Article Business Practice Executive Safety

CSCS – What you need to know

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The CSCS Scheme was set up in 1995 and there are currently more than 600,000 card holders covering more than 170 occupations. The aim of the scheme is to reduce accidents, improve quality and to drive out the cowboy element. After a relatively slow start, the initiative was given a huge boost by the decision of the Major Contractors Group (MCG) to work towards a 100% carded workforce by 1 January 2004. Other large contractors and many clients have adopted similar policies. Although there is no legal requirement to carry a CSCS card – and the scheme is voluntary – anyone going on site either on a regular basis, or as a visitor, may find their entry is barred (or their movements restricted) if they cannot show one.

The nuts and bolts of the CSCS Scheme

To obtain a card all candidates must demonstrate competence in health and safety on site, and most have to demonstrate competence in their trade or profession.

1.    Safety: The safety requirement is normally fulfilled via a multiple choice touch screen test taken at the DVLC test centres. The test must be re-taken when the card is renewed.

(Note: Although this is sufficient for CSCS purposes, it does not absolve the employer from providing adequate safety training and employers should continue to provide safety awareness and other safety training (eg tool box talks) as appropriate.)

2.   Competence: CSCS cards are linked to National Vocational Qualifications and Scottish Vocational Qualifications and CSCS considers these are the benchmark for demonstrating competence. In general, if no NVQ/SVQ exists – there is no card. This applies equally to site operatives and to management grades up to NVQ Level 5 (ie up to and beyond degree level).

Routes to demonstrating competence

Trainee: A Trainee Card (Craft and Operative) is available for those registered for an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 or 3 but who have not yet obtained the qualification. It expires after 3 years. A Trainee Card (Technical, Supervisory & Management) shows that the holder is registered with a further/high education college for a national recognised construction relation qualification, or has completed such a course within the last 2 years. The card expires after 3 years and can be renewed for a further 3.

NVQ/SVQ: A skilled card is issued to NVQ/SVQ achievers whose occupation is available for CSCS. Cards are valid for 5 years.

Industry Accreditation (Grandfather Rights): This route is only open for some occupations (eg the BDA has decided that it should not be open to drillers) and is only available for a 2 year period after the CSCS Scheme is opened to a particular occupation. The application form must include a recommendation from the present or previous employer. The card is valid for 5 years and can be renewed by getting an employer’s recommendation.

BE AWARE that the industry accreditation period for Civil & Structural Engineering Designer has already ended and those for Civil Engineering Site Manager (and Supervisor), and Construction Plant and Equipment Manager (and Supervisor) end on 17 June 2004.

Experienced Worker: For people who do not have an NVQ/SVQ where there is no industry accreditation or where the industry accreditation period has ended . An employer declaration is needed (as for Industry Accreditation) and the holder must be registered for an NVQ/SVQ at level 2 or 3. The card expires after 3 years – it cannot be renewed.

Construction Site Operative Card: Acts as an identification card (ie not a competence card) for those who have achieved NVQ/SVQ Level 1 in a number of occupations including land drilling, specialist plant machinery operations, and underpinning operations. It can also be achieved by industry accreditation. It lasts for 5 years.

When no CSCS Card exists

When no card exists, a Regular Visitor card can be obtained. This requires the health and safety test only. They are best used with a ‘letter of non-availability’ which will be issued by CSCS on request to confirm that no card exists for a particular occupation.

This should not be confused with the Occasional Visitor card which will be issued at the site gate and carries no requirement for a health and safety test. They are issued under contractors’ own site rules and are not an option for someone needing to work on site.


The link between CSCS and NVQ/SVQ also applies to professionals. There are 33 occupations for which Technician, Supervisor and Manager level cards are available. These include: Building Site Supervisor; Contracts Manager; Civil Engineering Site Supervisor; Civil Engineering Site Manager; Construction Plant and Equipment Supervisor; Construction Plant and Equipment Manager; Civil and Structural Engineering Designer; Estimator (Construction); Estimating Assistant (Construction); Health and Safety Officer; Health and Safety Manager; Environmental Manager (Construction); Quality Manager (Construction); Laboratory Technician.

A CIC/CSCS Working Group has been engaged in pilot projects to map equivalence of Professional Membership of some institutions and the relevant NVQ/SVQ standards. Once approved, this will give new and existing Chartered Members of that occupation a route for obtaining a CSCS card. It will require two authorisations – one from the employer and one from the professional institution – to confirm that the applicant has met the professional knowledge requirements, has a minimum of 1 year site experience, and is up to date with CDP requirements. The ICE is one of the pilot institutions (for Construction Site Manager and Construction Site Supervisors ) and this route became available in April 2004 (for these occupations only – other occupations still have to be mapped.)

Professionals who are not Chartered will not be able to use this route and will only be able to obtain cards via the normal NVQ/SVQ routes (or industry accreditation routes while they are open).

Laboratory Assistants and Technicians

Two new NVQs/SVQs for Laboratory Assistants (Level 2) and Laboratory Technicians (Level 3) have recently been introduced and CSCS cards are now available for these occupations. There is some debate about their applicability to site investigation staff – but some companies may decide that they are an acceptable route. The industry accreditation period is already running and will end on 31 August 2005. Those considering the issue should remember that after this date the only way to obtain the card will be by obtaining the NVQ/SVQ.

Those wishing to apply to CSCS for a non-availability letter to use in conjunction with a Regular Visitor Card might need to argue that the NVQ/SVQ is too general and too broad for the purposes of site investigation. To avoid confusion with the Laboratory Assistant CSCS card, the term Geo-technician (site sampling and testing) might usefully be used.


Drillers with an NVQ/SVQ can obtain a card through the usual routes. Those without the qualification will need an Experienced Worker Card while preparing for the NVQ/SVQ.


It is increasingly likely that clients and contractors will expect everyone coming to site to hold a CSCS card. Non card holders may find it difficult, or even impossible to enter the site and may find that site rules require them to be accompanied at all times.

The options appear to be:

  • obtain a card via Industry Accreditation if this is still open for the relevant occupation.

  • obtain a Construction Site Manager or Construction Site Supervisor Card through the Professional Institution route – where the holder is a Member of the ICE (or CIOB) and the occupation is appropriate

  • obtain cards through the NVQ/SVQ routes (using the Trainee or Experienced Worker cards as interim measures while the NVQ/SVQ is being obtained).

  • obtain a Regular Visitor Card and a letter of non-availability from CSCS for those occupations where no suitable card exists

For further information contact the CSCS Helpdesk on 01485 578 777 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday.