Dan Jackson is known within the electrical and fire safety industry for being very open regarding his thoughts of business practice and expressing his opinions on the topic of competency and Third Party Certification. BAFE discussed this further with Dan asking the following questions.
BAFE: After a short break from the industry you set up as a consultant for fire and electrical compliance and competence. Why do you feel so much passion for the fire and electrical sector?
DAN: I developed love for the industry as soon as I started my electrical apprenticeship. I am so passionate about protecting lives and this has definitely grown stronger as my career has progressed due to experiences and what I have witnessed. I always tried to produce the best work as an installer as I was working my way up the career ladder and gained a good reputation for high standards and over the years have seen some awful work. Some practices that some others carry out is astonishing and I cannot fathom how they cannot understand either consciously or unconsciously that their work could cause injury or fail to prevent saving someone’s life. I therefore set out to lead by example despite many economic and industry pressures.
BAFE RESPONSE: This attitude is what represents the value of UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification within the fire safety industry. Leading by example and performing quality work at all times, not just whilst they are being assessed, demonstrates the true nature of Third Party Certification. The assessment itself provides this quality evidence that providers can confidently and competently perform these works - and should always be adhered to.
BAFE: You support the industry by encouraging the younger generations to get interested in the sector. Do you think enough is being done to sustain a competent and compliant industry moving forward? What else could be done?
DAN: The simple answer to that is no, not enough is being done at all. Youngsters are the future of the industry and there is often little financial incentive for employers to employ apprentices. In fact, there is not a standard route in the fire alarm trade for apprentices to take. Too many organisations and companies focus on short terms gains instead of long-term investment. It is too easy for the unqualified and incompetent to be working on life safety systems which is worrying. On the other hand, the work demand is there, but the quality of candidates to employ is poor. It can be a challenge to employ a good team as many are servicing and installing fire alarm systems without the necessary competence. The quality of engineering is particularly low which in my opinion is linked to the lack of need for training and qualifications to work on systems.
BAFE RESPONSE: This is a frustrating truth within the fire safety industry, but it is slowly developing in the right direction. BAFE are official supporters of both the Apprentices for Fire and Security (A4FS) and Engineers of Tomorrow (EoT) initiatives. There are also some excellent college courses becoming available, with the pre-apprenticeship for electronic fire and security systems at New College Lanarkshire being an example of this. These are still few and far between however, and we hope more like this will become available in the near future for younger people to gain a great foundation of knowledge to bring into the sector.
BAFE: You have discussed the topic of Third Party Certification for fire detection and fire alarm work on multiple occasions via your social media channels. Why do you think this specific Third Party Certification is important for the fire and electrical sector?
DAN: There are two ways to look at Third Party Certification – a tick box exercise or to implement third party certification requirements into procedures and practices. If you have a company with no written and recorded procedures, you potentially have no evidence how the company operates which from a client’s point of view is a business risk.
I have always liked the BAFE SP203-1 scheme, especially coming from the electrical industry because obtaining BAFE SP203-1 accreditation is more stringent than obtaining most electrical CPS accreditation. I found I implemented the BAFE SP203-1 requirements into the business as a whole, not just the fire alarm works, and it helped manage the business and aided its development and professionalism.
BAFE RESPONSE: There are these two ways to look at Third Party Certification, but BAFE is adamant we only desire the latter. The requirements of the BAFE Schemes should be implemented into quality procedures and practices and followed at all times. This, as Dan has outlined, benefits both yourself and the consumer.
BAFE: Third Party Certification for fire detection and fire alarm systems can be a contentious subject in the electrical sector, even though BS5839-1 commentary recommends Third Party Certificated contractors for fire alarm inspection and servicing to assure competence with this work. From your experience why do you feel some genuinely still believe it is not necessary?
DAN: I do not believe the commentary in 45.1 in BS 5839-1 regarding assurance of competence should be in the standard because it is not true. This is why many feel third party certification is not necessary. Accreditation for the scheme and others can be manipulated because the auditors only witness a fraction of documentation and works on site. What I remind people is that the scheme is fantastic, but it still requires the right attitudes and behaviours of company directors and management to enforce their business activity procedures. In my opinion, third party certification is another level of competence assurance, not assurance of competence. Without it, how can you prove your company has that additional level? It would be difficult. I like how I am audited by a competent person to kick me up the back side if needed. Company directors need that and I ensure I do everything I can so a kick isn’t needed.
BAFE RESPONSE: Third Party Certification is a robust method of providing evidence of competency, but the right attitude is required throughout the year to uphold the requirements of this. Quite simply, BAFE feels the industry would benefit through stronger Third Party Certification regulation, not babysitting.
BAFE: How do you respond to people in the fire sector when they feel Third Party Certification is unnecessary? How could they fully reassure you they are competent?
DAN: I would ask them for their company procedures and how they manage their business and clients. Of course it is possible to run a business and fire alarm projects and maintenance without Third Party Accreditation but the scheme provides evidence and a criteria. Without procedures, it is hard to demonstrate how projects are managed, documentation is recorded and the competence of the team. There are many companies operating in the UK with no or little procedures which in my opinion adds business risk to the client and we are talking about Life Safety. Third Party Accreditation gives the client added value.
BAFE RESPONSE: The added value of Third Party Certification is a huge bonus to premises management who can clearly demonstrate they have used appropriate providers for fire safety work. We should also note here our latest campaign - Don’t Just Specify, Verify! which clearly outlines the Responsible Person/Duty Holder’s obligation to source competent people and check their credentials to help fulfil requirements under UK fire safety legislation.
BAFE: Do you believe Third Party Certification should be mandatory to regulate the fire safety industry, parallel with the Gas Safe Register?
DAN: Not in its current form. Even the Gas Safe Register has flaws which allows poor workmanship and persons without the necessary skills to operate. Having the responsibility to ‘regulate’ is quite some task in an industry that should be set up to prevent people dying and properties being destroyed by fire. However, I do feel it should be mandatory for fire safety companies to be audited in a strict fashion so a record of their performance, competency and management is documented and reviewed. Currently, BAFE is a step towards that.
BAFE RESPONSE: BAFE always state that fire safety is about life safety. The industry has been calling for stronger regulation through mandated Third Party Certification for a substantial amount of time now, which was of course heightened by the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire. This record of assessed competence and other management criteria will help develop the ‘golden thread’ of fire safety within the entire life-cycle of any building.
BAFE: You have recently achieved Third Party Certification for the BAFE SP203-1 Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems Scheme. How did you find the process this time round and how was it under current circumstances (due to the coronavirus pandemic)?
DAN: I was audited by the SSAIB whom I have dealt with in the past. I am fortunate to understand the scheme requirements and the process very well so achieving BAFE SP203-1 was a matter of being able to demonstrate projects I have worked on and to show my bespoke company procedures I have issued and worked to. What was different during COVID-19 was having a remote audit. I had to ensure I had sufficient evidence of the installations such as taking photographic evidence and due to having many on-site inspections in the past I know exactly what the inspector is looking for so prepared photos of those areas to make it as seamless as possible. During lockdown many of us have had to make adjustments to how we operate and run our businesses and change is a good thing. It forces us to think differently which can open up a world of new opportunities. I have been working remotely for a number of years so having web based video meetings is normal for me anyway but enjoyed screen sharing with the auditor and providing my documentation evidence using cloud based solutions. I feel we can all benefit from utilising technology anyway.
BAFE RESPONSE: The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone adapt to the “new normal”. We were pleased to see however that this did not dramatically slow down BAFE licensed Certification Bodies from continuing important assessment work. It is vital that competency assurance, as Dan characterised earlier, must continue. BAFE has published guidance and information regarding fire safety during the coronavirus pandemic noting fire safety legislation is still being enforced and obligations need to be upheld. We continue to advise that you help educate your clients and potential clients of this to ensure their building mitigates any risk from fire as best as possible.
Our thanks go out to Dan who took the time to discuss this with BAFE.
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