UK: BESA says it has carried out a thorough review of the security procedures behind its online training following the jailing of two construction skills testers last month.
The two men, Callum Ingram (28) and Stephen McWhirk (62), were jailed for 28 months each after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit fraud and fraud by false representation between May and September 2019, after falsifying CITB health, safety and environment tests for commercial gain. The tests assess whether a worker is qualified to carry a skills card needed to work on UK construction sites.
The two men were test centre administrators at the accredited DWM Plant Ltd in Knutsford, Cheshire. During a counter fraud investigation CITB investigators uncovered a large-scale criminal operation that was helping mainly foreign nationals get through the safety tests to qualify for the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, which are used by site managers to verify the training and qualifications of all site workers.
In some cases, the exams were undertaken by the administrators on behalf of the candidates, or they were able to feed them the answers during their tests. Prosecutors said the case had put members of the public and other construction workers at risk by allowing unqualified people onto sites. Many of these workers may also have been trafficked by criminal gangs.
The scale of the fraud prompted BESA’s online training Academy to carry out a swift review of its test verification procedures to reassure employers and test candidates.
BESA says it uses a system called Proctortrack to regulate and monitor its online testing. This has controls in place that, for example, prevent the use of any other application while undertaking a test or exam, including the use of a remote mouse.
“The Proctortrack system recognises over 430 applications and background processes and the list is constantly being updated,” said BESA’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet. “Any student using an app outside of that list, or any unauthorised window that is found to be open during an exam will be instantly detected and reported as an online aid.”
The system can also monitor any background audio which would flag up if a student was being given help or was communicating with someone else during an exam, she added.
Proctortrack uses a ‘zoomed video frame’ which allows it to capture the full view from the student’s webcam so anyone to the side of the student will be seen. It also reviews student behaviour and facial expressions to flag up any suspicious activity.
The BESA Academy has a list of ‘violations’ picked up by this process including students looking away from the screen for more than three seconds or at devices other than their laptop. It has also experienced the use of ‘imposters’ and other people being present while the individual is taking their test.
Accessing course materials on a separate screen is another violation picked up by the Proctortrack system as well as the use of emails to read course information.
“The vast majority of people undertaking our tests do so honestly, but we are always vigilant to make sure we catch those who try to cut corners,” said Yeulet. “We have been reassured by our review of the Proctortrack system that everything humanly and technologically possible is being done to protect the integrity of our schemes.
“It is particularly important that health & safety testing is underpinned by a robust verification process to keep workers and the public safe – and any violations will automatically lead to the student failing the test.”
Yeulet said the expansion of online training and testing, and its growing sophistication and flexibility, was proving to be a major benefit to the building services industry by making it easier for more people to improve their knowledge and skills.
“The fraud prosecutions were a timely reminder that we must do everything possible to protect this hugely valuable system from a minority who seek to undermine it,” she added.