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Remote Auditing: Embracing New Technology

26 May 2020

IN LIGHT of the lockdown restrictions introduced by the Government in a bid to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) decided to continue offering certification services by dint of embracing new technology and migrating to remote auditing. With the new process having been in place for the last two months, Fire Safety Matters reviews what has happened to date.

The SSAIB recently conducted a remote audit for Southern Fire Alarms Ltd. The West Sussex-based company – itself registered with the SSAIB to install fire alarms since April 2008 – was due to have its annual BAFE SP203-1 check on Wednesday 22 April, but saw this arrangement changed to a remote audit when it was no longer possible for designed auditor Stephen Jenkins to conduct a site visit in person on that date.

Despite some initial apprehension about this new way of doing things, and after initially wanting to postpone the audit altogether following lockdown, Heather Martin (operations manager at Southern Fire Alarms Ltd) has expressed a good deal of satisfaction that the audit process could go ahead after all.

Martin informed Fire Safety Matters: “I was very apprehensive beforehand and thought it would be easier to just extend the date for six months as an audit was the last thing we wanted to be doing given the other business changes we were necessarily having to implement. However, in hindsight I’m so glad we have gone through the process. With the audit having been completed, this means that we can carry on for another 12 months. We’re not going to be scrambling with everyone else to book an audit in six months’ time. I’m sure there would be much more of a backlog had the SSAIB not switched to a remote auditing procedure.”

Referencing the audit process itself, Martin commented: “The system that the SSAIB has put in place was easy to navigate, while the guidance document was perfectly clear in relation to the evidence that required uploading. On the day of the audit itself, Stephen called promptly to explain how he would work through the documents. He then called again the following day to summarise his findings. The actual remote audit was less time-consuming than normal to be honest. I had already uploaded everything that we needed to beforehand. I actually gained quite a lot of the time that would have otherwise have been spent on a normal audit.”

Significant changes

Taking part in a remote auditing procedure isn’t the only change that Southern Fire Alarms Ltd – which has recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary – has had to make due to the battle against COVID-19.

“We’ve had to make quite significant changes to deal with the pandemic,” outlined Martin. “Unfortunately, we have had to furlough some of our engineers and maintain a skeleton staff in the office. Due to the social distancing, everything in the workplace has had to be kept to a minimum. On that basis, we have staff working from home as well.”

Martin continued: “In some respects, we’re very lucky that we have a low staff turnover. We have a loyal core of key personnel that have been able to carry on and ensure everything runs as smoothly as it can during this time. Without the commitment of those key staff members, we simply would not be able to navigate this pandemic. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re working together. It’s about striking a balance between safety for all of our staff and ensuring the survival of the company.”

The business is still carrying out system servicing and critical works. “We’re just having to adapt, day-to-day and customer-by-customer, in assessing a given situation and then deciding whether or not we can go in and carry out works.”

Third party certification

Particularly given the impact that COVID-19 has exerted on the Bognor Regis-based installation company – which, back in October 2017, also added Security Systems to its SSAIB-centric certification – Martin insisted that Southern Fire Alarms Ltd’s certification with the organisation remains of the upmost importance.

Martin told Fire Safety Matters: “I think it’s really important to ensure that we continue our certification with the SSAIB. There is going to be an end to this pandemic at some point and that will realise a good deal of work, some of which will be tendered. If we don’t have the certification in place when that end date arrives then we’ll miss out. It really is as simple as that. I also think it’s important for the industry as a whole that we have accreditation and that standards are maintained. This is especially true in the current climate.”

Adding an important caveat, Martin commented: “Of course, other companies might not be in the fortunate situation we are when it comes to being able to continue with their certification at this time. However, I would say those businesses who, like ourselves, are able to carry on will reap the rewards of doing so when everything starts to pick up again.”

Overall impact

The whole world is waiting to see how long this pandemic will last. What is going to be the overall effect it will have on us all? In what ways will our everyday lives be changed? What about the lasting effects on the various economies around the globe?

When asked about the first thing she would do after all of the restrictions have been lifted, Martin – who has worked in the fire industry for over two decades now – revealed that her own post-lockdown plans will involve looking to go on holiday. “Ideally somewhere with sunshine. I’m a planner and always have things arranged months in advance. Nothing is going ahead at the moment so everything is being added to the diary. That seems to be a never-ending process at present.”

Martin concluded: “Of course, it will also be great to see friends and family again and I’m especially looking forward to being able to give people a hug. My mother and father will be at the front of the queue.”

*For more information on the SSAIB’s remote auditing procedures (or to find out for which schemes the organisation is able to provide certification at present by dint of using this method) visit www.ssaib.org or telephone 0191-296 3242