UK law requires site workers to demonstrate their credentials through qualifications. But is this being documented and adhered to on site?

Growth in UK construction is radically reshaping the sector, presenting industry obstacles as well as opportunities. Major contractors, who have thousands of workers on site at any one time, across hundreds of sites, face the challenge of effectively and efficiently managing the accreditation validation for them. The UK law requires for all site workers to demonstrate that they have the required training and qualifications for the type of work that they carry out. 

Moving away from manual processes

Traditionally, the process to ensure that workers meet the correct training and accreditation standards is manually carried out and predominantly paper-based. The first step involves every site worker filling in a form, providing their personal details, work qualifications, competencies and right to work. This information is then handed over, checked and filed on site, making it a laborious but necessary procedure. However, this responsibility can lie with the subcontractor and can be more difficult for the main contractor to manage and control.

There are a plethora of qualifications and competencies workers can obtain that must be validated. CITB CSCS hold databases that save key individuals’ accreditations including: SSSTS, CPCS, CISRS and SMSTS. If robust checks are not done, there’s a risk that cards which may have expired or may be borrowed or forged could slip through the net. The issue here is with the competency of the checks done by the employer and/or main contractor.

Subsequently, the contractor is responsible for manually carrying out random checks in order to validate qualifications and competencies. However, to provide comprehensive validation requires substantial company resources, particularly for major contractors with multiple construction projects that have thousands of workers on site each day. To check so many workers’ competencies in this way is cumbersome and extremely resource-intensive. Perhaps more importantly, manual and random checks are open to inaccuracies and therefore pose risks to contractors. To monitor contractors’ compliance, the Health & Safety Executive and other Governing bodies complete random checks of workers ensuring their qualifications and competencies are validated.

The cost of untrained workers

Without a robust method in place to achieve accreditation validation, contractors are compromising their workers’ safety – and that’s the bottom line. With scope for unqualified workers to be on a site, the risk of accidents occurring naturally increases. The consequences for any contractor or subcontractor when a non-qualified site worker carries out work or causes an accident are enormous, including significant fines and imprisonment.

Inadequate consideration to health and safety is an extremely serious criminal offence, for which directors can be held personally liable. As an example, an untrained construction worker was tragically killed in an accident using faulty equipment. The company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £30,000 after pleading guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The director was also sentenced to imprisonment.

Reputational damage following an incident can have longer lasting consequences. Value can be knocked off share prices, future contracts can be put at risk and the ensuing negative publicity can result in changing public perception. All of this can potentially be avoided by ensuring the pre-qualification of workers’ accreditations are done.

Technology is gradually being integrated into the current, outdated system and simultaneously mitigating risk for both contractors and sub-contractors.

Advances in technology have enabled full software integration with both CITB and CSCS card scheme databases so that information provided by workers can be instantly checked to validate qualifications, competencies and help confirm the identity of the individual. This integration ensures all workers have the correct, in-date accreditations at all times and sites can be proactive in monitoring expiration dates. At the start of a project, worker’s accreditations can be validated before they arrive on site. This can be reinforced at site level where face-to-face checks are made as a final step before enabling site access.

The future of accreditation validation

With a variety of qualifications and accreditations available for construction workers, it is clear that fragmented information will continue to hinder the construction industry. As a result, there is discussion regarding the need for a single card and single database that records all of a worker’s qualifications and training – the Government has stipulated for this to be done by 2020. Integrating CITB with corporate systems is imperative for consistency, with the pressures of the stringent accreditation checks expected to further increase.

It is predicted that, through utilisation of technology, contractors will, in the future, have absolute verification of their workers’ qualifications, identity and right to work, generating huge efficiency gains and protecting the reputation and contracts of major companies and their subcontractors.

However, there is reluctance from the industry to solely rely upon a single system, in replacement of their own unique, corporate systems that have long been used. This begs the question, where will this leave the industry?

Ultimately, responsibility for health and safety must be owned and integrated across contractors and sub-contractors and this should be the paramount consideration. Achieving a fully-qualified, recognised and trusted workforce is a top priority for the industry and of which should not be at the cost of corporate vanity.