We’re looking at a “new world order” in fire safety

Tuesday 29th October 2019
News 29/10/19
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At the UK Construction Week event earlier this month, Howard Passey - Principal Consultant of the Fire Protection Association discussed the impending evolution of premises fire safety management.

Mr. Passey stated that we’re looking at a “new world order”, noting multiple changes recommended in Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell Review that will dramatically alter the landscape of premises management which “some of us won’t recognise”.

One of these changes he notes is that “duty holders should ensure that any recommendations outlined in the fire risk assessment are undertaken and completed in a timely manner.” He adds to this, as a person involved in fire risk assessment “what a refreshing change that would be, as I’m sure some of us have gone back to the same premises on a regular basis only to find that the recommendations just haven’t been followed up on.” Mr. Passey also comments alongside this the requirement to remove technical jargon to ensure information is provided that people can clearly and more reliably understand and implement”.

Accountability and competency was a focus of the seminar, referencing Dame Judith Hackitt’s identification of key roles for every step of the process as “an approach in which we would be able to bring a better level of control to the work that is being undertaken in designing, constructing and managing buildings once they are occupied.” Mr. Passey continued discussing Hackitt’s observations and that the important factor here is the requirement for competency for all stages of the process. Mr. Passey adds to this the prescribed “golden thread” of information aims to reliably provide valuable information for the building manager to use and share with appointed competent people, such as a fire risk assessor, that will be employed to help meet their obligations.

Mr. Passey notes that the current wording in the fire safety legislation provides a “very weak definition of competence”. The FPA alone have “trained in the region of 1000 delegates in fire risk assessment in the last 12 months”. Sensibly, he adds that “[the FPA] haven’t made them ‘competent’, we’ve just given them the training in what they need [to know].” The main Fire Risk Assessor registers, including BAFE (with BAFE SP205 - the largest UKAS Accredited Third Party Certified fire risk assessment scheme), fall very short in comparison to these FPA training numbers. He states with this “there are very few individuals who are recognised as competent by a third party [certification] body to undertake fire risk assessments.”

Mr. Passey states "as a competent fire risk assessor I recognise my limitations [and know where I cannot provide appropriate assessments and must turn down work]. We might also need to think beyond the high rise residential [buildings], where we have the most vulnerable occupants and think about having specific streams of competency criteria for risk assessors who work in different types of environment.” – BAFE will react accordingly to update the SP205 Life Safety Fire Risk Assessor scheme as appropriate. However, part of the existing scheme document criteria clearly stipulates self-evaluation of the assessor’s limitations:

“Competent persons shall have sufficient knowledge, experience and skills needed to meet the requirements of the tasks related to the Scheme. Competent persons shall have an awareness of their own limitations.” - BAFE SP205 Scheme Document V5 (Clause 4.6)

This overview scratches the surface of what was discussed during this seminar, but Howard Passey is right – “the future will be complex” and major changes are on the horizon, especially to the construction industry, but also to ongoing management of buildings to ensure their fire safety is appropriate. BAFE also appreciate the FPA’s ongoing support of UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification to demonstrate competency.

After Mr. Passey’s seminar, Frazer Wisniewski – Marketing Manager of BAFE, questioned “what do you consider in your opinion defines the ‘timely manner’ after a fire a risk assessment has been performed to implement the actions that have been recommended?”

Mr. Passey answered “It’s very difficult to answer, because it is a sort of ‘piece of string’ question. It will depend on the nature of the risk and the problem that needs addressing. And of course that has to be balanced with the organisation and what they’re actually able to achieve. The role of the risk assessor should be to support the responsible persons in implementing effective controls and remedial actions, where if the most obvious solution is not immediately practicable - to look at other alternatives to ensure the safety of the buildings occupants by doing things slightly differently. That’s where we need to be.”

If you have any concerns over the fire safety of a building, BAFE strongly recommend you report this to your local Fire and Rescue Service as the enforcement body to investigate and uphold fire safety legislation.

Stephen Adams, Chief Executive - BAFE, commented: “whilst the key focus of any fire risk assessment is life safety, it must be remembered that in the event of fire, emergency services are going into these buildings once evacuated to control and extinguish this. A quality method of record keeping in an understandable manner that Dame Judith Hackitt recommends and Howard discussed will aid all phases of a building’s life-cycle and therefore a more robust assessment of any risk from fire. This cannot just apply to complex and new buildings however, with the existing built environment requiring the same levels of scrutiny to mitigate risk and ensure a safe building to be in for any person.”