Wednesday, 20 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Hogan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue of public safety. Since I raised this matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, on Second Stage of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004, I believe that the company in question, Omlink International in County Meath, is no longer listed as an approved trainer on the FÁS website.
However, it begs the question how the company was approved in the first place, given the unusual circumstances in which it was approved as an assessment centre. It was suspended from a similar scheme operated by FÁS’s counterparts in Northern Ireland and Britain. Who recommended the approval? Did FÁS know that the company was under suspension in Northern Ireland? How many other questionable approvals have been made? How many construction workers have been given skill certificates by firms which were not up to standard and are in breach of legal requirements under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2001?
Approximately 30,000 people have skill certificates in the construction industry. We cannot underestimate the importance that those operating tower cranes and driving diggers and excavators should have the right training. This is a serious public safety issue. Will the Minister explain the circumstances which led to this company’s delisting? Did it arise from an external complaint or from an internal FÁS review? When my attention was brought to the high level of serious construction accidents, over 90 deaths in the past four years, I raised these issues with the director general of FÁS. I was disappointed that his reply was economical on how many firms had been delisted. Instead, his reply suggested that all was rosy in the garden and all matters causing difficulties had been resolved.
The development of the construction skills certification scheme has created a market for training in the health and safety area worth many millions of euro. Unless FÁS applies the most rigorous tests to those it approves, there is a real danger that unscrupulous operators seeing a chance to make a quick buck will move into this market. This is not some academic exercise in approving trainers. It is an issue with serious life and death consequences for those working in the construction industry. If rogue trainers and assessors are allowed loose on the marketplace, lives will be put at risk. It is incumbent upon FÁS, as a Government body, to insist on the highest standards being applied by all trainers and that those who are not qualified and do not possess the necessary skills are not approved.
Public reassurance and confidence in health and safety in the construction industry is of great importance. The construction skills certification and safe pass schemes have been incorporated in statutory form. In line with that legislation, FÁS approves the trainers and assessors to carry out the relevant training and assessment for workers in the construction industry. In view of the circumstances surrounding the approval and delisting of the company, we need assurance that the procedures that led to this flawed approval have not been repeated with other companies. To achieve this, an independent external assessment must be carried out. I urge the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to direct FÁS to commission such an assessment immediately.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen): Táim buíoch don Teachta Ó hÓgáin as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Athló anocht. FÁS and other training bodies provide a range of training programmes under the construction skills certification scheme, certified by FETAC. More than 30,000 people to date have undergone construction skills certification scheme training. The scheme provides training and certification for a range of occupations in the construction industry, including basic and advanced scaffolding, tower crane operation, slinging and signalling, telescopic handler operation, tractor and dozer operation, mobile crane operation, crawler crane operation, articulated dumper operation, site dumper operation, 180° and 360° excavator operation, roof and wall cladding and sheeting and built-up roof felting.
FÁS has set down well-defined procedures, used to regulate training organisations using FÁS training and assessment material to obtain FETAC certification. To conduct such programmes trainers must meet the training and assessment criteria as determined by FÁS. A training provider who wishes to be approved to deliver a construction skills certification programme must first apply to the services business section in FÁS to be registered as an approved training organisation. Applicants are required to specify the technical and pedagogical qualifications of the trainer in each programme for which approval is sought. The application is then brought before the FÁS-Enterprise Ireland national register of trainers committee for consideration. If the application is accepted the trainer is required to attend a construction skills certification scheme practical and theoretical assessment to determine competence to train in the specified area for which approval is sought. If the trainer successfully attains the required standard his or her organisation must then apply in writing to the manager of the curriculum and quality assurance department to become an approved assessment centre. This process came into operation on 1 January 2004. All trainers approved prior to this date are required to meet the new standards.
The curriculum and quality assurance department’s approved assessment centre system is used to regulate training organisations using FÁS training and assessment material to obtain FETAC certification for the training carried out by them. To be approved as an assessment centre under the construction skills certification scheme, the applicant organisation must have a company audit undertaken by FÁS. The purpose of the audit is to ensure there are adequate arrangements in place to ensure the quality and security of the assessment process. It must nominate trainers and assessors who are technically competent in the skill areas in which they will conduct assessments and they must also have been approved by FÁS services to business units to carry out training and assessment under the CSCS. Trainers, assessors and verifiers must successfully complete an assessor-verifier training programme run by the curriculum and quality assurance department of FÁS.
In operational terms, to assure the validity of the system, FÁS has procedures in place to provide assurance that training and assessment is carried out in accordance with procedures. It is the responsibility of the services to business division and regional management, together with the curriculum and quality assurance department, to ensure that CSCS training and assessment practices are in accordance with national procedures.
The regional certification and standards officer carries out random and unannounced monitoring visits to training and assessment sites and reports to the regional finance and administration manager. When monitoring an approved training-assessment centre, the records of a particular group of candidates are checked from start to finish to allow the monitor to determine if the full procedure is correctly followed.
If non-conformance identified in the course of the monitoring visit has not been resolved during the visit, the certification and standards officer sends a letter to the approved training organisation identifying the non-conformance, the corrective action needed to prevent recurrence, and specifies a time frame for implementation of the action and requests to be informed when the corrective action is completed. When the certification and standards officer is notified that the non-conformance has been rectified the certification and standards officer will take the next available opportunity to verify that the non-conformance has been rectified.
If a FÁS region is not satisfied with the performance of an approved training organisation due to failure to rectify non-conformance, repeated breaches of procedure or a serious breach of procedure, the finance and administration manager will write to the ATO requesting an explanation for the failure to comply. If the issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of the manager, he or she will send a report containing the full details, in addition to all relevant documentation, to the central services to business unit. The matter will be dealt with under the CSCS procedures for dealing with CSCS trainer-assessor non-conformance. Ultimately, following appropriate warnings, a provider may be removed from the approved list.
The aforementioned procedures are applied to all FÁS-approved trainers and assessors and everything possible is done by FÁS to ensure compliance with these standards. I assure the House that FÁS will take appropriate action to protect the participants and the integrity of the scheme.
A number of issues arose with regard to the training practices for the construction health and safety schemes operated by FÁS. As a result of reviewing and evaluating the construction skills safety programmes in late 2002, the FÁS executive commissioned a consultant to review the programmes and to make recommendations to ensure best practice and quality assurance. The consultant produced a report in October 2003, based on which the FÁS executive set up a group to develop and implement an action programme with the purpose of ensuring best practice and quality assurance.
Extensive progress has been made in implementing the report’s recommendations. Where FÁS is satisfied that the behaviour of a company warrants its removal from the register of approved training organisations, it takes action accordingly. The decision to review the schemes and any future investigation into the operation of the CSCS programme is an operational matter for FÁS. However, arising from matters raised by Deputy Hogan in regard to Omlink International and what he described as unusual circumstances there, I will pursue those specific questions with FÁS and return to him with further information. Some 28companies have been approved and two have been delisted.
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