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Preventing major fires - it’s all about you

09 October 2018

WHEN IT comes to preventing major fires, the technology and equipment are all well and good but really, it starts with the responsible person.

“Culture is key,” FirePro MD Tony Hanley told delegates in a packed Fire Safety Keynote Theatre at Fire Safety North earlier today. “It’s about how you educate staff, visitors and contractors, and how you manage and train people so they know as much as you do about the risks. Unless that culture exists, it’s a downhill slope. And there has to be a budget allocated to creating that culture and, most importantly, to ingraining it.”

Culture is particularly important in terms of managing contractors, Tony continued. “Post-Grenfell, competence is high on everyone’s agenda, and the key thing is how to prove it. In this case, culture is about you making sure the guy turning up at your premises with a drill doesn’t breach the compartmentation. You need a system whereby you know exactly what he’s doing, where he’s doing it, how he’s doing it and with what products or equipment.”

A big problem in the fire industry, however, is the lack of a scheme like the Gas Safe Register. Said Tony: “Anyone can become a fire-alarm engineer. We don’t have any form of engineering-specific competence qualification. When someone arrives at your premises to do some work, it’s up to you to contact their employer and, for example, ask to see their CV so you can make sure they are competent to carry out the specific task they are there to complete.”

As for why there is no such scheme or legislation, Tony laid the blame at the feet of government, saying every time it changes, there is a new fire minister, so there’s no continuity. “That means we have kept taking steps back and the upshot of that was Grenfell.”

But there is some good news. The Fire Industry Association (FIA) is now classed as an awarding organisation and it has developed a qualification for fire safety engineers that is equivalent to A-level standard and, according to Tony, is “not easy to pass”. He said: “It is a modular approach for an engineer to follow a career path. It will bridge a gap in terms of specifiers knowing who is doing what work and what their competence level is.”

Modules include health and safety management, as well as fire detection and alarm-system design, installation and maintenance.

Tony acknowledged that fire systems techology has moved on immensely but again, the key thing is to find a competent fire detection and alarm service provider to engineer the right system for your premises – “not just something that is compliant” – at not too high a cost, which will add value to your operation. “The technology is only as good as those installing and maintaining it,” he concluded.

For information on the FIA qualification, visit www.fia.uk.com