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Construction safety exams rigged

The flagship scheme for certifying builders has been called into question after a string of test centres were caught rigging health and safety exams, the BBC has reported.

Construction workers across the UK are required to hold a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card to prove their skills and grasp of health and safety.

But a joint BBC London/Newsnight investigation revealed widespread organised cheating, allowing untrained builders on to dangerous sites.

The scheme’s administrators insist fraud is being tackled robustly.

CSCS cards, launched by the industry in 1995, are seen as a benchmark.

Nine of the 10 biggest construction companies demand them, as do Crossrail and Heathrow.

But numerous test centres are offering guaranteed passes for cash, enabling workers lacking the required level English to obtain qualifications.

Wep HSE, in Ealing, west London, was among three centres exposed by undercover reporters.

Its director Garet Estensen read exam answers from a big screen, instructing candidates: “Follow me on screen, guys. I’m going to shout the correct answer, you just click.

“We’re going to make a couple of mistakes – what I don’t want is everyone making the same mistake.”

Confronted with the evidence, Mr Estensen, who has previously won a prestigious health and safety award, made no comment.

A CSCS card acquired with fraudulent qualifications was used by the BBC to get offers of work at building sites, a school and even a power station.

Construction is the UK’s most dangerous employment sector. In the past five years alone, 221 workers died.

A BBC Freedom of Information request to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which administers the scheme, revealed steeply rising cases of CSCS fraud.

There were 96 reports in 2012, some 264 in 2013 and 311 last year.

Construction firm Willmott Dixon, which has a turnover of more than £1bn, has now raised questions over the entire scheme.

It is estimated that 14% of the UK’s construction workers are from abroad – approximately 228,000 people.

In London, one-third claim they had seen a fraudulent card.

BSRIA chief executive Julia Evans said: “Construction is the UK’s most dangerous employment sector and in the past five years alone, 221 workers have died. As an industry, we’ve set our stall on the CSCS card being the minimum benchmark to accept workers on to our sites.

“This scheme has to be trusted. BSRIA’s members demand best practice for the industry where its workforce must be safe. This exposure is clearly unacceptable.”

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