4th October, 2022

The Small Contractors Guide To SSIP Application And Approval

SSIP accreditation is a big deal, especially for contractors. But who should you apply with - CHAS, SafeContractor, etc? And how do you get approved? Only 20% of businesses pass on the first attempt - follow this guide to prepare, and stand a much better chance of success.

The Small Contractors Guide To SSIP Application And Approval header image

SSIP accreditation is a big deal, especially in construction. Clients often ask for it, and many contractors want it. Your clients will no longer need to carry out a detailed health and safety assessment of each contractor they invite to tender - because you've already been assessed. And you won't have to go through the pre-qualification process for each new client - just once (a year) for SSIP.

Submitting a successful SSIP application the first time isn't impossible, but SSIP member CHAS previously reported that only around 20% of small and medium-sized businesses gain on the first attempt. With one in five contractors failing, it's hard to get everything right the first time.

If you are looking to find out how to get SSIP health and safety accreditation for your construction business, and are not sure where to start, or what the application involves, you are not alone.

chas contractor fail

You can't apply to SSIP, so first, you are going to need to pick an SSIP member scheme. There are a few to choose from, so we'll cover this in the first section.

Then you can take a look at the assessment, and gather your supporting evidence. Once you have what you need, you can sign up and submit your application - and your evidence - and get assessed.

Gaining SSIP accreditation is a priority for many construction organisations, as it demonstrates health and safety best practices and is often required to become approved or invited to tender for clients, particularly in the public sector.

It can seem overwhelming to contractors going through the assessment for the first time, however, with the help of our step-by-step process you should be able to get your health and safety management system in place and ready for the assessment.

Follow this free guide to prepare your SSIP application, and stand a much better chance of success when you apply.

Which SSIP member should contractors use?

When we first wrote this guide, we focused on CHAS. With CHAS being one of the most popular SSIP members in the construction industry, gaining CHAS can help you get on more tender lists, sail through PQQs (pre-qualification questionnaires) and ultimately, win more work.

But, since the CHAS application is now all online, and they no longer publish guidance notes publically, it can be harder to get an idea of what information you will need to provide during the registration process. You might be torn between wanting to get that certificate and wondering what exactly you are committing to - will you be able to pass the assessment, or will it all be too much?

CHAS isn't the only option when it comes to health and safety accreditation, there are other SSIP members out there. Whichever route you take, this guide should help you get prepared.

So even if you want to get CHAS, it might not be the best place to start with SSIP - especially if your business is new to health and safety accreditation.

There are 15+ SSIP member schemes including CHAS, Acclaim, SafeContractor, PQS and Greenlight - and application costs can vary from £95 to £450+. If you're on a tight budget, that's something to consider.

You shouldn't - in theory - lose out by picking one member or another. Every member assessment follows the same SSIP core criteria and is recognised by all other SSIP members. So, once you gain accreditation with one, you can fast-track your application to the others (if you want to) through the deemed to satisfy route.

You might not always need to go through the deemed to satisfy route though, and you shouldn't need to join up with all 16 SSIP members. The SSIP portal doesn't show which SSIP member scheme you joined, just that you have an SSIP certificate.

So if a client asks for one type of SSIP membership but you have another, they should accept it where it meets the same standard. This isn't always the case, but it's certainly worth checking with a client before you sign up for multiple SSIP members, as it still costs money to do this!

Whichever route you take, this guide should help you get prepared.

Should I get SSIP accredited?

SSIP accreditation is not a legal requirement, but it is becoming a standard condition for getting on tender lists, especially for commercial clients. It can help to verify your health and safety management system and show clients that you take the safety of your workforce seriously.

You can still have great health and safety management and not get an SSIP certificate. The certificate just shows that your health and safety arrangements are assessed by an independent assessor and meet a set standard.

Step 1: Pick your SSIP member

As we mentioned earlier, there are 15+ SSIP members you can use to get SSIP accreditation. So the first step you need to take is to pick which SSIP member you want to use.

If you want to get SSIP as cheaply as possible, PQS markets itself as lowest priced SSIP member scheme. At the time of writing, they offer SSIP assessments for small contractors (less than 5 employees) for £95+VAT - a big cost saving when compared to CHAS standard at £319+VAT.

The cost for your application might not be the only factor to look at. Some members offer other benefits and different levels of accreditation. Some members might be part of other memberships (like Acclaim is part of Constructionline).

It is also worth considering the type of clients you work for (or want to work for) and if they request any specific SSIP member scheme. While you can let them know you have SSIP through a different member, it's not always accepted. And you can go down the deemed to satisfy route to sign up with multiple members, but that often means paying twice. If you know your clients all want SafeContractor, for example, it can make sense to go with them any avoid any hassle later.

Step 2: Get the application form

Now you've picked your route to SSIP, it's a good idea to get a copy of the application form (or guidance notes) so you can get a good idea of what's required.

We recommend doing this before applying, because it can take some time to get everything together and the better prepared you are, the better your chances of success.

Not every SSIP member is completely transparent with what will be required before you sign up. So you might not always be able to download the application form or guidance notes in advance. But remember, every member assesses the same core criteria for SSIP. So if you can't find a form or guidance notes for your specific accreditation, you can download one of the others, or even look at the health and safety section (C4) of PAS91.

The SSIP Core Criteria* is fully aligned with Module C4: Health and Safety (Amendment 1 November 2017) of PAS91 and also Section 4: Health and Safety of the Build UK Common Assessment Standard (Version 1.2 September 2020).

Each accreditation application form will be unique and might ask things in a different way or order, but they will cover the same core criteria. So having a copy of the form or PAS91 will help you prepare.

Step 3: Prepare your records

The first step you should take before considering applying for SSIP accreditation is preparing records of your health and safety management. The better your records, the greater the chance of success the first time.

According, to SSIP member CHAS, most small businesses fail the assessment the first time they apply.

Since its introduction, the CHAS scheme has established that four out of five small and medium-sized businesses applying to the scheme have failed an initial assessment designed to ensure the applicant demonstrates compliance with basic health and safety...

CHAS The Scheme Principles

That's a vast majority (80%) of small and medium businesses sending off the CHAS assessment and failing. If you prepare your application right the first time, this doesn't have to be you.

If it is you, and you have failed your first assessment, don't worry, you can fill any gaps, and apply again.

Let's evaluate your existing health and safety records and fill any gaps.

Are your existing records good enough?

Look at your existing health and safety documents and records, such as:

You need to supply evidence that you have adequate health and safety records in place for your business if you are going to gain SSIP accreditation. After all, the assessor doesn't visit you in person, they make their assessment based on the evidence you submit to them.

Having site inductions, risk assessments, permits and other documents signed by your staff and subcontractors is best practice for your business, as it provides evidence that this information has been delivered to your team.

people reviewing a document

Here are some reasons your documents might fail the assessment:

Old documents are no good. The assessor is looking to see what your health and safety management is like now, not 5 years ago. The documents you supply for your application should be in date and signed, to show that they are in use within your business. Are your current documents in date, or were they last reviewed in 2015? Your assessor will almost always send back documents if they are more than 12 months old.

Blank documents are no good. Make sure you don’t just supply blank templates, you need to show evidence that your workforce has read and acknowledged the procedures and controls in place. That means getting your documents signed and agreed to.

Be honest when looking at your current health and safety records. If you don't have much written down at this point, don't worry. This guide will take you through the sort of records you will need, and how to create them.

What gaps do you need to fill?

OK, so now you have looked at your existing records, are there any activities or tasks you carry out that don't have records in place? Do you create a paper trail for each new project you start?

Before you apply for SSIP accreditation, you need to fill any gaps in your existing health and safety records.

Check you have all the documents in place to cover your business activities. To pass the assessment you will need to supply evidence of these documents in action within your business.

You should look at your key business activities and consider any other risk assessments or method statements that need to be in place. For example, if you carry out demolition work, you will need a risk assessment for that. If you have any gaps to fill in your health and safety records, we have hundreds of health and safety templates to help you including:

Your SSIP application is a good opportunity to review your record keeping, not only for the assessment but to make sure you have the health and safety records in place for your business needs.

For example, if you don't have induction records from every project, you should put in place procedures to make sure inductions are carried out and recorded on every project going forward. Not just for your accreditation but also to comply with legal requirements and make sure there are no holes in your paperwork.

How should you organise your evidence?

Since this guide was first developed, CHAS (and other SSIP members) have moved to online application systems - so you can often upload your evidence directly on the website.

With online applications, the organisation of your documents isn't as important as it once was when submitting your application. But it is still good practice to organise your application and evidence into a folder structure similar to the one below so that you can easily find, access and upload your evidence when you are going through the online application process.

An organised submission is the key to making sure you provide all the information your application needs. And, if the assessor asks for anything else, you'll know where to find it!

With the above in mind, we recommend organising your records into a folder structure so it is clear and easy to reference when you come to upload your documents. The folder structure you use could look something like this:

  1. Health and safety policy
  2. Construction phase plans
  3. Risk assessments
  4. Method statements
  5. COSHH assessments
  6. Training records
  7. Work equipment
  8. Subcontractors
  9. Asbestos
  10. Monitoring
  11. Involvement
  12. Accident records

These are the folders you will use to store your evidence and submit your SSIP application. These folders will cover the mandatory areas of the application and the evidence that needs to be submitted.

You can add additional folders to cover any other areas that may apply to your specific business, for example, if you do high-risk work such as hot works, that require permits, you might create a folder for permit records called 'Permits'.

Once you have your folders ready, you can start filling them with your submission evidence. Don't worry if you don't know what to include - we'll cover that in the next step.

Step 4: Gathering evidence

Following your review of any gaps that need filling, you can now put procedures in place to create the health and safety records you need for your business.

The important thing to remember about SSIP is that it is an assessment of your health and safety management. Not just an assessment of your documents. As we previously mentioned, the records you provide need to show that they are in use within your business. Just sending off a blank form is not evidence that the document is being used.

Your evidence is the records and documentation you prepared that are completed, signed, and used within your business. You should now have prepared some folders ready to store your evidence - now let's look at the records you need.

Policy

You will need to include a copy of your health and safety policy. It should be in date (reviewed within the last year) and signed.

For small businesses, while legally if you employ less than 5 people you don't have to have a written health and safety policy, SSIP expects more than the legal minimum. You will at least need to provide a copy of a health and safety policy statement for your business.

You should also make sure you include your organisation's details for health and safety, for example, who is responsible for what at a senior management level.

Part of the SSIP assessment covers 'arrangements for health and safety', and if you have a full health and safety policy, you will often find evidence of this within your policy - you can refer back to those sections within your answers on the application form.

Construction phase plan

Since 2015, the construction phase plan is a document that is required for ALL construction projects.

If you are a contractor, you will be expected to provide evidence you are complying with CDM in the form of a copy of a recent construction phase plan which sets out how health and safety is managed during the construction phase.

This evidence is needed from both sole contractors and principal contractors.

The level of detail in your plan should be proportionate to the risks involved in the project and include sections covering a description of the project, management of the work, arrangements for controlling significant site risks and the health and safety file.

Find out more in Construction Phase Plans Explained.

Risk assessments and method statements

Risk assessments and method statements must be in place for your activities, as they are an important part of health and safety management. Your assessor expects to see these documents as part of your submission.

You will need to supply risk assessments and method statements to cover your work activities, and you can include these in the relevant folders when you are gathering your evidence.

If you need help getting your RAMS (risk assessments and method statements) in place, you can start with our editable templates:

haspod document editor

Once you have created the risk assessments and method statements applicable to your activities, you need to put them into action on site. Make sure your workforce sign to acknowledge that they have read, understand and will comply with these work procedures.

If your documents are signed electronically, you can simply store a copy ready to upload with your SSIP application. If you have hard copies that have been used on your sites, scan in the signed documents so you have an online copy you can upload. Smartphones or digital cameras can also be used to take a picture of any signed hard copies to get a good electronic version ready to upload.

COSHH assessments

Because COSHH assessments are a legal requirement, you need to supply details of any hazardous substances used or stored on your sites or within your offices for your SSIP assessment. Complete and put a copy of the relevant COSHH documents in the COSHH folder.

You can use our free COSHH register to keep a list of any hazardous substances you are using.

Don't forget to get the material data sheets from suppliers, these will not only help you to complete your COSHH assessment but should also be kept for your records. If you need help getting your COSHH records in place, you can use our editable templates:

Training records

You'll need to supply evidence that health and safety training, instruction and information are given to your employees. This evidence should include a mixture of formal health and safety training records, like course certificates, and other records of on-the-job training and ongoing information and instruction.

If you plan to supply toolbox talk records, you need to have evidence of carrying out toolbox talks on site, again, blank documents are not evidence. So get a toolbox talk attendance register signed by the workers attending your talks.

Construction inductions are a legal requirement, so you should also include records of site inductions. This could be done using the site induction checklist form, the site induction register or a record you create yourself. Again, make sure this has been completed on site and scanned in with signatures for your submission folder.

You will also need to supply evidence of other training undertaken by your employees, relevant to your activities, this could include IPAF for scissor lift operatives, PASMA for those erecting and using tower scaffolds, and CSCS cards for all construction operatives. Include this evidence in your submission folder for training records.

Work equipment

Work equipment records you should supply as evidence may include a register of the key work equipment used along with any relevant inspection, testing and maintenance records. This is especially important for any high-risk equipment such as cranes, mobile access, scaffolding and lifting equipment.

The SSIP assessor will also want to see PAT testing records (portable appliance testing) for portable electrical equipment.

Subcontractors

If you use subcontractors, they can also impact your health and safety. To keep your workers (and sites) safe, you need to assess subcontractor competence and keep records of this. You can use the subcontractor questionnaire to send out to subcontractors and gather the required evidence.

electrician subcontractor

Within your subcontractor folder, create a new folder for each subcontractor and keep the completed questionnaire along with the document requested (subcontractor insurance, risk assessments etc). You probably won’t need to supply evidence for every subcontractor you use, so you can send a selection of 2 or 3 in your submission.

Asbestos

As one of the biggest health risks facing the construction industry, asbestos is a hot topic for any construction-based health and safety management system.

You need to provide evidence that your workforce understands the risks involved and what to do if they find or suspect asbestos-containing materials are present.

Documents such as the asbestos toolbox talk and asbestos risk assessment can be completed and provided as evidence. If your employees are likely to be at risk from asbestos exposure (most construction workers are), you will also need to supply asbestos awareness certificates as evidence of formal training.

Monitoring

Your assessor will want to see that your health and safety management systems and procedures are kept up to date. This means supplying evidence of any monitoring activities you undertake.

This evidence could include informal procedures within a smaller company, such as notes from sites, memos or a write-up of a verbal conversation or email correspondence. It is good practice, however, to supply evidence of more formal monitoring such as site inspections, health and safety notes from meeting minutes, audits and reviews.

Like your other documents, any evidence you submit should be from the past 12 months.

Involvement and consultation

It is a legal requirement to consult and communicate with your workforce on health and safety matters. You'll need to supply evidence of this with your application.

You don't have to go overboard here, smaller businesses are not expected to have a fully documented procedure in place, but you are expected to provide a record of meeting minutes, memos and safety information issued within the last 12 months.

Maybe you involve your workers when planning a project, or during inductions? Provide evidence of this from meeting notes or other correspondence records.

Larger businesses may have a health and safety committee and can provide examples of the work carried out by the committee and health and safety representatives within the company.

Accident Records

You won't fail to get SSIP accreditation just because there has been an accident within your business. But you will need to supply records that show accident reporting and investigation are in place.

You should be able to provide a copy of your accident statistics and provide details of any recent accidents, along with details of the investigation carried out, and action you have taken to prevent similar accidents from happening again.

You could also provide near-miss records to show you proactively work to prevent accidents.

Step 5: Completing the application

Phew, well done for making it this far! You should now have all your health and safety records in place, and at this point, you are ready to submit your application.

For contractors with fewer than 5 employees (this includes directors) you will usually submit a shorter application form. This form has fewer evidence requirements compared to the larger application forms for contractors with 5 or more employees.

During the application, you will need to enter all your business details, such as name and address, insurance details, along with the categories of work you carry out.

Getting competent health and safety advice

You will need to supply details of who your competent person is for general and construction-specific health and safety advice. You may be the competent person if you have the relevant experience and understanding of the risks and health and safety requirements surrounding your work activities. Otherwise, you should supply details of where (or who) you go for that advice when you need it.

In many cases, businesses can manage health and safety themselves. In small businesses and for lower-risk activities the responsibility of providing competent advice often rests with the owner/director. Provide details of your skills, knowledge and experience, particularly relating to managing health and safety, along with the resources you use for advice such as trade associations, safety groups and providers.

Usually, managing health and safety isn't complicated and you can do it yourself with the help of your workers. You know your workplace best and the risks associated with it.

There are times when your businesses might need to get external specialist help, particularly on more detailed, high-risk, complex or technical issues. With most SSIP members, particularly if you are a small business, you can sign a declaration to say that you will seek construction-related health and safety advice on a project-by-project basis if this is the route you take as a smaller contractor.

Upload your evidence

Now you can work your way through the application form, and upload all the records you have created as your evidence.

If there is anything you have missed, you can save your application, get the evidence you need, and go back to the application to upload it. Our top tip here is not to skip anything (unless it doesn't apply to your business), as it will likely result in a fail.

Submit your application!

When your application is ready, and all your evidence uploaded, go ahead and submit it for your assessment.

paperwork smiley face ticked

After successfully passing an SSIP member application, you will get a certificate and you can also use the logo on your stationery and promotional materials. Take full advantage of this, and show off your health and safety accreditation badge of honour to potential clients to get yourself on their list of approved contractors.

What if you fail?

If you fail the first time, it's not the end of your SSIP hopes. As we have already discussed, SSIP member CHAS reported that around 80% of small to medium size businesses fail the application the first time, so you are in the majority!

Don't give up - you're probably closer than you think.

It doesn't necessarily mean your health and safety isn't up to standard. Maybe a document wasn't signed, or out of date, or you missed a question? It's easily rectified.

If any extra information is required (based on your company's specific activities) the assessor will come back to you after reviewing your initial submission to advise you and allow you to submit this.

They will often point you in the right direction for what they want to see and let you know if any specific records need clarification or signing.

Once you have made the necessary changes and updated your application, you can resubmit to be re-assessed.


We hope this guide helps you get your SSIP accreditation. The application can be daunting the first time, but it is achievable and going through the process can also help you find ways to improve your health and safety management.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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