Fraud on site

Those involved in construction site health and safety management need to take steps to prevent the possible fraudulent use of Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards. Andrew Christodoulou summarises the law on fraudulent behaviour and the procedures that managers need to put in place to minimise it.

The revelation that thousands of Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards have been obtained fraudulently has sent shockwaves throughout the construction industry and shows that fraud in health and safety is alive and well. This is, however, not a new issue. In 2013, the police, immigration officers, environmental health officers, and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)’s corporate investigators arrested two men in South East England following a co-ordinated investigation. The men were accused of fraud relating to the testing of candidates training as part of the CSCS card scheme.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) require at Regulation 8 that those appointed to work on a construction project have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. Those involved in making such appointments must take ”reasonable steps” to satisfy themselves that those appointed meet the criteria. This will involve and include checking qualifications and training of potential appointees. Fraud therefore, in the form of intentionally misleading people about the health and safety qualifications, competencies and accreditations held by an individual or company, can lead to unsatisfactory appointments. Fraud can also present itself through false and forged entries in statutory records and registers.

Clients and others involved in the management of health and safety on construction sites need to be alert to the possibility of fraud and take positive action to prevent it from occurring. Anything less may put people’s lives at risk.

Fraud and the law

Apart from the Fraud Act 2006, fraudulent behaviour in the field of health and safety can involve breaches of a number of health and safety statutes. In particular, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires employers, the self-employed and employees to take care of themselves and others who might be affected by their actions or lack of action. So those involved in the forgery and or falsification of records and qualifications etc. will be in breach of the Act and may have to face the Courts. This may involve a breach of any of the main sections of the Act at Sections 2, 3, 4, and 7. Breaches of other health and safety statutes such as CDM are also likely.

Section 33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is particularly important when fraud occurs and states:

“It is an offence for a person to intentionally make a false entry in any register, book, notice or other document required by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions to be kept, served or given or, with intent to deceive, to make use of any such entry which he knows to be false.”

In 2013 a Shropshire businessman was fined for falsifying a safety document for a forklift truck. As reported by the HSE, the Court was told that the man intentionally made a false entry on a ”Report of Thorough Examination” for the truck, a statutory document required by law to show that lifting equipment is in a good state of repair. He had put the name of a genuine forklift truck supplier at the top of the report and forged a genuine examiner’s signature at the bottom. He was fined £2400 and ordered to pay costs of £989 after pleading guilty.

Some people falsify their qualifications and accreditations and this is particularly common in the field of gas safety. The HSE has reported numerous cases. For example, in 2014, the senior partner of a building firm in Crawley was prosecuted and fined after carrying out illegal and incompetent work on gas fittings and exposing a local family to the dangers of fire or explosion. Sunil Vadher was one of two brothers running SR Brothers building firm, which had been hired to build an extension at a family’s home in Crawley. As part of the contract the brothers carried out gas work involving installing a new boiler and pipework for a gas cooker, but were not Gas Safe registered.

Following the work, an inspection by Gas Safe Register found defects. The findings were passed to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted Sunil Vadher for three breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Stephen Green said:

“Despite knowing that gas work can only be carried out by Gas Safe-registered engineers, Sunil Vadher chose to undertake the work himself to save money. In doing so, he exposed a couple and their three children — and anyone else in the immediate area — to a risk of fire and explosion. The family was also exposed to risks of asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Sunil Vadher compounded the deception by providing the family with a boiler commissioning checklist, fraudulently using the details of a Gas Safe-registered installer, to intentionally mislead them into believing the work had been professionally signed-off.”

In another case, a Suffolk builder was given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to do 150 hours of community work for carrying out illegal and dangerous gas work at a home in Ipswich. Anthony Kerry, 55, from Ipswich, was hired to extend a kitchen at a house in April 2013. While he was working there, he agreed to install new kitchen appliances including a gas hob even though he was not registered with Gas Safe Register.

Apart from possible criminal proceedings as highlighted in these examples, civil claims for compensation are also possible. It is likely however that any insurance cover in place for such claims may be invalid where fraud, forgery or falsification has occurred.

Action to prevent fraud

Clients and others involved in the management of health and safety on construction sites need to put in place procedures to minimise the possibility of fraud. The following action may be appropriate.

  • Procedures for the appointment of persons to work on construction sites must be robust and regularly audited. HSE Guidance to CDM (L153) gives much information on how to appoint competent people.

  • Where there is reliance on training qualifications as part of the appointment process such as CSCS cards, training providers should be vetted. A new web-based application has been introduced, aiming to dramatically cut the time needed to verify CSCS cards. Launched by the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the tool is set to save some 500 working days per year, by enabling site managers to swipe CSCS cards with a USB pen.

  • Registrations and accreditations must be verified with the accrediting bodies. In many cases this can be done online.

  • On-site training and assessment must be used to verify standards and to ensure skills and knowledge are appropriate for the project and up to date.

  • The role of supervision must be emphasised on site and formalised to identify those who may not have the necessary skills and knowledge.

  • There may need to be close monitoring of individuals involved in signing records and registers, and countersigning procedures for particularly critical areas may be required. Those involved in the signing of statutory records need to be carefully selected and their work audited. Their workloads need to be monitored to ensure that the temptation to pay ”lip-service” to the signing of records and registers is removed.

Conclusions

Being in possession of a CSCS card or other qualification does not mean that an individual is competent. Being in possession of a card obtained fraudulently is likely to mean that the individual is not competent. Those managing construction sites need to be aware that there are people who deliberately mislead and deceive their employers. Clients, principal contractors and others must be aware of the possibility of fraud and take action to minimise it. Fraud on site is a very serious crime which inevitably will lead to criminal proceedings with a high chance of imprisonment. It can also cost lives.