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[ Focus: Pre-qualification ]

engineering contractors, including ECA members. Top of our priorities is ensuring that mutual recognition remains the driving force behind SSIP, and that this works in practice.

Cross-recognition The SSIP members above cross-recognise each other’s health and safety assessments – once a contractor is successfully assessed by one SSIP member it should not need to be assessed by the others. This potentially useful statement carries some conditions – there is likely to be an administrative fee; there are exceptions (based on the frequency of the assessments being compared); and some members only have ‘one way’ recognition arrangements. Contractors should note that SSIP ‘mutual recognition’:

n Needs client or major contractor acceptance of SSIP (there is no point in obtaining mutual recognition from SSIP if a client does not recognise it); n Works best when the frequency of pre-qualification assessments is the same – for example, CHAS accreditation is annual, but CHAS registration is two-yearly. If you want recognition by an annually assessed SSIP scheme like NHBC, it will recognise two yearly CHAS registration but only for up to a year. With this in mind, a smart move may be to sign up to an annually assessed SSIP scheme.

Meanwhile, Constructionline and certification

bodies BSI, BM Trada, NQA or URS Certification have a ‘one way’, rather than ‘mutual’ recognition arrangement within SSIP. What this means is that: n Constructionline (which does not assess contractors’ responses) recognises the other SSIP member schemes (pass another SSIP scheme assessment you don’t have to fill in the Constructionline safety questionnaire); n Certification to OHSAS 18001 (by any certification body above) is recognised by the other ‘desktop assessment’ SSIP members, so you do not have to fill in their questionnaires).

SSIP’s cross-recognition arrangements may not be simple

– but they are fathomable, and cross recognition is already benefiting many contractors (see ‘Helping members’ box). The growth of SSIP is welcome, but we recently alerted

SSIP to the potential for damage if a key member drops out in future. Clearly, the aim is to keep everyone on board, but even the possibility of an assessment scheme leaving SSIP underlines that the SSIP collaborative model carries some risks. While SSIP has our active support, the ultimate test is whether it provides a reliable route to reducing the cost of health and safety pre-qualification for our members. Even so, our early experience is that SSIP is making a major effort to boost the mutual recognition of ‘desktop’ and other health and safety pre-qualification assessments, throughout the supply chain.

Clients essential to success Looking forward, the ECA’s emphasis is on convincing clients and majors to specify ‘SSIP assessment’, rather than requiring specific assessment schemes. Some clients are already doing this, and when they do, even the assessor’s administrative ‘mutual recognition’ fees are not necessary. The HSE has advised clients not to think in terms of a ‘CHAS’

Core criteria provide the rally point

Until recently, construction pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) were out of control. Clients insisted on a wide range of PQQs, new contractor assessment schemes were piling into an already saturated marketplace, and major contractors were busy customising tougher questionnaires for their supply chains. Even today, the situation is far from resolved but there is now a will to deal with the proliferation of PQQ schemes, and the tools to do it.

Based on feedback from our members, we concluded that the supply chain needed a widely recognised standard, so that everyone could at least see what ‘good’ looked like. A standard would provide a rallying point for stakeholders, but it would also highlight PQQs that weren’t asking the right questions, or asking contractors for way too much. Since the bulk of the pre-qualification problem is about health and safety (see the ‘Our survey said...’ box), we set about identifying what ‘good’ safety pre-qualification questions would look like. In autumn 2006, the ECA and HVCA launched ‘core criteria’ for health and safety pre- qualification, with the support of the HSE, at a major London conference. Active input from SEC group then ensured that these core criteria appeared in the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) to the newly revised CDM Regulations, in spring 2007.

PAS 91 now provides a rallying point for a wider range of topics than health and safety,

and should encourage clients and others to simplify pre-qualification and allow mutual recognition of schemes and PQQs. It clearly sets the standard for basic PQQ enquiries.

Engaging with the construction supply chain and external stakeholders on pre- qualification is a big challenge, and we’re not complacent

or ‘EXOR’ assessed supplier, for example, but to ask for an ‘SSIP’ assessed supplier. However, the SSIP model will fail if clients and others do

not sign up to it in sufficient numbers. SSIP, fully aware of the need for client take-up, plans to make information about a supplier’s SSIP status available to clients and others, to reduce the need for multiple assessment schemes. A key feature of SSIP is the HSE’s message that a client

‘can be confident’ a supplier that is registered or accredited as compliant or approved with an SSIP member ‘has been assessed to the CDM core criteria’ (so-called ‘Stage 1’ assessment). The buyer, having verified the supplier’s basic credentials, can then focus on project or job-specific assessment (Stage 2). A Stage 2 assessment aims to ensure that suppliers have: appropriate experience to carry out specific work in specific locations; suitably trained staff; and other resources are available to do the work. One other feature of SSIP should be attractive to clients.

Every year, a participating SSIP scheme undergoes an independent audit of its assessment process by an HSE- approved auditor. Contractors may want to check if the assessment schemes they are in, or have been told to join, are in SSIP. If not, you may want to respectfully ask your client ‘why not?’ Similarly, if your OHSAS 18001 certification body is not in SSIP, ask them to consider joining SSIP – you can then pre-qualify through them.

A common standard for construction PQQs ‘PAS 91: Construction procurement – Prequalification questionnaires’ was launched on 18 October 2010 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Minister for Business and Enterprise Mark Prisk said: ‘Over the next decade, the new PAS 91 could save the construction industry billions of pounds’. PAS 91 came about following ECA-brokered contact between BIS and the BSI in early 2009. We wanted the ‘core criteria’ approach to apply beyond health and safety, and we assessed that

Winter 2010 ECA Today 59

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