Is Competency Worth It?

November 2018

Our Managing Director, Chris McNeill sets out his views on the cost of competency…food for thought for clients and consultant partners.

The changes to the Construction, Design and Management (CDM) Regulations which came into effect in 2015 were generally seen as logical. Under the old legislation, there were problems with interpretation, levels of bureaucracy, and onerous competency assessments. Significantly, there appeared to be a real lack of co-ordination in the pre-construction phase, put down to late appointment of co-ordinators, lack of resources and failure to fully embed co-ordinators into the design team.

Under the new regulations, decision-makers in the construction industry have to be aware of the duties ascribed to each person involved in a project, and when a project becomes notifiable to the relevant authority. A further change introduced in the new regulations was the removal of the role of CDM co-ordinator. A new role, that of principal designer, was defined as taking on the planning, monitoring and co-ordination of health and safety in the pre-construction phase and liaising with the principal contractor in the construction phase. Normally the first and key duty holder appointment.

It is the responsibility of the principal designer to help clients prepare the pre-construction information and ensure it is received promptly by the designers and principal contractor. Unfortunately, this key change, which came in with the CDM 2015 Regulations, has not become reality on construction projects.

In setting out a framework for competency requirement, the CDM regs have generally seen businesses having to obtain various accreditations as a pre-requisite to tender for work. Clients regard this as an easy route to compliance under CDM 2015 – a tick-box exercise for health and safety, where the relevant accreditations are regarded as a guarantee that the contractor is competent. The question is, is this actually a guarantee that the work on your project has been adequately planned and will be managed with a level of competence appropriate to and necessitated by the scope of the works?

The failure to properly understand and integrate CDM regulations into the working practices of those operating in the construction industry is a considerable problem – not least because breach of the regulations is a criminal offence punishable with unlimited fines and, for individuals, imprisonment.

The new sentencing guidelines introduced two years ago increase penalties imposed for health and safety breaches and, where there is an intentional or persistent failure to comply, they can be intended to bankrupt a company.

Clearly then, it is important to improve both understanding of, and adherence to, the CDM 2015 Regulations across the industry.

For current understanding and implementation to be improved, change must come from the top, with clients and principal designers looking at the intentions of the legislation rather than simply the strict letter of the law. Health and safety needs to be a serious consideration from the beginning of any project, and competence for each role must be properly considered and monitored. All of the duty holders, right down to the workers on site, have a key role to play and failure by any to carry out their role is an offence.

Earlier this year I wrote in our newsletter about the launch of our brand standard “your world matters to us”. Reflecting our culture of caring for both our clients and our people in equal measure. Our competence levels are unsurpassed throughout our workforce and management team because we feel delivering projects which are properly planned and safely managed is every bit as important as quality. We want our valued client and consultant partners to feel safe in the knowledge that we will not compromise on legislative compliance and effective management and delivery of your projects. We are doing everything we can to make sure your decision to recommend our appointment will not compromise your client or principal designer duty holder role and reputation.

Comprehensive safety planning should identify the main risks anticipated in the delivery of a construction project. Please ask yourself; have sufficient measures been deployed for management of traffic and protection of public, is there adequate welfare, is an administration system in place for management of the project, is work at height being given the attention required in planning and management, management of electricity, management of the risk of fire, management of demolition operations, managing construction health risks, and most importantly – how is the principal contractor ensuring competence of his own work force and that of his supply chain to carry out the tasks assigned to them. Then ask yourself, how much should this cost; is a working supervisor appropriate to the scope and nature of the risk or should the project have a full-time manager? Does the construction phase plan address the planning and risk management needs of the project?

Competence has a cost and appointing contractors who appear to have low preliminary and general conditions costs, whilst maybe saving your client a few quid, may well be placing you at unnecessary risk.

It is important to me to know that we are not putting anyone in harm’s way – that’s why we have invested so heavily in the cost of compliance and competence.

Chris McNeill, Managing Director