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BAFE demands greater Government guidance on competence in relation to essential life safety work
10 December 2020
BAFE HAS issued a fulsome response to the Government’s consultation (which ran from 20 July-12 October) seeking views on proposals to embolden the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, implement Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations and strengthen the regulatory framework for how building control bodies consult with Fire and Rescue Authorities.
In the organisation’s response, Stephen Adams (CEO at BAFE, pictured right) has disagreed with the assertion that “Article 50 is a sufficient basis for providing guidance to Responsible Persons to support their compliance with their duties under the Fire Safety Order”. BAFE strongly agrees with the view that a strengthened legal basis for guidance under the Fire Safety Order, such as a Code of Practice, is needed.
The organisation is also of the very firm opinion that an approved Code of Practice should be applicable for multiple areas and individuals including Responsible Persons, while also encompassing areas such as enforcement and sanctions, fire risk assessments (more of which anon), the provision of information and the competence of providers.
According to Adams, these areas should be covered by a Code of Practice to ensure “that all providers of fire protection services and related built environment services are competent to provide them, both as organisations and as individuals. This competence should be third party certificated by UKAS [for organisations] and Ofqual or equivalents [for individuals].”
Further, Adams agrees that Responsible Persons should be required “to record who they are and outline the extent of their responsibility under the Fire Safety Order” while “their contact information will facilitate the identification of Responsible Persons”. He added: “Responsible Persons need a clearer detail of their responsibilities and guidance as to how those responsibilities can best be discharged. Guidance on what’s required and what can constitute a defence in law if a building failure occurs is also needed.”
Fire risk assessments
BAFE has long been an advocate of the overriding need for strong regulation of fire risk assessment providers. On that point, Adams stated: “The Fire Safety Order should include a competency requirement for fire risk assessors and other fire professionals engaged by Responsible Persons” and also that: “The specific representative from the fire risk assessment provider should be clearly documented within the completed fire risk assessment.”
BAFE has noted that fire risk assessments should require:
*evidence of competency of the fire risk assessor, including experience and qualifications
*third party certification of the organisation (including sole providers) to demonstrate that they have adequate management systems, Quality Assurance, insurance and compliance processes in place
*any consultation or guidance received from external bodies and manufacturers to be part of the assessment process
Following on from this, BAFE also strongly agrees that “a duty should be placed on all Responsible Persons to record their completed fire risk assessments”. While onerous, this is a vital life safety action for all commercial/non-domestic buildings to which the Fire and Rescue Service (as the prosecuting body for the Fire Safety Order) should always have access. BAFE advises that fire risk assessments are commonly misunderstood as being an action that establishes a safe building.
Ultimately, a fire risk assessment is a report of the adequacy of a building’s fire safety at the exact time when it was carried out. This simple statement is not meant to undermine the significant importance of any such assessment, but also means that an assessment doesn’t immediately make a building safe from fire risk. There may be actions required by the building owner/manager to mitigate any identified risk.
On that basis, Adams also said: “All Responsible Persons should be required to record their fire safety arrangements” in order to acknowledge that suitable recommendations from the assessment have been followed so as to mitigate any risk highlighted.”
Further on in BAFE’s response to the consultation, Adams adds: “There are insufficient powers for the fire risk assessors to ensure that Responsible Persons and all building occupiers comply with requirements. Fire risk assessors don’t consistently have the skills and knowledge to carry out the range of inspections required.” This is an area where BAFE feels strongly that Government intervention is required, stipulating competency requirements instead of putting a complete onus on the Responsible Person to nominate competent persons. This opens up the process back into cost-cutting. The inevitable outcome of money-saving exercises can cause unnecessary risk to life and property protection.
Adams disagrees that Level 3 (ie £1,000) or Level 4 (£2,500) fines would provide a suitable deterrent. What has been agreed is a Level 5 unlimited fine. Adams observed: “If there are suitable guidelines and instructions about what needs to be carried out, which currently do not exist, then fines must be commensurate with the failure to act accordingly.”
This statement coincides fully with BAFE’s own request for greater supporting guidance on the role of the Responsible Person which can be used to clarify if legislation has been adhered to or not. This would be something akin to Health and Safety Executive guidance and Health and Safety-focused legislation.
Levels of competence
Within BAFE’s response to the consultation, Adams champions the need for levels of competence. The Fire Safety Order refers to the requirement of suitable maintenance and guidance issued by the Home Office and indicates that there’s a benefit to be had from using third party certificated providers for this purpose. He notes: “Unless all fire safety equipment, including emergency lighting and evacuation equipment, is properly and regularly maintained and updated, and especially so where there are refurbishment works in progress, any legislation about new construction is worthless.”
At the end of BAFE’s response, Adams concludes that the impact of implementing third party certificated competence “will be hugely beneficial to all fire protection and related construction work. When implemented, the proposals will provide a framework that protects lives and property.”
BAFE – and, indeed, the UKAS-accredited competency sector in its entirety – demands greater Government-issued guidance on who’s considered competent to provide essential life safety work. This must be at the same level as Health and Safety Executive guidance, which can then be used to lawfully judge who was at fault for any safety breaches under the Fire Safety Order and also included in any statutory defence.
With many buildings not having a dedicated fire safety officer, these responsibilities are just a part of another staff member’s/owner’s duties. Clearer guidance must be issued for quick reference to ensure that individuals remain compliant with the law. Stipulating what’s required to determine competency can assist in the sourcing of quality providers and also assist the latter when it comes to meeting their fire safety responsibilities around due diligence.
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