The newly established Awarding Body arrives at the perfect time to support recommendations made in both the report led by Dame Judith Hackitt and the subsequent ‘Setting the Bar’ document recently published. These qualifications will be pertinent to all individuals who work with fire safety, from building safety managers to installers/maintainers.
Individual regulated qualifications related to fire safety have been a major topic of debate for some time, only to be heightened following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. Following this, the report led by Dame Judith Hackitt, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety noted: ‘The lack of a coherent approach to competence levels and experience required – or professional qualifications where these may be necessary – and how these qualifications and experience should be evidenced so that they are clearly understood by all those operating within the system.’
Recommendations in the report encouraged that: ‘professional and accreditation bodies working within the construction and fire safety sectors should continue the work [of] …
- … its role in receiving, agreeing and monitoring the individual competence frameworks for those bodies, professions and disciplines in scope for individuals within their membership or on their register …
- its role in agreeing and monitoring accreditation and reaccreditation, and the period within which the competence of individuals should be reassessed and reaccredited;
- its role in establishing a method for demonstrating or proving competence …’
This has been discussed further within the recent ‘Setting the Bar: A new competence regime for building a safer future’ report published by the Competence Steering Group (CSG) in October (05/10/2020). The report stated: ‘further developing proposals for competence assessment the CSG has agreed a principles-based approach in determining the extent that third party assessment of individuals should be required of persons working on higher-risk buildings in the future.’ It continues by outlining: ‘There is absolute agreement that everyone working on in-scope buildings must work within a system of competence assessment and management to ensure they are competent to deliver safe outcomes.’
Whilst the main focus of this lies within higher-risk buildings, FireQual foresee these competency requirements to extend further out into the built environment over future years. Any individual who holds fire-safety qualifications and has fire-safety responsibilities as part of their position should be required to firstly achieve suitably rigorous qualifications proving competency and also take on appropriate forms of refresher training including approved CPD where necessary to demonstrate their capability remains relevant. Further assessments and examinations should also be undertaken to represent an understanding of major changes in any associated standards.
The ‘Setting the Bar’ report recommends that CPD should be mandated: ‘Levels of competence should be maintained and subject to continuing professional development. Common principles of CPD should be established for each sector, which the building safety competence committee should use to hold sectors to account.’
FireQual would like to see a far stronger emphasis on checking these qualifications (and appropriate CPD refresher/ongoing training) for individuals with life-safety responsibilities. These checks should be performed prior to any work being performed, to demonstrate due diligence of the employer. If the individual is from an external organisation, this individual qualification will strongly complement their organisation’s Third Party Certification to demonstrate organisational competency for a specific service.
The importance of independence
FireQual was established following BAFE’s acquisition of the Fire Industry Association’s Awarding Organisation (FIA AO) in August 2020. This acquisition is important for the industry as it creates a fully independent Awarding Body that will be developing the qualifications needed within the fire sector. It aims to provide qualifications for individuals that will be regulated by the qualification regulators across the four nations that make up the UK. FireQual will also support the call for greater availability of the verification of skills for those engaged in fire safety across the UK. Owned by BAFE, the independent register of quality fire-safety service providers, FireQual adopts BAFE’s attitude on evidential organisational competency and will adapt this to suit qualification of individuals.
Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, commented: ‘There are natural synergies that will occur along with the BAFE ethos of Third Party Certification of companies delivered through licensed UKAS Accredited Certification Bodies. We believe that the introduction of accredited qualifications will only enhance the BAFE company Schemes. These are not to be thought of as one or the other however, BAFE will continue to monitor company assurance of specific service competency which holds important value. FireQual will develop qualifications for individual expertise across a broad range of services, whether there is a relevant BAFE scheme or a candidate works for a BAFE Registered Company or not.’
FireQual will operate as a separate wholly owned subsidiary of BAFE, with its own Board of Directors. The FireQual Board currently is made up of Chairman Lewis Ramsay – former Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Scottish Fire & Rescue, Pauline Traetto – previous Executive Director of BRE Academy, Douglas Barnett – Chairman of BAFE, Stephen Adams – Chief Executive, and I have joined as Qualifications Manager, with wide senior level experience in Awarding Bodies and the education sector.
This independence allows FireQual to work in partnership with multiple training organisations opening the potential for individuals throughout the UK to gain a FireQual qualification. To further this independence, FireQual will only provide assessment, examination and certification services and not training which will be provided through a network of authorised training Centres. This separation is important as it will eliminate any conflict between the maintaining of standards and impartiality by FireQual and the training aspects provided by the network.
Reliability and consistency
The key importance of establishing regulated fire and safety qualifications for individuals is reliability and consistency. If an individual achieves a qualification, it doesn’t matter where they are locally, regionally or nationally, they all must meet the same requirements. It helps to provide confidence in the knowledge and skills that person claims to have. It isn’t something they say they can do; they’ve had to prove it and prove it to a recognised standard.
Industry and employers, both large and small, must be confident in the knowledge and skills of those individuals that work for them and the wider society can have confidence in those that provide services to them. There will be a sense of real achievement to those that achieve FireQual qualifications, that they have worked hard to develop themselves and this is a way of recognising those achievements. This also applies to regulators moving forward, establishing a clear and consistent method of determining quality evidence of an individual’s ability for specific fire and safety work. By choosing one of the regulated qualifications soon to be available through FireQual, individuals are guaranteeing their qualification holds both meaning and recognition as it is recognised by a government regulator. This is important both within the UK and overseas as many organisations and countries hold the UK education system in high regard.
It is now FireQual’s responsibility to develop high-quality and trusted qualifications. This will be performed by listening to and collaborating with the industry, which will significantly help facilitate the development of qualifications to meet their needs and those of wider society.
For more information, go to www.firequal.com