Third Party Certification is the only way to guarantee the competence of installers and fire safety practitioners

Tuesday 17th November 2020
Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association, addressed the audience at the Fire 2020 event (04/11/2020)

At the Fire 2020 event earlier this month (04/11/2020) Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association, stated [in respect to the Hackitt Review] “As many people explained to Dame Judith [Hackitt] at the very start of these investigations, it is not just the system that is broken – the guidance and regulations themselves are ambiguous, outdated and subject to abuse.”

He questioned “are we setting the bar too low from the start?” Developing on this, he noted the current requirement of only focussing on life safety instead of both life safety and property protection observing the “devastating consequences for businesses, communities and individuals” the loss of property can create. He continued that post Grenfell, “it is the responsibility of building owners and managers to have a better understanding of how their buildings are put together and how they will perform during a major incident like fire”.

O’Neill introduced the FPA’s latest campaign, Know your building, which includes the vital requirement to understand “the level of competency possessed by those who carry out works to improve fire safety”.

Ensuring evidence of competency

O’Neill discussed the fire strategy that all organisations should use, adding that this “forms the basis of a fire risk assessment which both current and proposed legislation requires to be undertaken by a competent person.” He directly addresses the Minister of State (Minister for Building Safety and Communities Lord Stephen Greenhalgh) “however reassuring the word competent feels, is simply not prescriptive for life safety critical services that support fire. Whilst I am fully supportive of the work led by the Construction Industry Council [CIC] on their competence framework, the building blocks are there but ambiguity still exists. The simple way of ensuring competence is by independent Third Party Certification. The Government has recognised this for many years in the regulation of gas, we now need to embrace it in fire. Don’t restrict it to risk assessments, extend it to those supplying life safety fire protection equipment and services. There is currently no consistent definition of what competency looks like for fire risk assessors, building managers, installers or maintainers of active or passive fire protection systems.” O’Neill explicitly stated:

“Third Party Certification is the only way to guarantee the competence of installers and fire safety practitioners.”

He continued to address the Minister saying “I am sure that industry will support you, but if you don’t yet feel confident enough in the markets ability to react, at least consider offering a statutory defence in law for those who choose to use Third Party [Certificated] firms. Third Party Certification should also ensure the more widespread adoption of risk appropriate fire protection systems.”

Later in the Q&A panel session, answering on how we avoid poor examples of fire risk assessments, O’Neill stressed again that “Third Party Certification is the only way to guarantee the competence of fire risk assessors”. He reiterated his thoughts from the plenary speech that the CIC competence framework “is not enough” in his view. He concluded “we do need to go, particularly for fire risk assessment, for independent Third Party Certification. It’s the only way of being able to guarantee competency.”

Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, commented “We agree completely with Jonathan’s persistence regarding his stance on Third Party Certification, only adding that this should be exclusively UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification [with UKAS being the sole body recognised by Government to assess Certification Bodies]. What must be addressed however is the poor uptake of Third Party Certification for Fire Risk Assessment providers which has to improve to ensure widespread availability of this vital service. It is gaining substantial traction, but this is such an important service which should have compulsory requirements of evidential company and individual competency to deliver this work”.

Know Your Building and Don't Just Specify, Verify!

The FPA’s most recent campaign, Know your building, emphasises the importance of multiple factors that need addressing to mitigate risk from fire. Pledging support for the campaign, Stephen Adams commented he is “pleased to see that the FPA are pushing premises managers to go ‘above and beyond their legal requirements’ in order to ensure their premises are more resilient to fire and their staff and customers are safe’. This includes understanding the competency of providers responsible for designing, installing and maintaining fire protection systems and provisions.”

BAFE strongly believes that the Know your building campaign marries extremely well with the current UKAS supported Don’t Just Specify, Verify! campaign from BAFE. This emphasises the important second, and sometimes overlooked, verification stage when specifying and sourcing a competent Third Party Certificated provider to help comply with fire safety legislation. This verification is extremely important, as BAFE Registration (or any Third Party Certification) does not determine evidence of competency for all fire safety services. Adams added “by specifying appropriately Third Party Certificated providers you can ‘know your building’, acting with due diligence and the full respect fire safety deserves.”

BAFE continue to acknowledge and appreciate the support of multiple organisations and professional bodies including the FPA, FIA and IFEDA for UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification of fire safety services.

“[UKAS Accredited] Third Party Certification categorically offers the best evidence of competency available for the professional fire safety industry.” - Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE
Further Reading

Jonathan O’Neill reflected on his thoughts discussed at Fire 2020 in his article published on the FPA website 12/11/2020 (external link)

Know Your Building Campaign (external link)

Don’t Just Specify, Verify Third Party Certification Campaign

Become Third Party Certificated to a BAFE Scheme