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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Your Contractors – Are they really competent?

By Roseanne Hayward, general manager, MPQC

Contractors are an essential part of the workforce in the whole extractives and mineral products sector; increasingly so in recent years as companies have reorganized their resources and adapted to changing economic times. But, as an operator, how confident are you that the contractors you use are competent to work in your business?

Can you demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that all your contractors – full-time, regular or occasional – are competent? Remember, your hauliers are also contractors.

The HSE talks about competent workforces, not just competent employees: ‘An industry that is able to demonstrate that it has adequate arrangements in place to operate in a competent manner so as to ensure the health and safety of all those who are, or are likely to be, affected by its undertaking’.

The 1999 Quarries Regulations clearly specified the requirement for competence in quarries, but as a responsible industrial sector it has now been agreed that the entire industry must be able to demonstrate competence.

Hard-target achievements for the quarrying sector have been excellent. Since 1999 the efforts of the industry to drive down incidents and injuries have been highly successful. However, close examination of the figures shows that success is not equal in all categories. Incidents and accidents are at a higher rate for contractors than for employees. 

The HSE has defined competence as full compliance with the relevant National Occupational Standards.

Many contractors have trade-specific professional qualifications and/or vocational qualifications. However, they may not be familiar with the requirements of the extractives and mineral products sector.

Some contractors have already signed up to the Institute of Quarrying’s Corporate Professional Competence scheme, and it is hoped many others will follow, thus demonstrating their commitment to the highest ideals and standards of competence, safety and continuing professional development.

Together, we need to move towards a Target of Zero incidents, and the demonstrable competence of individuals has been shown to be a key driver towards this challenging goal.

To help companies across the sector to achieve these challenging goals, the Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC) is offering a free service to advise on all aspects of competence. Most notably, MPQC’s ‘mapping’ service links qualifications to the relevant National Occupational Standards, thereby providing an essential gap analysis with recommendations for remedial actions.

The work of MPQC is focusing on two main aspects: health and safety awareness for contractors; and competence-based qualifications for contractors.

MPQC Contractor Safety Passport

MPQC has recently developed an entirely new course which is highly recommended by the Mineral Products Association (MPA), the British Aggregates Association (BAA), the Confederation of UK Coal Producers (Coalpro), professional institutes and the TUC.

The new scheme more closely relates to the current practices of the quarrying and mineral products sectors, such as the processing of concrete, cement and asphalt, as well as being applicable to the other related manufacturing industries. As part of developing the new passport, MPQC has recruited a team of approved trainers with relevant occupational experience, made the assessment system more robust, and applied a vigorous quality assurance to the delivery. It is envisaged that the MPQC Contractor Safety Passport will lead to a nationally recognized qualification. 

Contractor competence

It has been agreed that there are two categories of contractors:

(a) those contractors conducting operational functions, such as mobile plant operations or drilling and blasting. 

(b) those who are carrying out non-operational functions, such as plant fitters, vulcanizers or specialized repair crews.

MPQC brought together industry representatives from the MPA, BAA, Coalpro, the Institute of Quarrying, Volvo, Finning, Aggregate Industries, Building Business Bridges, Qube Maintenance, Singleton Birch, UK Coal, Mines Rescue Service, Response Engineering and the HSE to consider how the competence of the contractors from each category should be addressed. 

For the first category (a), the working group recommended that: Contractors carrying out operational functions such as drilling, blasting and plant operations should hold the same National Occupational Standards (NOS) based National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) or Qualification & Credit Framework (QCF) equivalents as full-time employees carrying out those functions.

For category (b), the working group found that: While qualifications for individual trades existed, what was missing was a competence-based qualification that would allow the contractor to demonstrate that they were able to operate safely on site. As a result, MPQC was tasked with developing a qualification that would allow contractors to demonstrate safe working on site while carrying out their individual trades.

The work currently in development will produce two main qualifications.

Contractor qualifications

The first of these will be a qualification for general contractors:

MPQC Level 2 Award in Safe Working for General Contractors (QCF)

This will be made up of two units: a unit concerned with working safely and following site rules that is assessed on site; plus a knowledge unit that will be achieved by passing the examination at the end of the Contractor Passport course.

The second qualification is for contractors who work on plant and equipment, eg fitters or welders:

MPQC Level 2 Award in Safe Working for Plant and Equipment Contractors (QCF)

This qualification will be made up of three units: the same two as for general contractors but with an additional unit assessed on site concentrating on working safely on plant and equipment.

Competence Map

A further initiative developed initially by MPQC for the MPA is the Competence Map. This shows a large number of the commonest functions carried out by contractors, together with the National Occupational Standards and the recognized competence qualifications that apply to them. This can be accessed from the MPQC website (, as can further information on the Contractor Passport, the industry’s competence qualifications, and the centres that can deliver them. Alternatively, the Competence Map can be accessed via the red button on the homepage of

For further information call MPQC on tel: (0115) 964 4926.

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