Home>Fire>Risk Assessment>Contractor competence

Contractor competence

25 July 2018

Stephen Adams comments on the recent report released post Grenfell and how checking contractor competence should be seen as a simple, but important step to help reduce risk within a building.

WITH THE final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety being released, an even stronger focus of responsibility will be aimed at the appointed responsible person/duty holder of buildings. This will be focused on high rise buildings over 10 stories although there is a strong feeling that this must be extended to a much wider range of complex buildings, especially where there is life risk.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s report discussed the term “so far as is reasonably practicable” (SFAIRP) as a regulatory exercise for duty holders “to exercise their judgement with making the safety case to the regulator”. The report continues to state: “The presumption is always on the dutyholder to manage safety and reduce the risk. This can be challenging as it requires the exercise of reasonable judgement by both the dutyholder and regulator.”

Responsible people/duty holders must reduce risk, especially regarding fire safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. This however is nothing new, with legislation such as the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) being in effect since 2005. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) clearly explain the basics of fire safety legislation for the public: “Employers (and/or building owners or occupiers) must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and keep it up to date. This shares the same approach as health and safety risk assessments and can be carried out either as part of an overall risk assessment or as a separate exercise. Based on the findings of the assessment, employers need to ensure that adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place to minimise the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire.”

With this, BAFE strongly believe that checking that chosen contractors or providers are third party certificated is a reasonably practicable action to ensure adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place.

Competent people

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety report failed to take the opportunity to endorse the value of third party certificated competence for service providers at this stage. However, there was a stated requirement for proposals from the construction and fire industries within one year, for a body to oversee the ‘delivery of competent people’.

“The professional and accreditation bodies working within the construction and fire safety sectors should continue the work started in response to the interim report and present a coherent proposal to government within one year. As a minimum, this proposal should cover the role and remit of an overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements and support the delivery of competent people working on HRRBs.” ¹

This ‘delivery of competent people’ has been present within the fire industry via multiple avenues for some time now. In the absence of any mandatory requirements to demonstrate competency, BAFE strongly believes that third party certification, for both companies and individuals, is the best measure of this. It is understandable yet frustrating why this is not a mandatory requirement at this time due to so many registers and bodies offering certification audits for numerous services across the UK. The go to example for why this is the case is when NAPIT applied to the HSE to operate a rival gas registration scheme parallel with CORGI (Gas Safe Register) that was rejected to avoid confusion.

There is also a strong case, especially for the majority of fire trades, that the company within which a technician works has to be certificated and audited to ensure that they have the correct Quality Management Systems (such as ISO9001:2015), adequate insurance and provides ongoing, appropriate training for their staff. We do acknowledge the fire industry can appear confusing with its multiple areas of focus and this sole delivery of competent people’ is a huge challenge to provide a clear service for the public. We are committed to working with the fire industry and the wider Construction Industry to develop and deliver this.

The government has however endorsed third party certification in their guidance documents which encourage the use of these providers as they will have demonstrated their competency to fulfil the required task. “Third party certification schemes for fire protection products and related services are an effective means of providing the fullest possible assurances, offering a level of quality, reliability and safety that non-certificated products may lack. This does not mean goods and services that are not third party approved are less reliable, but there is no obvious way in which this can be demonstrated.

“Third party quality assurance can offer comfort, both as a means of satisfying you that goods and services you have purchased are fit for purpose, and as a means of demonstrating that you have complied with the law.”²

 Bigger picture

While government guidance documents clearly state third party certification is the obvious way a service provider can demonstrate a safe and reliable assurance of competency, a larger discussion must be had within the industry. This discussion is to have a universal agreement on what should be the measure of competence and therefore how to offer the delivery of competent people for the public. A combined register will essentially be an exercise in filtering the accepted levels of competency from the rest of the industry and this is no small feat.

The fire industry has attempted to provide a clearer service for the public before, with differing opinions on what levels of certification or membership to a particular body constitutes evidence of competency. It is no secret that BAFE asks a lot of our registered companies in order to gain their third party certification, which we believe is the best assurance of competency for particular services. This is alongside other certification schemes on the same level such as BRE (LPCB), Warrington Certification, IFC and other UKAS accredited certification bodies.

The question that follows is what else might be acceptable? Do you include fire engineers registered via the Engineering Council? Previous fire safety training by former firefighters entering the industry? Do you introduce two tiers of competency to allow other bodies that are not UKAS accredited to enter the sole register and therefore increase options for the public? It is complicated, there are pros and cons for most arguments but the core focus is competency and this must not be compromised to the point that this sole delivery becomes unfitting for the purpose it was set up for.

This will also factor in works performed earlier in the process. The Construction Industry Council’s (CIC) Steering Group on Competencies for Building a Safer Future identified “a lack of appropriate skills, knowledge and experience of those engaged at every stage of the life cycle of higher risk residential buildings as a major flaw in the current regulatory system.  It also calls for a formal process for assuring these competences.”³

BAFE will be represented on the Independent Competency Review Installer group (WG2) and will be providing Secretariat services to the Fire Risk Assessment group (WG4). Each working group has been tasked with defining certain criteria including “the method for demonstrating or proving competence”. This is where our strong argument for third party certification will come into play.

Potential risk

There is risk to the industry that years of hard work and determination to help improve levels of competency for fire safety services could be compromised by a newly formed mandated body without specific expertise in the fire sector. If government does not consider that the proposed approach provides the necessary assurance to the JCA (Joint Competent Authority), or there is evidence that the fragmented approach to the oversight of competence will continue, then government should mandate a body to establish the competence levels required and oversee its implementation.4

The industry must respond in a genuinely positive light to ensure that we are heard and reasonable conclusions are made to offer “reasonably practicable” methods of determining competency and sourcing these providers. There are already efforts at this for specific skills such as fire risk assessors where the IFSM (The Institute of Fire Safety Managers) has established The Nationally Accredited Fire Risk Assessors Register (NAFRAR). This accepts two UKAS accredited third party certification routes as entry criteria. These are the Warrington Certification Fire Risk Assessors Certification Scheme (FRACS) and the BAFE Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment (SP205) scheme. 

This entry criteria could be developed but as previously discussed, the focus here is competency and must not be compromised to the point that this register becomes unfit for its intended purpose. This is also for one service only, combining the full spectrum of fire related safety services both passive and active is a monumental task.

We have faith the industry can develop a robust approach to the JCA to eliminate any excuse of dutyholders and responsible people for not using “reasonably practicable” methods of determining competency when sourcing providers. It will be a challenging year, but optimistically establish a huge shift in social behaviour for the betterment of fire safety in the UK for everyone.

Stephen Adams is chief executive at BAFE. For more information, visit www.bafe.org.uk


¹ Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Recommendation 5.2: a.)

² Fire safety risk assessment: residential care premises (Section 8 Quality assurance of fire protection equipment and installation)

³ CIC Press Release: Independent Steering Group to take forward Dame Judith Hackitt’s collective recommendations on competence

4 Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Recommendation 5.2: c.)