Around five years ago, BAFE representatives went to see two Scottish Government civil servants to discuss fire safety and in particular Fire Risk Assessments. The responsibility for Tony Maskens, then BAFE Technical Schemes Manager, and Euan Robson, Governmental Adviser - Caledonia Public Affairs, was to explain that Fire Risk Assessors should be professionally qualified and certificated and at present there is no requirement for them to be so. When The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 was published it left Duty Holders with the responsibility to conduct Fire Risk Assessments on their premises. There was no real guidance as to how they might fulfil these responsibilities however.
There was a lack of understanding that quickly alerted BAFE to the fact that there was no recognition of these difficulties. The Act was then, and is now, entirely fit for purpose but too much was missing as far as its implementation was concerned. The background to the 2005 Scottish Act was the appalling fire at the Rose Park care home in Lanarkshire in 2004 (in which several elderly residents died). At the subsequent fatal accident enquiry, the Sheriff had made clear that Fire Risk Assessments should be carried out by properly qualified/certificated people. In short, the problem was that the Act required Duty Holders to have a proper Fire Risk Assessment but there was no signposting as to how to do this. BAFE began a long campaign to change the situation. It was also very apparent that, surprisingly, many Duty Holders had no idea as to their legal responsibilities. Many businesses simply did not know that they were required to have a Fire Risk Assessment let alone how to carry it out or whom to ask to do so. BAFE was able to provide part of the answer by discussing its SP205 Third Party Certification scheme for Fire Risk Assessment providers (BAFE SP205 Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment), as well as other Third Party Certification available covering Fire Risk Assessment.
After rounds of meetings official thinking began to change. Several Parliamentary Questions and a debate, led by Michael McMahon MSP on the tenth anniversary of the Rose Park fire in his constituency, triggered a review of the Act by the Regulatory Reform Group set up by the Scottish Government to look at the effectiveness of regulations. Tony Maskens was invited to join the relevant RRG committee and with the help of fire industry colleagues, was able to craft the recommendations in a way which emphasised the need for properly qualified/certificated people to work in the field of fire safety.
By 2016 fire service colleagues and civil servants were on board to a considerable degree. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's website was altered to signpost Duty Holders to Third Party Certificated Fire Risk Assessors. BAFE's SP205 scheme and others were clearly identified to enable Duty Holders to have comfort that what they were paying for was fit for purpose. Subsequently the Scottish fire law website was also altered. Moreover, strong references have been provided in Scottish Government Guidance issued for various types of premises in Scotland. Third Party Certification of Fire Risk Assessors is recommended for example in guidance on fire safety in sleeping accommodation. Now partly in response to the Grenfell tragedy, it is in guidance on fire safety in high rise domestic properties also.
BAFE is not sitting back. Progress has indeed been made and the position that existed five or six years ago has been markedly improved. Nevertheless, there is a need for Scottish Government to actively promote an awareness scheme amongst Duty Holders - especially for small or medium-sized businesses located in complicated properties. As BAFE's Chairman Douglas Barnett has warned, awareness raising of the importance of a proper, professional Fire Risk Assessment in hotels and overnight accommodation is critical.
BAFE continues to say that compulsory qualifications/certification may well be necessary in key types of premises if there is not a marked improvement in the quality of Fire Risk Assessments in the months ahead. BAFE's work in Scotland is not limited to Fire Risk Assessment. Unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS) are causing serious problems as in the rest of the UK. Astonishingly in some areas of the country, over 50% of monthly call outs for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service are as a result of UFAS problems. This not only wastes precious resources but also unnecessarily puts emergency services personnel at risk and costs the organisations in whose premises the false alarm was raised a great deal of lost productivity. What is even worse is that many of the UFAS calls originate in public sector premises. In certain parts of Scotland, the NHS is the main culprit, in others, local councils' education establishments.
BAFE has continuously stressed the value of Third Party Certification of installed systems and continues to propose measures to ensure the competence of the workforce as well as practical steps (such as inexpensive covers for emergency buttons to prevent accidental activation). BAFE's work has attracted the interest of MSPs and we intend to repeat a reception in the Scottish Parliament, as the last one in 2017 was well attended and received. Clarity of purpose and persistence is paying off, but it's all meant to protect the public from injury and death and to promote the value for specifiers and end users to procure their fire safety and protection services from Third Party Certificated contractors.
Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, comments:
“BAFE are pleased about the continued development of Third Party Certification being made in Scotland. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have been very accommodating to listen and develop their guidance in the interest of competent assistance to permit quality levels of compliance to The Fire (Scotland) Act. We hope to continue this dialogue moving into the next decade to create a Scotland safer from fire.”