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November 1, 2013

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Passport to site safety – Construction Skills Certification Scheme

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Next year, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme will undergo a number of changes. Graham Wren discusses the benefits this will bring to the sector.
The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) was introduced in 1995 as a means of identifying construction workers’ competence through achievement of a recognised qualification. CSCS has become the pre-eminent card scheme in the industry with close to 1.9 million current cards in circulation. It is owned by the industry and managed by a board drawn from employer organisations namely the UK Contractors Group (UKCG), Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and National Specialist Contractors Council (NSCC) as well as the major construction unions UCATT, UNITE and GMB.
The construction industry has made many improvements since the inception of CSCS, with significant reductions in the numbers and rates of injury over the last 20 years. Nevertheless, construction remains a high-risk industry accounting for 22 per cent of fatal injuries to employees and 10 per cent of reported major injuries in the UK.
Over the years, the scheme has evolved to accommodate the changing requirements of an industry worth about £90bn and employing just over six per cent of the UK workforce. While the industry has contracted over the past few years, no longer employing the 2.13 million who worked in the industry at its peak in 2009, it remains a sizeable contributor to the UK economy.
Necessary certification
CSCS was established to provide the necessary certification of an individual’s qualifications to carry out the job for which they were employed. The consequential benefits of such a scheme included improvements in on-site competence and productivity together with a reduction in the rate of accidents and ill health. For most site-based occupations achievement of an appropriate NVQ is required in order to obtain a card, however, there are other routes available. These include a rigorous assessment of on-site knowledge and skills known as the ‘profiled route’ used for experienced site managers and supervisors. Membership of a recognised professional body such as IOSH is a further way in which people may obtain a CSCS card as long as, in common with all types of CSCS cards, the applicant has passed the appropriate health, safety and environment test.
We believe the scheme has contributed to a trend in which many employers have made significant investment in their workforce to ensure they receive the training they need for the benefit of those individuals and the organisations they work for.
However, there is one notable exception. In 2002, we introduced a green card for construction site operatives. Aimed at labouring occupations, application requirements were a simple employer endorsement and a pass in the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) health and safety test. The green card was increasingly misused with individuals and organisations using them purely as a passport to gain access to site with no requirement to achieve a recognised qualification.
This resulted in many workers holding the wrong card for the job. Through surveys we discovered they were being widely used by people whose work spread far beyond labouring tasks, including managers and supervisors. The green card was clearly not fit for purpose and not fulfilling the construction industry ambition of having a qualified workforce.
This was further referenced in the Pye Tait report, which recommended that all workers on construction sites should be formally qualified. The existing green card does not satisfy this criterion. 
Following extensive consultations across the construction industry, there are plans to introduce significant changes to the card scheme over the next year.
From July 2014, labourers applying for an entry-level green card will be required to achieve a knowledge-based qualification ‘health and safety in a construction environment’ with the aim of demonstrating their knowledge of the most common health and safety issues affecting UK construction sites today, including manual handling, working safely at height, health risks on-site, principles of risk assessment and working safely around plant and machinery.  CSCS’s card management committee has developed the qualification with members drawn from across the industry, in conjunction with construction’s Sector Skills Council, and the CITB.  A key consideration in the development of the qualification has been balancing content with affordability in terms of both time and cost of training required.
Exactly how this will work and what it will cost will be determined following the results of a pilot that is taking place this winter. 
The pilot will run for three months working with trade bodies and workers from small and large employers across a range of sectors. In terms of training required for the new green card, we anticipate colleges and other industry-training providers will deliver this, while some larger employers may make arrangements to deliver the training either through in-house provision or through their existing relationships with awarding bodies.  
The training can be delivered in a variety of ways, including on-the-job training, computer-based courses, workbook and classroom delivery. However, this will ultimately be determined following the results of the pilot, which will also establish whether training providers’ and employers’ current training arrangements satisfy the criteria of the new qualification. We are keen to avoid duplication and unnecessary cost so existing courses can be reviewed by CITB to determine whether it meets the objectives of the new qualification. If it does there will be no need to undertake the new qualification. 
An awarding body will then independently assess labourers before they can apply for a CSCS green card. We are working with some of the leading players in construction and encouraging them to undertake assessments in a variety of ways with the aim of testing the best methods for delivery. A key consideration here is the literacy levels of a relatively high proportion of the people who undertake labouring occupations. So, while it is likely that this could be a written or computer-based test, there is no reason why it should not be a face-to-face interview with an assessor or some other audio-visual method if it is deemed suitable and as long as it is sufficiently rigorous.
Additional qualifications
CSCS has also recently commenced recognition of additional construction-related qualifications namely HNC, HND, degrees, NEBOSH construction certificates and national diplomas and CIOB certificates. People with these qualifications will be eligible to hold a CSCS academically qualified person (AQP) yellow/white card.  The aim here is to provide a stepping stone into the scheme while they gain vocational qualifications or membership of a recognised professional body.
These initiatives are another step towards ensuring the scheme meets its aims. However, success will depend on how rigorously cards are checked on construction sites.  Contractors and their clients need to verify not only that everyone on their site has a current and valid CSCS card, but also that it is appropriate for the job they do. The site manager looking at the workers’ cards as they enter the site can, however, many have found this to be a time-consuming process and it is also likely to miss the increasing numbers of fake cards that are seen on sites as work levels start to increase again.
This was one of the main reasons that we introduced smart technology to CSCS cards.  This means that every CSCS card issued since 2010 has a smart chip, similar to those on credit cards, embedded in it. By putting the card into a reader connected to a PC or swiping it with an android phone with near field communications (NFC) technology the cardholder’s details can be instantly verified, so that their identity, together with the level of qualifications held, can be confirmed.
This technology brings other benefits.  By using in-house or third party expertise, relatively straightforward IT development work can be undertaken so that CSCS cards can be used as a key to access other databases. There are many applications where the technology can be used but a typical example is the ability to access training records so that site managers have up-to-date information on the additional training a worker has received.  They can also be linked to other systems, for example access control, so that contractors can determine the criteria relevant to allow workers to go through site gates and other safety critical areas.
CSCS have also developed a number of apps designed to address common on-site information capture and sharing needs. They can be used to check the validity of an employee’s card.
We believe that these changes will strengthen the scheme and reinforce its credentials as the most appropriate and suitable way for workers to demonstrate their suitability to carry out the work for which they are employed.
Graham Wren is chief executive of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme

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