CSCS says its SmartCards are not only a more efficient way of checking worker qualifications than paper-based systems, but bring a multitude of other operational efficiencies for contractors.
“If contractors fully appreciated the potential of CSCS SmartCards – they could make huge efficiency gains on their sites,” says Graham Wren, chief executive of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS).
The microchipped cards were introduced in 2010, primarily to certify that individuals working on construction sites have the required training and qualifications for the type of work they carry out [see box]. And achieving a fully-qualified workforce is still a top priority for the industry and the CSCS, Mr Wren stresses.
“But the cards can be used for much, much more – as some contractors are finding,” he says.
These include Willmott Dixon, which electronically records site inductions on CSCS cards across all its projects, and reckons the costs of not giving out duplicate inductions saves it £1.2m annually in working man-days. Bam Nuttall used the cards for access control on its Tottenham Court Road station project and calculated a cost saving of £51,000 over a year through greater efficiency.
“Toolbox talks, inductions and access control are obvious uses,” says Mr Wren, a former managing director of Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering, who therefore knows how sites tick.
“The cards can also provide attendance data, with details of who was on site and for how long, and evacuation lists in case of emergency.”
He says that contractors could additionally use the cards to store details of training records. Linking the cards to their own databases, worker records can be updated with any new training taken, while providing details of when qualifications need to be renewed. [see O’Brien case study]
“From a finance perspective, the technology could be used for stock control, processing subcontractor payments and for project cost centre allocation,” says Mr Wren.
There is also a safety angle. “The card could be linked to plant operators’ log books, or even be used as a key’to start construction vehicles meaning only those with appropriate qualifications can operate them,” he says. “We recently worked with a company called Reactec to use the CSCS card to log exposure to hand arm vibration and alert workers when they approach their safe exposure limits. As long as the worker holds a valid CSCS card hand-arm vibration limits can be monitored when they work across multiple sites or with several employers.
Onto a winner
Mr Wren believes that these safety gains are a big win for the industry, contractors can be sure their site workers are properly qualified and not working longer hours than they should be. “The consequences for any contractor where a non-qualified site worker caused an accident are enormous,” he says.
About CSCS SmartCards
CSCS was established in 1995 chiefly to provide the industry with a means of certifying that site workers possessed the required training and qualifications for the work they carried out.
CSCS has different cards for over 400 occupations, so keeping track of workers’ qualifications can be challenging for site managers.
The CSCS scheme keeps a database of construction workers and their qualifications or qualifications they are working towards. CSCS card applicants must have a recognised qualification, generally an NVQ, or be working towards one.
The card confirms identify and qualifications and that the cardholder has met the relevant health and safety requirements for their occupation.
There are now over 1.3 million CSCS card holders, plus a further 750,000 cards issued through partner schemes which carry the CSCS logo.
The microchipped SmartCard was introduced in 2010 to allow sites to verify workers’ credentials electronically.
CSCS has faced barriers to SmartCard adoption, which stem chiefly from the industry’s reluctance to take up new technology. In a recent CSCS survey of 1,180 site-based staff around the UK, 69 per cent of respondents said they were still checking cards using a paper-based system. Only 6 per cent were using smart technology. The survey also revealed that while 86 per cent of cardholders had their cards checked only half had the appropriate qualifications for their jobs.
Mr Wren says the industry’s use of technology has moved on since 2010, when the chipped SmartCard was introduced.
“A physical reader was needed for the cards, and it only suited large sites with a big infrastructure,” he recalls.
“My background is as a piling subcontractor, where you often arrive on site with no infrastructure at all, and so one question I asked when I joined CSCS in 2012 was, ‘how do we cater for these companies?’ The answer obviously is contactless readers, using smart phones or smart devices to check a site workers training and qualifications. So that was introduced and now a supervisor can use their mobile phone or tablet device to swipe their team in easily and quickly.
“This also means that there is no cost to contractors if they introduce the technology as the software required to read the cards on mobile phones and tablet devices is completely free.”
Mr Wren acknowledges card checking can be more of an issue in labour intensive areas of the supply chain, such as bricklaying. “There are too many site managers who say, ‘I’ve known this guy for 10 years, we don’t need to check him’,” he groans. “We need to get away from that attitude. The problem is this industry breeds strong, uncompromising characters. Nobody wants to challenge them and so they carry on doing things the same way they’ve always done.”
Another challenge for CSCS is fraud. “At a grassroots level, the focus for contractors is getting enough CSCS carded bodies on site, rather than checking if workers are qualified,” observes Mr Wren. “And unfortunately people will take advantage of this.”
How the CSCS SmartCard technology works
The microchip on a CSCS Smart Card links to the CSCS database on a secure website. All data transfers between the chip and card reading device are securely encrypted. The core data on the cards cannot be modified; the only way worker information can be changed is through the CSCS database.
When the card is read electronically it provides site managers and supervisors with key information about the cardholder, including photo, qualifications and expiry dates.
The cards can be checked electronically using PCs, tablets or smartphones. PC users will need to download the free Go Smart software from the CSCS website and have a card reader. Inserting the card into the reader then brings up the worker’s information on the PC screen, which can be validated against the CSCS website.
Tablets and smartphone users can download the free Go Smart app from Google Play or the Windows Store. The card can be read simply by holding it against the phone or tablet, which brings up worker information on screen. The Near Field Communications (NFC) setting needs to be activated.
CSCS is still waiting for Apple to allow third party apps to be created using NFC technology. When it does, the Go Smart app will also be available for use with iPhones and iPads.
Last year, a BBC Fake Britain investigation demonstrated how easy it is to obtain fake CSCS cards on the black market. The cards are made to a high standard and site managers and supervisors will struggle to spot a fake by simply carrying out a visual inspection.
A second investigation by BBC Newsnight also revealed fraudulent activity at some industry-approved test centres delivering construction training, where candidates were using fraudulently obtained examinations to acquire genuine CSCS cards.
“Technology will eradicate the fraud problem,” says Mr Wren. “A card bought on the black market will quickly show up as fake when it is read electronically. But too many sites will still use a paper-based checking system, which provides an opportunity for the fraudsters.” And if fraudulent activity is confirmed at examination centres CSCS has the ability to cancel all suspect cards. This will show up on the screen as “cancelled” the next time the card is read electronically.
However, he believes the industry now recognises that technology can be an enabler of a fully-qualified workforce. “The industry is more aligned now than I have ever seen it before, through Build UK and bodies such as the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, National Federation of Builders and Federation of Master Builders – all strong supporters of smart technology,” he says. “The Home Builders Federation is using SmartCard technology to audit their members’ CSCS cards saving around 500 working man-days per year [see box].
HBF case study
The Home Builders Federation (HBF) has developed a new app to help members audit their workers’ CSCS cards, which promises big efficiency savings.
The audits help homebuilders check workers have the correct qualifications to carry out their jobs, but was previously a time-consuming process, requiring manual data entry.
With the app, when the cards are electronically read on site, workers’ details are captured automatically.
“We have calculated that this tool will save us around 500 working man-days per year by enabling site managers to swipe CSCS cards with a USB pen,” says Phil Evans, grants and funding manager at Barratt, who provided input and feedback during the app’s development.
“It accurately captures all of the required information and enters it onto our own system with no input required from admin staff.”
“The Construction 2025 strategy document clearly states that the industry should only recognise cards carrying the CSCS logo and that smart technology should be adopted by 2020. So before long nobody will get on to a site without a CSCS logo on their card.”
But it may be that, by 2020, the card technology has been overtaken. “Although we currently use a piece of plastic to store worker information, we could easily use a mobile device such as a Smartphone – the technology exists today,” says Mr Wren. “And ultimately it is likely that we will use biometric technology which is already being used on some big sites. You can use a thumb print to open a phone. So why not use it to access your CSCS information?
“We have to ensure there are no security concerns around using ‘virtual cards’ but in the long term their introduction is probably inevitable. The younger generation who are forming a bigger and bigger part of the industry view this technology as normal and expect it to be used.”
And as more of the construction workforce becomes accepting of the technology, it is likely that more contractors will benefit from the efficiency and safety gains that SmartCards make possible.
O’Brien case study
Civils contractor O’Brien is using CSCS SmartCard technology with skills management software to manage its workers’ training records.
SkillSight was developed by one of CSCS’s IT partners, Reference Point, and allows information such as training, qualifications, site inductions and toolbox talks to be added to a worker’s CSCS card.
O’Brien has up to 180 staff employed on site at any given time, so keeping track of workers’ training and ensuring qualifications are up-to-date can be difficult. Previously these records were maintained on Excel spreadsheets – but now the process is much more efficient.
“By implementing SkillSight in conjunction with the CSCS SmartCards, O’Brien can improve the way we manage health and safety records and ensure all staff attend necessary training courses,” says training coordinator Kelly Davis. “SkillSight has made managing our training records much easier, quicker and more accurate.”
You can find out more about the CSCS by visiting here