Good news could be on the horizon for contractors facing unnecessary repetition of proof of competence.

It’s been some years since someone hit on the idea of checking for health and safety know-how before contractors won the work, much less arrived on site. This good idea has developed into the phenomenon of prequalification.

But today most contractors will tell you that they object strongly to being told repeatedly to demonstrate credentials to commercial schemes or clients. While prequalification aims to reduce risks, too often it puts contractors on the wrong end of unnecessary paperwork and cost.

Even the government has spotted that things have gone wrong. A new report from its Better Regulation Executive (BRE) notes: “Third parties are imposing their own safety requirements on business. Procurers, insurers and training providers demand health and safety assessment and/or prequalification from those that want to work with them.

“For many of the employers that face them, these requirements have become a significant source of health and safety bureaucracy.”

The report goes on: “A business may be able to show the required standards under one scheme, but there is no recognition of this under the criteria of a second scheme. Firms must then pay to submit similar supporting evidence on different forms to different schemes.”

It’s good to see that the problem is on the political radar, but even more encouraging to see what is going on to resolve this commercially driven issue.

Things first looked up when the Health and Safety Executive’s CDM 2007 Approved Code of Practice listed 12 ‘core criteria’ for assessing contractors’ basic health and safety credentials.

Assessors could start to accept other assessment activities, rather than telling contractors to fill in extra forms.

Lest we forget, the ECA and the HVCA officially launched the ‘core criteria’ with the HSE in 2006, and their appearance in the code of practice has encouraged several providers to work out how to recognise each other’s schemes.

The Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) forum aims to extend mutual recognition, under agreed audit rules, of the standard in CDM 2007 and to help clients and contractors by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary health and safety bureaucracy in procurement
  • Enabling them to achieve value for money by avoiding duplication
  • Breeding confidence in first-stage safety competency assessments through maintaining a consistent, reliable and quality-controlled standard.

The SSiP forum is supported by the HSE construction division and includes names such as CHAS, SafeContractor, Exor, NHBC, Achilles and National Britannia, alongside the ECA and others.

The ECA believes that the efforts of assessors to boost mutual recognition should be recognised and actively supported. Certainly the government, the supply chain and the HSE appear to be on the same page.

After all, the recent BRE report says: “The burden prequalification schemes generate for firms could be eased by the development of mutual recognition and a more common approach between schemes. This would remove unnecessary bureaucracy for firms while also helping them to improve workplace health and safety and avoid excessive and costly consultancy support.”

There has been significant progress, and it is being monitored by those who are interested in how to improve prequalification across the board, not just on health and safety. But safety would be a very good start.