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A voluntary scheme to reduce bureaucracy and facilitate mutual recognition of core competence criteria in the construction industry may become mandatory unless clients and major contractors fully commit to it.
This was the key message of a conference held today (5 April) to discuss the progress of Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP), the umbrella organisation launched 18 months ago to address the proliferation of health and safety pre-qualification schemes.
In that time, 13 individual schemes – including CHAS, SAFEcontractor, and Exor – have joined the SSIP, and some 75,000 clients and suppliers have been assessed. According to Paul Morrell, the Government’s chief construction advisor, SSIP “is not about safety, and it’s all about safety”.
He told delegates at the event at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS): “SSIP is the model that other things, in this changing world, have to follow. And PAS 91 [Publicly Available Specification on construction pre-qualification, launched last October] is the gateway to a new and better way of working. But we need to make sure that the progress achieved so far doesn’t unravel through different providers trying to gain competitive advantage. If that happens, we will look at nominating just one mandatory provider.”
The key to avoiding this, explained Morrell, is “to find new business drivers that promote integration”. The HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Philip White, agreed, saying: “We need to convince all those involved in the procurement process that they can have confidence in SSIP. It is not perfect and needs to evolve and develop.”
Picking up on this point, conference chair Paul Reeve, a founder board member of the SSIP, invited stakeholders to “let us know if you are not happy with certain aspects of the scheme. We need much more practical communication between us and the buyers and contractors on how SSIP works, and could work better.”
Concerns articulated by delegates at the event included continuing demands from some clients for accreditation to multiple schemes, claims by SSIP members that their particular scheme is better than fellow members’ schemes, and a lack of commitment by major contractors.
Professor Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group (SEC), admitted “it is hard to persuade firms to pass things down the supply chain. But when you have something like the core criteria in CDM there is no excuse for anyone to say that you have to answer the same questions [during pre-qualification] again and again.
“We need to get the message to all large contractors that this is something they have to address.”
Delegates were also provided with more information on the new SSIP portal site, which contains the details of more than 20,000 suppliers who have been assessed by SSIP members. For an annual fee, construction clients can subscribe to the portal, where they can search contractors by name and confirm that they hold current health and safety certification from an SSIP member, and that they have successfully completed a robust CDM 2007 Core Criteria Stage 1 assessment.
There was also a presentation on IRCA – the International Register of Certified Auditors – launched last month to ensure and recognise the competence of individuals who carry out pre-qualification assessments for SSIP members.
According to the HSE’s Philip White, competence is the key issue. He said: “There are requirements relating to competence in CDM but since the regulations were introduced, we have lost our way in terms of bureaucracy. SSIP addresses this, as do the findings of our evaluation of CDM, which will go to the HSE board later this year.”
Prof Rudi Klein agreed, saying: “Let’s hope we can make progress on the waste and bring it back to the issue of competence. Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
Chair Paul Reeve brought the conference to a close by emphasising the importance of communication between all the parties involved and warning that if the SSIP is to continue and thrive, “we have to ensure practical delivery in the next year”.