Article Safety

A Safe Pair of Hands

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Responsibility, Safety and Operative Competence in the Geotechnical Industry

Brian Stringer, British Drilling Association National Secretary

Did you know that everyone in the geotechnical industry, whether director, manager, engineer or drill crew needs to have a recognised safety card after December this year? If they haven’t got one, the Major Contractors Group (MCG), comprising some 24 of the UK’s leading construction companies, will not let them visit or work on their sites. That’s the message from the MCG, and there’s a stampede at present to register for one of the few recognised cards, that of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS). Up to April 2004, the CSCS card for professionals is available under ‘grandfather rights’ after passing a touch screen health & safety test (held at driving test centres), but after that time it will be necessary to have a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) at Level 4.

It’s a stark message that the MCG is putting out. Tolerance will no longer be exercised towards individuals and companies who cannot provide independent proof of their safety competence. The MCG is not alone, for their policy is supported either directly or indirectly by legislation, Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), unions and trade associations. Included in the latter is the British Drilling Association (BDA) who recognised the national trends some years ago and now has a target date for 1st January 2005 for a fully qualified drilling workforce. On this date a new Minimum Competence Standard will replace the Association’s current Driller Accreditation Scheme and will apply to all drilling operatives irrespective of drilling application. This Standard will require possession of a CSCS drilling card, NVQ Land Drilling qualification at level 2 and regular on-site auditing by the BDA.

The BDA is mirroring, anticipating and extending what it believes are rapidly becoming the requirements in the construction industry. The national background is the drive towards proof of a workforce’s safety and skill. A BDA presentation entitled “A Safe Pair of Hands” sets out in detail the background, trends and proposed action to provide that proof. The BDA is taking this presentation on the road over the forthcoming months into the offices of clients, agencies, designers and consulting engineers to both inform and seek co-operation within the geotechnical community of which it is part.

“A Safe Pair of Hands” does not confine itself to talking about those at the sharp end, but includes all those involved in geotechnical work co-operating together to provide safe, compliant and quality work. All have to be aware of and subject to the law particularly on health & safety matters. The HSE, in enforcing the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 (CDM) and Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, is now placing more emphasis on the Clients’ and designers’ responsibilities and looking for a full audit trail. In particular, CDM regulations require firms to maintain and employ skilled workforces that are aware of health and safety requirements. Responsibility to be safe starts at the top, as is witnessed by the increasing pressure on directors to appoint and oversee safety measures and systems.

There are two elements arising from this, namely skill on the one hand and health & safety on the other that now have to be proven prior to employment on site. And that proof is no longer the product of self-certification, or mere attendance at training courses. The proof has to be provided by independent assessment and testing, and be of ‘recent’ origin not years out of date. Within construction trades there has existed a multitude of registration, qualification and training schemes for skill and safety, some of doubtful and dubious nature. The widescale availability of NVQs, created by the government, and their development for the specialist trades has provided a common base for specification and understanding. The BDA, together with the CITB, has created an NVQ Land Drilling which, through its differing assessment routes, provides a qualification for all members of a drill crew and the majority of drilling applications.

The NVQ Land Drilling assessment process is a lengthier and more involved process than the BDA’s current Accreditation Scheme that will cease at the end of 2004. The NVQ also has the benefit of being partially government funded, and more nationally recognisable across trades and by clients.

The first part of the BDA’s new Minimum Competence Standard, that of being a CSCS Land Drilling cardholder is inexorably linked to the NVQ requirement. To obtain the CSCS card a drilling operative has to register to take an NVQ and obtain it within 3 years. The person must also successfully complete a touchscreen health & safety test. Therefore the possession of CSCS and NVQ combines safety with skill and the necessary proof as required by the law. But one further step has also been introduced by the BDA, a feature of its current Driller Accreditation Scheme.

Qualification such as a GCSE, degree or NVQ, is for life and provides decreasing proof of a person’s current knowledge and skill as time goes by. The accent today is that of continuous professional development (CPD) and quality assurance. The first calls for ongoing dusting off and lifting of skills while the second addresses current conformance to standards. A central principle has always existed in the BDA’s Accreditation Scheme, since its inception in 1991, that drillers should be regularly inspected via an on-site audit. The auditing process, carried out by the BDA’s own assessors (auditors), includes looking at the person, rig & equipment and is to continue within the new minimum competence standard making up the third part of the standard. The process is being strengthened and will run on quality assurance lines to ensure that non-conformances are closed out.

As from 1st January 2005 all drilling operatives should conform to the new Minimum Competence Standard of CSCS / NVQ2 / BDA Audited. This standard combines the 3 essential elements of a nationally recognised safety card (CSCS); national skill qualification (NVQ), and is industry verified & audited regularly (BDA). It will be the proof required by clients and their agents that the workforce is skilled and safety aware. The industry cannot achieve acceptance of this standard without the co-operation of those who specify drilling works and monitor the credentials of the labour employed. With this in mind, the BDA is proactively engaged, through the “Safe Pair of Hands” presentation, in spreading the message and seeking co-operation. The BDA invites contact from all interested parties either to comment or obtain further information.

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