National Highway Sector Schemes: certification for contractors and subcontractors

National Highway Sector Schemes (NHSS) are bespoke integrated quality management systems for organisations working on the UK road network.

This guide explains the benefits of NHSS 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.

Please note that despite the similarity in names, NHSSs are not owned or administered by National Highways. However, we play an important part in their development.

What is an NHSS? 

NHSSs are integrated quality management schemes, bespoke to individual highways specialisms. They aim to make sure that work is carried out to the highest standards of professionalism, using properly trained and competent staff.

NHSSs are primarily designed as complementary standards to ISO 9001 for organisations working on the UK’s road network. They're based on the current ISO 9001:2015 framework and provide specific requirements and interpretation for maintenance and construction, inspection and interrelated activities.

There are more than 20 individual schemes. Each is developed and managed by a technical advisory committee, whose membership is made up of industry representatives and other interested parties, such as highway authorities, trade associations and certification bodies. Further specialists may join the committees as appropriate.

NHSS schemes come under eight main categories:

  • Highway assets including design
  • Fencing including vehicle safety restraints
  • Electrical and land drilling
  • Road surfaces, surface marking and paving
  • Manufacturing, structures, fasteners and coatings including stockholding
  • Temporary traffic management
  • Landscaping and natural environment (including ecology)
  • Tunnel management, incident management including vehicle recovery

A list of current scheme documents can be found on the schedule of suppliers website.

Each Sector Scheme Document has a set of appendices. Together, they describe the minimum requirements you'll need to satisfy before you can be certified under that scheme, including:

  • detailed training and competency 
  • quality plan 

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 to provide certification for individual NHSSs. Accredited UKAS certification can be found on the UKAS website.

Who needs to be certified?

If your organisation supplies services (including the supply of products but excluding the manufacture of products subject to legal conformity assessment requirements) to National Highways under the Specification for Highways Works (SHW), you must be certified for all the relevant schemes for the work you're contracted to undertake. 

Where the SHW forms part of the contract documentation, an organisation carrying out works covered by a NHSS shall be registered to that NHSS unless stated otherwise in the contract.

You don't have to be registered to an NHSS where works are subcontracted. Any subcontractor used shall be registered to the relevant NHSS(s). The SHW does not empower an NHSS-certified contractor to provide an umbrella for a non-NHSS registered supplier to carry out all or part of the work.

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

  • Main contractors and contractors who work on the motorway or trunk road network
  • Main contractors or contractors who 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

Benefits of certification

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

There are several advantages for being registered to NHSS if your organisation has previously worked with us, or you plan to tender for future work:

  • A competitive edge - If you're already NHSS registered when tendering for work, you may have an advantage over competitors who aren't
  • 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 strategic road network
  • Greater visibility to contracting bodies - Once NHSS certified, you'll be automatically registered on the UKAS Certcheck database by your UKAS-accredited certification body. You may be required to provide information to the certification body to enable it to register your organisation correctly.
  • Access to expertise and support - Some trade associations will only accept new members who are NHSS-registered

How to get certified under one or more NHSSs

Before you can be certified and registered under the NHSS, you must be assessed by a certification body accredited by UKAS for the relevant NHSS.

If you already have ISO 9001 certification from either an accredited UKAS certification body or from a recognised national accreditation body accredited certification body, it's 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 Schedule of Suppliers website.

Next, contact a relevant NHSS-accredited certification body to arrange a preliminary audit check, followed by an assessment visit.

The auditors used by certification bodies should have technical knowledge and experience of working in your sector(s).

The audit/assessment will typically consist of:

  • making sure that your quality manual conforms to ISO 9001 and the relevant sector scheme(s)
  • confirming the scope of certification, i.e., checking that registration to the NHSS is 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're seeking certification for, and the certification 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 and ISO 9001
  • reporting on any areas of non-compliance, or where there is the potential for non-compliance

Audits are not limited to assessing your processes. Within the NHSSs, there is 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'll need to take action to correct this. The certification body will need to verify the action you've taken before it will issue certification against the NHSS.

What happens after you've achieved NHSS certification

If you pass the assessment, you'll be formally notified by the certification body and should receive a certificate, although this varies from body to body. Some will provide individual certificates for each sector scheme, while 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 will align with the scopes included in Appendix K of the SSD.

Follow-up audits

The certification body will conduct surveillance visits at regular intervals - usually once every 12 months - to make sure that your systems continue to meet the standards needed for certification. You'll also need to pass a re-certification audit every three years.

Development of new NHSSs

Where a need arises, new NHSSs can be created. This can come from a variety of sources, such as legislation, a change in standards, or client and/or industry requirements.

When such a proposal arises, the proposed NHSS is discussed by the NHSS Liaison Committee, who discuss the commercial and practical viability of the proposed new scheme. If deemed viable, a Technical Advisory Committee for the scheme is formed.

Construction-related competency 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 types of work they carry out on site. The cards should include the CSCS logo or mark (as appropriate) to be valid as meeting the requirements of the Construction Leadership Council.

Additional requirements may be required by the main contractor, for example, supervisor qualifications or the Highways Passport.

The Highways Passport will indicate that you've passed the highways common induction test and may also act as a permit to work on the national strategic road network. It may also record the qualifications you hold; however, it's not recognised as a substitute for a CSCS card.

See the relevant Sector Scheme Documents and the guide on skills card and registration requirements.

How to access NHSS documents

SSDs are published for each NHSS by Lantra on the schedule of suppliers website

They're developed and maintained by the technical advisory committee for each scheme. Committees are made up of representatives from across the sector, including but not limited to:

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

The documents describe the committee’s interpretation of the ISO 9001 framework as it applies to a 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 and site management
  • 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 as and when necessary. You and the certification body 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.

Further information

Lantra contact

Tel: 024 7669 6996

View the NHSS documents on the Schedule of Suppliers website

A list of Certification Bodies is available from the UKAS website

Check if an organisation is NHSS-certified on the UKAS CertCheck website.

Get the Specification for Highways Works.