Moving towards mutual recognition
23 January 2013
Paul Reeve explores the benefits of adopting umbrella initiative Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) which works to encourage construction buyers to follow good and best practice when employing contractors The constru
The construction industry is still one of the highest risk industries in the UK, therefore competency and health and safety matters should be one of the key deciding factors for public and private sector bodies when selecting a supplier. Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP), the umbrella body of health and safety accreditation schemes, has long aimed to recognise a variety of health and safety procurement schemes, but it faces a challenge. Major contractors and buyers in both the public and private sectors, have long standing brand allegiances with major schemes and some show a reluctance in scoping the market or breaking away from their own in-house initiatives.
One scheme Currently, there are over 60,000 contractors signed up to one of the 25 SSIP member schemes and therefore meet stage one of CDM2007 health and safety criteria (Appendix 4 of the AcoP). SSIP works to encourage construction buyers to follow good and best practice when employing contractors. Essentially, schemes that sit under the SSIP umbrella, such as the Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS) and Safe Contractor, agree to recognise each other's certificates, providing cost and time savings for both suppliers and buyers. This means contractors need only join one scheme instead of several, and buyers can select from a wider pool of assessed contractors.
SSIPs aims are to ensure contractors can pre-qualify for tendering for work from different buyers without having to pay to join multiple health and safety schemes or duplicate paperwork. It also aims to save buyers time and money by carrying out stage one of the health and safety assessment process so that they don't have to and can instead focus their efforts on stage 2 assessments, of the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). All the schemes under SSIP not only assess against CDM2007 contractor criteria - their assessment processes are also independently audited before they can become an SSIP member.
Utilising an independently audited umbrella scheme, which covers a number of different accreditation schemes, seems the obvious choice, but one challenge for SSIP is that most local authorities have long standing allegiances to current prequalification practices. While it is understandable, especially in such an uncertain economic climate, that many authorities choose to stay with what's familiar to them, it can make the cost of business prohibitive for contractors who are suitably assessed, but to a different scheme.
This familiarity can also lead to complacency. Findings from a recent survey of over 105 construction buyers revealed that when choosing a contractor, only 29 per cent of buyers rate health and safety accreditation as their number one priority. If some authorities don't see it as a priority, they won't see any merit in diversifying their pool of contractors.
Road to improvement Cardiff City Council was among the first to see the benefits and adopt SSIP when it was launched around two years ago. This has eased the often burdensome procurement process for its suppliers, while opening up its contracts to a broader range of contractors, helping them to run more competitive tender processes and potentially engage with more innovative and efficient SME suppliers.
According to the council, the logic of adopting SSIP as their standard was straightforward. They didn't think it was fair for suppliers to have to pay to join several different schemes when the elements assessed are all to the same standard.
Steve Robinson, operational manager for procurement at Cardiff City Council, comments: "Local authorities in particular have an obligation to use their own procurement rules to promote initiatives such as SSIP as it can help level the playing field for contractors. We now have a greater confidence that the contractors we choose have been assessed regularly and that their current status is available, reducing the risk of using contractors that don't meet the council's requirements." It will take time for buyers to fully adopt SSIP's philosophy of 'mutual recognition'.
The number of contractors already signed up reflects the existing demand from the supply chain to drive out unnecessary bureaucracy when showing health and safety competence. Buyers have an opportunity to respond to this demand and improve their own health and safety prequalification processes by recognising SSIP.
Not only will this benefit the suppliers, it will also benefit the buyers who want to reduce their own PQQ costs, and who can lead the industry to reduce procurement costs and eliminate bureaucracy.
Paul Reeve is chairman of SSIP and head of business policy and practice at the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA)