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Is your contractor compliant – and are you?

11 April 2018

Would you allow your dentist to perform open heart surgery on you just because they’re a medical professional and have lots of certificates on the wall? That’s the question BAFE chief executive Stephen Adams put to delegates attending his session on contractor competence in the Fire Safety Keynote Theatre at the Fire Safety Event this morning (11 April).

Since the Grenfell disaster, the spotlight has been well and truly focused on how competent responsible persons and duty-holders are, said Stephen. “Contractors must be trained and certificated to ensure a quality and safe service. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that every commercial building in the UK must have a responsible person/duty-holder to ensure a competent person is implementing fire safety measures.”

He went on to quote the BSI’s definition of competence, which describes it as the “distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organisations they represent”. Under the RRFSO, the responsible person must:

  • Carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly
  • Tell staff about any risks identified
  • Put in place and maintain appropriate fire safety measures
  • Plan for an emergency
  • Provide staff with information, fire safety instruction and training

“It all starts with the fire risk assessment,” Stephen emphasised. “Is the person doing it competent? Remember, different competencies will be required to risk-assess different premises. And the people doing it need to know and declare what they are and are not competent to do. General competence covers all aspects – passive, active, means of escape, etc. Specific competence is to do with particular buildings and premises. And competence must be ongoing, as all buildings and use thereof change all the time.”

The first report from the ongoing Hackitt review into the Grenfell disaster, published before Christmas, spoke about the need to raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation of those engaged in the fire-prevention aspects of the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of high-rise residential and complex buildings.

Said Stephen: “Grenfell happened because of a failure all the way through – what Dame Judith Hackitt has called ‘the golden thread of competence’ has been broken so many times it ended up in this terrible fire.”

He then went on to discuss third-party certification, which, according to Stephen, “provides the fullest possible assurances regarding quality, safety and reliability”. In the real world, he explained, you need competence for the following reasons:

  • Increasing demand from major customers in both the public and private sector
  • Insurers and the HSE are increasingly looking at competence “after the event” to ensure all reasonable risks were assessed
  • The Fire & Rescue Services are taking legal action in more and more cases against responsible persons and fire risk assessors, with significant fines and jail terms now common
  • There must be no more disasters like Rosepark, Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower

But the challenge in terms of third-party certification is how to assess it across the board – Dame Judith Hackitt’s “golden thread”. Stephen explained: “Bafe is a register of competent companies, and some individuals, principally the field of active fire protection. It introduced a fire risk assessment scheme after Lakanal House but five years on, only 62 companies have been registered to it. That’s pathetic! Why are end-users not more demanding with regarding to being sure the contractors they are using are competent?”

Stephen wound up his presentation by urging the delegates always to source competent suppliers and providers, and to start by searching for them on the BAFE registers, which states clearly what services they are certified to provide.