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.