Infrastructure

Construction truce ‘in limbo’ amidst NZTA scandal

A hard-won truce between the vertical and horizontal construction industries is in question after an NZTA report raised serious questions about how the ConstructSafe standard was developed and where the fees from it would go

SiteSafe chief executive Brett Murray has given up his board seat on Construction Health And Safety NZ in the wake of a damning report into how the ConstructSafe testing system was created.

The resignation leaves a draft agreement for site rules in limbo. The rules would have seen Site Safe administer training and a ConstructSafe test required for work on all construction sites.

However, the likelihood of that draft proposal being turned into a reality has diminished after the resignation of Murray from the board of CHASNZ. His resignation comes in the wake of a Deloitte report into the Zero Harm unit at the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

Murray resigned his position on the CHASNZ board after reading the report - leaked to Newsroom in August - which alleged the decisions of a former manager at NZTA Martin McMullan financially benefited CHASNZ and McMullan's friend Martin Riding. 

SiteSafe administers a training programme often required on vertical construction projects like commercial buildings. ConstructSafe is a testing standard popular in the horizontal construction sector (civil contracting projects like roads), but it was created through CHASNZ and a contract with a company owned by Riding.

Murray said Riding's company - ConstructSafe Testing Limited - owned intellectual property behind ConstructSafe in conjunction with a company owned by CHASNZ.

The report alleged both CHASNZ and ConstructSafe Testing gained monetarily when the test was made compulsory for anybody who wanted to work on a state highway project.

Murray said going along with ConstructSafe now would mean more money going towards Riding's company - which had serious allegations against it. 

"We never really had ConstructSafe as a test. Where I have an issue is with ConstructSafe Testing Limited [Riding's company] who run the test.

"It's a monopoly in the sense that ConstructSafe Testing Limited totally control the IP [intellectual property] around the test along with CHASNZ.

"We could go and be a ConstructSafe testing centre, but we're beholden to ConstructSafe Testing Limited ... because effectively we're just a licensed tester."

His resignation from CHASNZ leaves recent moves to use the ConstructSafe testing standard more widely "in limbo" - at least where the vertical construction sector is concerned. An agreement on testing and safety standards was at the draft stage.

"The report's raised enough allegations ... they're serious enough to cause me a lot of disquiet," Murray said.

NZTA made it mandatory for contractors and others to pass the CHASNZ safety standard ConstructSafe before they could work on a state highway project in 2017, but reversed that decision in 2019.

The brief monopoly on state highway projects ConstructSafe Training Limited enjoyed earned it $1.5m in training fees from 70,000 contractors according to the report.

"It was relayed to us by two NZTA employees that it was not clear why NZTA both supported the development of the ConstructSafe scheme and then made the decision to contractually require all workers to complete their prequalification with ConstructSafe," the report said.

Riding's contract with CHASNZ for ConstructSafe testing is still active and CHASNZ CEO Chris Aldersen defended it in a statement circulated to a group of industry stakeholders after the story broke last month.

"CHASNZ holds a current commercial contract with CTL [ConstructSafe Training Limited] and are satisfied in the integrity and delivery of the ConstructSafe scheme.

"ConstructSafe was never an NZTA system, nor was it procured by NZTA. No information in relation to NZTA's investigation gives CHASNZ any cause for concern in relation to the ConstructSafe Scheme." 

Emails released to RNZ this week showed other figures within the construction industry beyond Murray also wanted to pull their representatives from the CHASNZ board over allegations in the report.

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