I thought that last week’s headline news of exposed cheating at construction site safety test centres would be an appropriate topic to blog about on Hallows eve. As disappointing as it was to read, I do think the media enjoyed the scaremongering it created; and perhaps tricked the general public’s perception of how the industry’s skills scheme really works.
The ‘widespread’ cheating mainly surrounds the heath, safety and environment test. The test consists of 50 multiple-choice questions that candidates must complete in 45 minutes using a computer. You can undertake this test at any one of the 544 test centres across the UK authorised by the Construction Industry Training Body (CITB) for a typical cost of £19.50.
You must pass the test to be able to apply for a CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) card. CSCS is the leading skills certification scheme within the UK construction industry.
The card verifies your identity and shows employers that you have the required training, qualifications and experience for the type of work you carry out on a construction site. Most major contractors and homebuilders require workers on their sites to hold a valid CSCS card. The card is typically valid for five years after which it can be renewed.
However there are some types of cards that are only valid for three or four years where applicants must be working towards a recognised industry qualification e.g. apprentice and trainee cards. These cards cannot be renewed once they have expired.
What the recent new reports didn’t mention, however, is that alongside your application for your CSCS card, you have to provide proof of the qualifications you have gained in line with the type/level of card you are applying for. For some cards, a higher level test needs to be sat e.g. the Manager’s card requires that applicants sit the Manager and Professionals Health, safety and Environmental test.
The type of cheating reported in last week’s press is more likely to involve applications for the entry levels cards such as the labourer card where a basic heath and safety awareness is the only requirement. This is the easiest route to gain access to construction sites, although stricter requirements have been put in place following changes introduced last year.
Last year, the Construction Industry Training Board doubled its spend on fraud investigations shutting down five online test centres and investigating eight others. As key industry awarding organisations focus resources on combating fraud, we, as employers, have a role to play too as complacency can also be a means to cheating the system.
CSCS cards should be checked before allowing any new construction workers on site. CSCS keeps a database of people working in construction and an online portal on the CITB website allows you to easily check whether a worker’s card is genuine and valid. The process takes minutes to complete. Regular reviews of existing workers’ information should also take place to prompt when renewals are due.
It is also worth noting that there is an expectation from insurance providers (stipulated in policies) and principal contractors (stipulated in contracts) that companies are ensuring their employees and/or subcontractors hold relevant and valid CSCS cards.
Having these checks in place will not only ensure you have the experience and skills you need but also that your team has an understanding and awareness of health and safety.
This week the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released their annual health and safety statistics. They reported 35 fatalities in the construction industry in 2014/15 and over 65,000 workplace injuries. The statistics highlight the need for better understanding and application of good health and safety practice. Clamping down on fraud will help someway towards this but we all have an ongoing responsibility.