Guidance

National Highway Sector Schemes: certification for contractors and subcontractors

How to achieve National Highway Sector Schemes certification to work on the UK road network, the range of schemes available, and how to apply.

Introduction

National Highways Sector Schemes (NHSS) are bespoke integrated quality management systems for organisations working on the UK road network. They use the current ISO 9001 as the basic standard, and additionally provide specific requirements and interpretation for a particular industry.

There are currently more than 20 individual schemes. They cover activities ranging from fencing, landscaping and vehicle safety restraints to road surfacing and marking, and traffic management.

If your company supplies services (including the supply of products but excluding the manufacture of products subject to legal conformity assessment requirements) to Highways England under the Specification for Highways Works (SHW), you must be certified under all the relevant schemes for the work you are carrying out.

The schemes aim to make sure that work is carried out to the highest standards of professionalism, using properly trained staff. They also place a strong emphasis on health and safety.

This guide explains the benefits of certification, and the steps involved in achieving it. It also describes the range of schemes available, who they apply to, and how to access the scheme documents.

National Highways Sector Schemes and who needs to be certified

NHSS are bespoke integrated quality management schemes for organisations working on the UK’s road network. They are based on the current ISO 9001:2015 framework, but additionally provide specific requirements and interpretation specifically for highways maintenance and construction activities including inspection.

NHSS includes more than 20 individual schemes. Each scheme is developed and managed by technical advisory committees. The membership of each committee is made up of industry representatives and other interested parties, such as local authorities, trade associations and certification bodies.

Individual NHSS schemes come under four main categories:

  • road surfacing and marking
  • fencing and vehicle safety restraints
  • landscaping
  • temporary traffic management
  • fasteners and structural steelwork and coatings
  • lighting, electronics and road traffic signs
  • vehicle recovery
  • tunnel management and incident management

A list of current schemes can be found on the schedule of suppliers website. This is updated twice annually when new schemes are added, scheme titles are amended or new versions are issued.

Each scheme has a set of Sector Scheme Documents (SSDs). These describe the minimum standards you will need to meet before you can be certified under that scheme, including:

  • detailed training and competency requirements
  • quality plan requirements

Certification of suppliers is carried out by certification bodies, which in turn are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). Certification bodies are accredited for individual National Highway Sector Schemes.

Who needs to be certified

If your business supplies services (including the supply of products but excluding the manufacture of products subject to legal conformity assessment requirements) covered by NHSS to Highways England, you must be registered under all the relevant schemes for that work.

This is a mandatory requirement under the SHW, unless the contract documents state otherwise.

If your business subcontracts the work, you do not have to be registered but any subcontractors you use must be. The SHW does not allow subcontractors to provide services under the umbrella of another registered supplier.

NHSS will be relevant to your business if it includes any of the following:

  • main contractors and subcontractors who work on the motorway or trunk road network
  • contractors or subcontractors that work on or beside roads, including those involved in landscaping work
  • manufacturers, installers and repairers of products covered by a scheme
  • highway designers and consultants

The schemes may also be relevant if your business is involved in the development of industrial, commercial, or private land or property, or carries out work on railways or inland waterways - especially if this is near a road, or adjacent to one.

Benefits of National Highways Sector Schemes certification

NHSS registration is mandatory for all Highways England contract work specified in accordance with the SHW.

There are several advantages to getting registered under NHSS if your business has previously worked with Highways England, or you plan to tender for future work:

  • a competitive edge - if you are already NHSS registered when tendering for work, you may have an advantage over competitors who are not
  • enhanced business credentials - through independent verification of your processes against recognised quality standards
  • a better understanding of risk, and how to manage it - the NHSS assessment process can help you pinpoint areas of risk in your operations
  • new opportunities - if you currently work only on non-national road networks, NHSS registration clears the way toward you taking on contracts for the national road network
  • greater visibility to contracting bodies - you can join the online Schedule of Suppliers, the only comprehensive national register of independently approved contractors and subcontractors
  • access to expertise and support - some trade associations will only accept new members who are NHSS registered

Steps involved in getting certified under one or more National Highways Sector Schemes

Before you can be certified and registered under the NHSS, you must pass an assessment carried out by a certification body. These bodies are accredited by UKAS.

If you already have ISO 9001 certification, it is possible to include NHSS certification as an extension to this. See the guide on quality management standards.

Steps to certification

Your first step should be to download the SSDs for each scheme you wish to be registered for. These are available from the UKAS website.

Next, contact a relevant approved and accredited certification body to arrange an audit, followed by an assessment visit. You can obtain a list of certifying bodies from the UKAS website.

The auditors used by certifying bodies have technical knowledge and experience of working in the sector.

The audit will typically consist of:

  • making sure that your quality manual conforms to ISO9001 and the relevant sector scheme
  • confirming the scope of certification, ie checking that you are seeking registration for the sector schemes that are relevant to the work you plan to do
  • identifying any actual or potential areas of non-compliance, and developing an action plan to remedy these

What is covered in the assessment can vary depending on the scheme you are seeking certification for, and the certifying body, but normally involves:

  • carrying out sample audits of your processes and activities
  • documenting how your systems for quality management comply with the requirements set out in the SSDs
  • reporting on any areas of non-compliance, or where there is the potential for non-compliance

Audits are not limited to assessing your processes. There is also a strong emphasis on the competency of your personnel, and your organisation’s ability to deliver positive outcomes.

If the assessment reveals any major areas of non-compliance, you will need to take action to correct this. The certifying body will need to verify the action you have taken before it will certify you.

What happens after National Highways Sector Schemes certification is achieved

If you pass the assessment, you will be formally notified by the certifying body. You should also get a certificate, although this varies from body to body. Some bodies will give you individual certificates for each sector scheme. Others may issue certificates that include details of NHSS assessments among other capabilities you may have been assessed on. The scope of your NHSS certificate will be agreed between you and the certification body but shall align with the scopes included in Appendix K of the SSD.

You must add your company’s details including a copy of your registration certificate(s) to the online Schedule of Suppliers. This is the national database of approved contractors for the highways industry. The Schedule is used by highway authorities to check that a company is certified. Many contracting organisations use it to find potential suppliers to invite to tender for projects.

View the list of registered suppliers

To add your company to the schedule, you’ll need to complete an online application form

Submit the completed form, along with a copy of your approval certificate(s) and any registration fee to Lantra.

Follow-up audits

The certifying body will visit you at regular periods - usually once every 12 months - to make sure that your systems continue to meet the standards needed for certification. You will also need to pass a re-certification audit every 3 years.

Skills cards

You must ensure that each of your employees working on projects covered by an NHSS has an appropriately detailed skills card. This provides evidence that the person has all the required skills and training they need for the type or types of work they carry out. The cards should be endorsed by CSCS, a requirement of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

Note 1: If you are a sub-contractor, additional requirements may be required by the main contractor, for instance in respect of supervisor qualifications.

Note 2: Highways England has introduced a voluntary card known as the HE Passport. This card will indicate that the holder has passed the highways common induction test and may also act as a permit to work on the strategic road network. It may also record the qualifications held by holder; however, it is not recognised as a substitute for a CSCS card. Many contractors will require that workers on their sites hold a current HE Passport card.

See the relevant Sector Scheme Documents and the guide on skills card and registration requirements for suppliers of Highways England.

How to access National Highways Sector Schemes documents

SSDs are published for each scheme within the NHSS.

They are developed and maintained by the technical advisory committee for each scheme. Committees are made up of representatives from across the sector, including:

  • contractors
  • suppliers
  • client bodies
  • trade associations
  • training organisations
  • certification bodies

The documents describe how the committee has interpreted the ISO 9001 framework as it applies to that particular sector including specific requirements for that industry sector. They define minimum standards and requirements for:

  • workmanship, services, products and testing
  • training and competency requirements for operatives and supervisors
  • qualifications for auditors used by certification bodies
  • specific elements of environmental and other management systems

SSDs are ‘living documents’ that the technical advisory committees regularly review and update when necessary. You should make sure that you have access to the current versions before starting the certification process.

Lantra publishes the current documents for each scheme on the schedule of suppliers website You can download NHSS documents on this website.

Further information

Lantra helpline

02476 696996

View the NHSS documents on the Schedule of Suppliers website View the list of registered suppliers
A list of certifying bodies is available on the UKAS website.

Published 2 June 2021