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May 20, 2009

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Pre-qualification process in construction set to become easier

A body whose aim is to reduce the burden on construction firms created by health and safety pre-qualification questionnaires was officially launched in May, with the unveiling of its website containing comprehensive information for clients, consultants and contractors.

The Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) Competence Forum was set up in response to concerns from the construction industry, and particularly small firms, about the plethora of pre-qualification (PQ) assessments and forms they were having to fill out, many of which duplicated previous efforts and added significantly to costs and paperwork. A recent report from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) found that the construction industry would have to generate more than £1 billion in turnover to compensate for the cost of unnecessary PQ activity, while SHP learned of one contractor who, in the space of nine months, had to fill in 119 PQ forms, in which around 95 per cent of the questions asked were the same.

The SSIP Forum encourages PQ assessment providers to maximise mutual recognition between their schemes. It means businesses tendering for work will only have to complete one set of PQ documents to meet the Stage-1 requirements of a wide range of construction clients. Scheme members have embraced the ‘core criteria’ described in the ACoP to CDM 2007, and the HSE has recognised that an assessment carried out by any Forum member scheme embraces those requirements.

Said Forum chair, John Murphy: “A major benefit for SSIP Forum members is that by tackling the cost and uncertainty surrounding pre-qualification, we can encourage far more suppliers, including SMEs, to take part. This will widen market opportunities for SMEs and give more choice to clients.”

The Forum has been welcomed by stakeholders as a step in the right direction to cut bureaucracy in construction. Chair of the IOSH Construction Group, John Lacey, said the initiative would help “small and medium-sized businesses demonstrate they are competent in health and safety”. The fact that an independent annual audit of the processes employed by each member scheme will be carried out, he added, “means industry can have confidence that the process of accreditation or registration carried out by a member scheme will be consistent and fit for purpose”.

RoSPA was particularly pleased about the use of the agreed core criteria, and said it hoped the initiative “will be of value to other stakeholders, including insurers, investors, enforcing authorities, trades unions, and industry associations”.

The Federation of Master Builders’ director of external affairs, Brian Berry, said the initiative should help smaller firms in particular, as the onerous PQ process has squeezed many of them out. He told SHP: “Local authorities, in particular, make it very difficult for SMEs, in terms of the types of questions being asked — they are geared towards larger contractors. Making it difficult for smaller firms means losing out in terms of the creativity and innovation they can offer. We need the Government to recognise that PQs are a major burden on small firms, and that we need more of this kind of mutual recognition — not just in terms of health and safety but also environmental and diversity issues, particularly in the current economic climate.”

There is also some concern that the success of the Forum relies to a large extent on the various PQ schemes joining up. Head of HS&E at the Electrical Contractors’ Association, Paul Reeve — who wrote about PQ schemes and the SSIP in the November 2008 issue of SHP — said while this is an extremely welcome development, it is vital that more schemes join up and recognise each other. He elaborated: “Some leading schemes are not involved, and we are disappointed to see that they have not joined up. If it turns out that they do not then receive the full support of the construction industry, so be it.”

One major scheme provider that pulled out of the SSIP just weeks before the official launch is SAFEContractor, run by Connaught. When SHP contacted it for a comment, operations director, Darran Hughes told us: “Although we have been involved in the initial development of the new SSIP Forum, we are awaiting full completion and operation of the system to determine if it meets the needs of our clients or contractors. We also have concerns that the way the scheme is positioned could mislead businesses into thinking that there is now a single common standard across the board.”

He added: “While we are anxious to work with counterparts to streamline and clarify the system, our first responsibility is to our clients. It is important they are clear which accreditation standard meets their needs for protection of brand and reputation as well as their need for safety and strict legal compliance.”

Neil Edwards, chief executive of the Builders Conference Trade Association, said while his organisation is a “major promoter of harmonising the PQ assessment system” it is actively promoting its own initiative. While not an accreditation scheme, ‘Builders Profile’ also claims to meet the Stage-1 health and safety requirements. Explained Neil: “It is an online system, which keeps the basic information requested in most PQs in the one place, which contractors only need fill out once, and the information is then supplied by us to the main contractors. Basically, we are trying to address this issue from the bottom up.”

The SSIP Forum website is at

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