: “We have calculated that this tool will save us around 500 working man-days per year by enabling site managers to swipe CSCS cards with a USB pen. This captures all the information needed and automatically enters it into our own systems with no input required from admin staff.”
Horton says: “During the trial our site managers couldn’t believe how simple and fast this system makes recording CSCS details. And now that we can rely completely on the accuracy of the information recorded, we can use it for a range of management reports that weren’t previously possible.”
SkillSight helps O’Brien manage training records
SkillSight is a skills management system that can be used with CSCS SmartCards to create a powerful business tool. It allows site managers and supervisors to add additional information – such as training, qualifications, site inductions and toolbox talks – to the CSCS card.
All this information can then be edited and kept up to date online. Updates made to a worker’s training record will be visible the next time the card is read electronically.
SkillSight was developed by one of CSCS’s IT partners, Reference Point, a specialist software solutions company with more than 20 years’ experience working in the construction industry. Reference Point worked with Warwickshire civils firm O’Brien Contractors to introduce SkillSight to manage the company’s training and qualifications records.
With a varied workforce, O’Brien had found it increasingly complicated and time consuming to manage training requirements, ensuring qualifications stayed up to date and recording this information in a meaningful way.
The contractor had up to 180 staff employed on site at any given time, and training coordinator Kelly Davis had to record thousands of inductions and qualifications on Excel spreadsheets. Additionally, she had to keep track of workers’ qualifications and their expiry dates, booking them on to appropriate courses to ensure they stayed accredited.
Davis says: “By implementing SkillSight in conjunction with the CSCS cards, O’Brien can improve the way we manage health and safety records and ensure all staff attend the necessary training courses. SkillSight has made managing our training records much easier, quicker and more accurate.”
SkillSight also caught the attention of Build UK, the largest contractor trade body in UK construction. Its training manager, Sarah Wicks, says: “The information contained on a CSCS card means contractors can ensure any individual they employ on a construction site has the skills, knowledge and experience to carry out their work in a way that secures the health and safety of themselves and others.
“The SkillSight system allows you to add additional information – such as training, site inductions and toolbox talks – to the CSCS card. So when the operative presents their card on site the employer has visibility of the most up-to-date information. This is key for sites that are managing a mobile and often sub-contracted workforce.”
SkillSight is free, available 24/7, and registration is straightforward. To find out more visit: www.referencepoint.co.uk