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Industry seeks to plug “worrying” fire damper skills gap

31 October 2022

THE BUILDING Engineering Services Association (BESA) is spearheading an urgent exercise to develop occupational standards that will underpin the technical qualifications needed to increase the number of workers able to install, maintain and repair fire dampers and smoke control dampers.

These critical fire safety products are at the very heart of efforts designed to improve building safety and the shortage of skilled workers has been flagged as a “worrying issue” by the industry.

BESA itself is part of Building Services Engineering (BSE) Skills, the not-for-profit body charged with managing and developing qualifications and apprenticeships for the sector and which is currently working on the new National Occupational Standards (NOS) for dampers.

BSE Skills represents 43,000 businesses and circa 342,000 operatives across the UK sector and has produced a provisional suite of technical NOS to help employers deliver the necessary instruction on fire damper and smoke control damper installation, commissioning, testing and repair.

The organisation is now running a public consultation to gather feedback on the suitability of the new standards from anyone involved in this hugely important area of building engineering.

The draft NOS were developed by a team of UK industry experts – among them employers, representatives of Trade Associations, Trade Unions and other stakeholders – in a bid to capture the relevant technical competences. Anyone involved with this type of work is now encouraged to respond to the consultation and help to ensure the new standards meet the requirements of the industry and its clients.

Updated guidance

For its part, BESA is also updating its industry guidance for the ‘Installation of Fire Dampers and Smoke Dampers’ (DW145). This follows on from the organisation’s warning issued earlier this year that annual maintenance inspections were uncovering a significant number of incorrectly installed dampers that did not comply with manufacturers’ instructions. To this end, BESA has called for remedial action “without delay”.

The guidance covers statutory requirements for the installation, testing and maintenance of fire dampers and smoke control dampers including clients’ legal obligations to ensure their fire safety systems comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for England and Wales and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006.

It also explains the crucial role played by the penetration seal in ensuring the overall fire stopping integrity of an installation, the importance of maintenance teams being able to find and access dampers for testing and repair and the need for designers and installers to seek expert advice from damper manufacturers.

“While this is clearly a very worrying situation,” said BESA’s technical director Graeme Fox, “we can take some reassurance from the fact that this problem is being brought to our attention by the increasing frequency of fire damper inspections and tests as awareness grows of this extremely important issue.”

Fox added: “It reinforces the need for a suitably trained and qualified workforce, which is why the work being carried out by BSE Skills to develop occupational standards is both welcome and timely. I would urge anyone with an interest in this market to respond to the consultation such that we can ensure the right technical competencies are in place to improve standards right across the industry.”

*Click here to respond to the consultation via the BSE Skills website. Responses must be submitted on or before Friday 18 November