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Scottish Government puts weight behind competence in construction

In what is being described as a boost for health and safety on construction sites in Scotland, its Government is insisting that all on-site workers involved in public-sector construction contracts are registered with the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), or equivalent.

The new policy, which was proposed by the Scottish Building Federation, was announced before Christmas, following the Government’s review of procurement in construction.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Adopting schemes like CSCS can make a significant difference to efficient working and health and safety on construction sites.

“This is particularly important given the significant challenges the construction industry faces in the current economic climate. I would urge other parts of the public sector to adopt the same policy.”

Michael Levack, chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation, welcomed the move to make cards mandatory: “This is an important step in a continued drive to ensure everyone working in the Scottish construction industry is properly qualified and accredited. We welcome all efforts the Scottish Government can make to support firms in getting their workforce signed up to recognised schemes.”

Alan Watt, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association Scotland, said more than four-fifths of the total workforce of CECA members across Scotland hold CSCS, or equivalent cards.

“This has delivered huge benefits in terms of promoting skills and a basic level of health and safety knowledge,” he added.

But construction union UCATT cautioned that the new policy is only a first step in improving safety, and stressed the importance of workers holding the right card for the tasks they carry out.

Harry Frew, regional secretary of UCATT Scotland, said: “Too often, employers will sign workers up to the easiest available card, rather than ensuring that they have the skills and qualifications for the job required.

“Inexperienced operatives being allowed access to construction sites only increase the risk of fatalities and serious injuries. Stricter control and clearer scrutiny are required to ensure that workers not only have a skills card but it is the right card for the job they are doing.”

The union also fears that employers may refuse to fund and train workers beyond the level of a basic skills card so they can justify paying them a lower wage.

Scotland’s public sector spends more than £2 billion a year on construction-related contracts.

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