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FIT OUT FIRMS FEAR OF FEE FOR INTERVENTION

Specialist contractors ‘lack firepower’ to challenge inspectors FFI rulings

It has been reported by Construction Enquirer (CE) that fit-out contractors claim they are being unfairly targeted by HSE under the Fee For Intervention (FFI) scheme. Specialist contractor bodies are now seeking independent monitoring to ensure FFI is operated fairly.

Chief executive officer at Association of Interior Spcialists (AIS) , David Frise told CE:

“I believe it is right that those who break the law should pay their fair share of the costs to put things right but I am uncertain as to how fair the system is – what exactly constitutes a material breach serious enough for HSE to notify in writing? It appears to be highly subjective and open to the interpretation of the inspector. Realistically, if you look hard enough you are likely to find a breach of HSE regulations on most sites.”

Members of the AIS claim HSE inspectors ignore principal contractors and focus on specialists who may be seen as easier targets without the same ‘firepower’ to challenge HSE inspectors.

Concerns raised with HSE officials

The AIS, National Association of Shopfitters (NAS) and Federation of Plastering and Drywall Contractors (FPDC) have raised these concerns with HSE officials.

Robert Hudson, NAS director, said:

“The corner stone of this legislation is the term ‘material breach’. How can we advise our members on a strategy of compliance when the HSE are unable to provide a definitive explanation? To the untrained eye, it would appear to be a licence to print money. The industry needs firm and friendly guidance, not the subjective judgement of an inspector looking to raise another invoice.”

Interim director at FPDC, Steve Halcrow said:

“Health and safety is of paramount importance on any construction site and we’d support any improvements in its implementation. However, we are concerned that the current proposals to adopt the FFI scheme could unfairly penalise specialist subcontractors. It is essential that a clear set of guidelines outlining what is required is put into action by the HSE. The HSE also needs to ensure probity as we see the need for an independent third party to monitor the scheme and ensure it is applied fairly and avoids being seen as tax to generate income.”

A spokesman for HSE said:

“The construction industry is a high risk sector and HSE is focusing on high risk and poor performing sectors with fewer proactive inspections for businesses in lower risk areas. FFI will not influence which businesses we inspect. Individual inspectors do not have cost recovery targets. Enforcement decisions are made within published and longstanding frameworks which are subject to line management checks, peer reviews and internal audit to help ensure consistency.

The Government and HSE believe it is right that those who break health and safety law, and not the public purse, should pay the costs incurred in making them put matters right. The many businesses that comply with their legal obligations will continue to pay nothing.”

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