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A plug for common sense


Electrical and heating engineers are launching a joint initiative which aims to cut prequalification paperwork for electrical subcontractors. By next April, other sectors should also be feeling the benefit, writes Emma Crates

MENTION 'Prequalification' or 'Stage 1' assessments to the average small subcontractor and they will give you a jaded look.

It is not that the respectable subbie is averse to proving his credentials when bidding for work. It is just the proliferation of different types of paperwork that he has to fill out to appease each individual client.

In the past few years the red tape has multiplied to such an extent that smaller contractors now admit to being put off from bidding for certain jobs altogether.

Ambitious SMEs without the resources to put a dedicated team onto bidding will have to steer through completely different hurdles and questions, depending on which local authority, client, or major contractor they are chasing for work.

The cost can have a huge impact on their operations, which can be especially off-putting when, at the earliest stage of bidding, the statistical chances of being successful are much lower.

'In addition to local authority and client protocols, there are over 12 national schemes measuring health and safety competence, ' says the Electrical Contractors Association health and safety adviser, Paul Reeve. 'The situation has been getting worse. Each scheme is competing with the others to see which can produce the toughest criteria. This just adds to the burden of paperwork.'

But elect r ical engineers should soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief. The ECA and the Heating and Ventilation Contractors Association are collaborating on an in it iat ive wh ich, if it succeeds, should be a victory for common sense and ensure clients are asking the right questions, while taking less of a toll on the already-stretched resources of the smaller contractors.

At the end of this month the organisations are launching a set of 12 core criteria for assessing the basic health and safety competence of contractors during the prequalification process.

'The new criteria mean everyone will have a clear pictu re of what 'good' looks like, ' says Mr Reeve.

The criteria, which are supported by the Health and Safety Executive, evolved from the Major Contractors Group, whose members had been discussing among themselves what they should be ask ing their subcontrators. These were picked up by the ECA and HVCA, who have been carrying out their own work on them for the last two years. Eventually these core n See page 26 criteria - or something like them - could be used to assess a subcontractor in any field at prequalification stage. The criteria have been developed in ant icipat ion of the revised Construction Design and Management regulat ions. The guidelines will be incorporated to the CDM approved code of practice, which is to be introduced in April 2007.

But the ECA and HVCA have decided to embrace the concept six months early.

'The HSE came to us roughly th ree months ago and asked us to work with them. It was keen on the core criteria and wanted to get everyone used to the idea.'

But Mr Reeve stresses that the benefits of the criteria stretch far beyond the CDM regulations.

'There are many jobs, such as maintenance, that will never fall under CDM. But it's a good way of measuring contractors for any job, ' he says.

But if contractors receive the same standard questions each time, is there a danger that they could start paying lipservice to their safety requirements?

'We have to guard against that, ' agrees Mr Reeve.

'But the criteria are just the areas that people are making investigations into. It's the questions that you ask in support of the criteria that will give you an indication of competency.'

For example, rather than ask ing whether a company has a risk assessment, potential clients could ask how it carried out its risk assessments on its last job. In addit ion, the code of pract ice launched in Apr il will also suggest that subcontractors provide evidence to support their answers.

'It is a very quick way of weeding out the people who don't know what they're doing, ' he says.

The next stage, for the HVCA and ECA is to produce a pack for members to encourage them to use the core criteria for basic training in M&E work.

'It's a road map of how to be a competent contractor in 2007, ' says Mr Reeve.

Tony Sidwell, Safety Health and Environmental manager for Shepherd Engineering Services, and member of the HVCA and joint safety committee, has also been involved in the initiative.

He says: 'The smaller companies don't always know what the CDM requires of them. This init iat ive will let them know that we can help them meet the criteria.'

But he adds that, for larger companies, the criteria should not have too much of an impact. 'What they are asking of us has been the law for a while. I don't think the majors will see a big difference, ' he says.

ECA/HVCA core criteria for safety

The ECA/HVCA will be launching the core criteria at their safety conference on September 26, 2006 1. H&S pol icy and organ isa t ion The contractor should have and implement an appropriate policy, regularly reviewed, and signed off by the managing director or equivalent. It must be relevant to the nature and scale of the work and set out the responsibilities for H&S management at all levels within the company.

2. Arrangements for ensuring H&S measures These should set out the arrangements for H&S management, setting out how the company will discharge duties under CDM 2007, with a clear indication of how these arrangements are communicated to the workforce.

3. Competent advice - company and construction/sector-related The company and its employees must have ready access to competent H&S advice, preferably f rom within the company.

4. Training and information Contractors should have in place - and implement - training arrangements to ensure employees have the skills and understanding necessary to discharge their various duties. It should also provide refresher training to keep staff at all levels updated on legislation and good H&S practice.

5. Individual qualif icat ions and exper ience Employees are expected to have the appropriate qualifications and experience for the assigned tasks, unless they are under controlled and competent supervision.

6. Monitoring, audit and review The company should have a system for monitoring procedures, auditing them and reviewing them on a regular basis.

7. Workforce involvement There should be an established means of consulting with the workforce on H&S.

8. Accident reporting and enforcement action; follow up investigation Records of all Riddor-reportable events for the last three years, as well as a system for reviewing incidents, and recording the act ion taken as a result. It should also record any enforcement action taken against the company in the last five years, and the actions resulting from this.

9.Subcontracting/consulting procedures (if applicable) The contractor should demonstrate how to ensure that subcontractors will also have arrangements for appointing competent subcontractors or consultants, and how it monitors subcontractor performance.

10. Risk assessment (leading to a safe method of work if need be) Have procedures in place for carrying out risk assessments and for developing and implementing safe systems of work/method statements.

11. Co-operating with others a nd co-ordinating work with other contractors The company should illustrate how cooperation and co-ordination of the work is achieved in practice and how the workforce is involved in drawing up method statements and safe systems of work.

12. Welfare provision It should be able to show how appropriate welfare facilit ies will be in place before work starts on site.