Over the coming months we will see the much-anticipated new building-safety regime become law as the Building Safety Bill receives royal assent. A major change of this kind to the current regime will require appropriate understanding and implementation of safety from the design stage, right through procurement and construction, and thereafter for the lifetime of the building – a golden thread with an underpinning building fire safety strategy.
The success of this endeavour is, however, highly dependent upon competence that runs throughout every area touched upon by the legislation and the duties imposed, as with the legal requirements for Principal Designers and Principal Contractors, who are supported by everyone carrying out work, whether design, specification, procurement, installation, building work or assessments.
The government’s amendment to the Bill, withdrawing the designated person known as the Building Safety Manager, but not their building safety duties, highlights again how all involved must be personally competent. Those who appoint contractors and the wider workforce really do have to take reasonable steps to ensure the people they hire can meet the basic requirement of being competent in all they are expected to do. Employing competent people is indeed the best way of ensuring we have safe buildings.
The building’s overseer in higher-risk buildings is the Accountable Person, who will have legal requirements for ensuring that the fire and structural safety of their building is properly managed. Given the original inclusion of a legal requirement to appoint a Building Safety Manager has been scrapped, as the government puts it, to ingrain flexibility into the regime, the Accountable Person is very much front and centre with no hiding place from their personal responsibilities.
The Fire Sector Federation has generally welcomed this new legislation. It has also noted there are some areas of missed opportunity, particularly in delivering a more robust approach to competence in the sector. So, while the principles of professional competence and accountability clearly run through the legislation, there is no offer of any further explanation or legal definition of just how you quantify and qualify competence.
The Federation has long argued that third-party assurance offers a way forward. Engrained throughout industry in general, third-party certification schemes are readily available and prevalent in many trades, including fire-sector installers and suppliers of fire-protection products and services – they are commonplace.
Stressing the value of third-party accreditation and professional-body membership to define and practically demonstrate competence therefore remains a long-standing Federation policy. From fire-risk assessors operating on higher risks to those engaged in active and passive fire protection, there are a range of accreditation and certification schemes covering both compliance to recognised standards and attested competency in delivery.
The new legislation, by not mandating or proposing use of such schemes where appropriate, leaves the Accountable Person to make that judgement call. This is not stated simply to say all depends on the Building Safety Bill, far from it. As industry has already shown it is continuously investing, revitalising and expanding development of required competencies. The fire-safety sector is clearly part of this activity, working hard to take forward requirements within the fire sector.
The caution is that without regulation those companies that have sought to demonstrate competence, incurring additional training and assessment costs in doing so, risk not being seen as sounder quality and responsible organisations but as having a disadvantage of facing an open competitive market in which they must recover the higher overheads of their investment in people.
Fire Sector Federation member organisations remain at the forefront of the drive for competency. Working collaboratively across the sector with a technically well-informed group of professionals the sector’s aim remains to develop guidance that will stand scrutiny and add value, to support those accountable and responsible for fire safety in the built environment.
Exemplifying this work, the Federation website hosts publicly accessible guidance on fire-risk assessment including a national listing of third-party assured fire-risk assessors collated from information provided by appropriate professional or certifying bodies. Free guidance such as ‘A Guide to Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor’ and ‘Advice for Fire Safety Managers’ sit alongside an ‘Approved Code of Practice for Fire Risk Assessors Competency’ and a ‘Safe Escape Checklist’. Illustrating the ongoing commitment is a new industry benchmark ‘Standard for Fire Risk Assessors’. Aimed to go beyond higher-fire-risk buildings, to engage practising fire-risk assessors who are not currently third-party assured, the standard offers encouragement to join the sector, so as to check and raise their overall competency performance standard.
Plenty of challenges perhaps but witness to a fire sector not waiting or resting on the Building Safety Bill.
The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) seeks to give voice to and exert influence in shaping future policy and strategy related to the UK Fire Sector. The Federation is a not-for-profit non-government organisation established to act as a forum for the benefit of its membership and to evolve as a central source of information on all aspects relating to fire.
For more information, go to www.firesectorfederation.co.uk