The Fire Sector Federation’s recently published Approved Code of Practice for Fire Risk Assessors Competency will play a key role in public reassurance of fire safety in high risk buildings across the UK.
The code puts third party accreditation and professional body membership at the heart of a national framework for risk assessor competency. It defines the competency criteria for those fire risk assessors who are undertaking work in high fire risk buildings to satisfy the legal requirements and performance standards identified to ensure fire safety of those buildings.
The framework gives the fire industry a clear blueprint of how to meet their obligations to achieve the necessary levels of competence in fire risk assessment and addresses the inadequacies in the system as highlighted in the Hackitt report following the Grenfell Tower Fire.
The Fire Sector Federation brought together a working group of fire risk assessors to address the implications of competence identified in the Building a Safer Future report. The fire risk assessors group was chaired by the Federation as one of several established by the Competency Steering Group (CSG), whose Setting the Bar report was published last month. The approved code of practice plays a major part in the implementation of the group’s work.
The public needs to have confidence that those responsible for ensuring that buildings in the UK are fire safe have, as individuals, the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to do so and that they are being independently verified on an ongoing basis.
Third party accreditation is essential for fire risk assessors and no more so than for those working on high risk buildings. The code acknowledges that improving the competence of fire risk assessors can be better assured if there is oversight of the organisation offering, through a company or scheme, individual fire risk assessor certification or assessment. Providing accreditation or validation in the UK would be either through UKAS, the national accreditation body, or through a professional engineering institution, one which is licensed by the UK Engineering Council (EngC).
The code sets out the areas of core competence required to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour necessary to conduct fire risk assessments, with relevant ranges of evidence for each area. It’s also important that assessors’ sector specific knowledge is appropriate to the type of building. For example, heritage buildings have a range of specific issues that would not typically be known by an assessor unless they had experience of working in that sector.
Fire risk assessors operating in buildings of the highest risk also need to demonstrate that they are working at least to the level of European Qualifications Framework Level 5 and always be aware and open about their competency limitations.
The national framework provides a route map for trainers and training organisations that allows them to identify the necessary learning points to achieve the appropriate levels of competency. But it’s important that methods of delivery are not over prescribed to ensure the maximum flexibility in the way the learning is delivered, as long as it is appropriate, recorded and formally accredited by the relevant bodies.
One of the criticisms of the Hackitt report was a lack of effective communication within multidisciplinary professional teams. The code recognises that providing information from fire risk assessment requires careful consideration. The Fire Safety Order requires the fire risk assessor to report fully and openly to the Responsible Person or their nominated representative to ensure appropriate understanding and compliance. The days of a simple tick box exercise or checklist have rightly been banished to the past. Although assessment templates that help generate written reports can still be used, they must be supported by sufficient textual narrative and explanation to allow an enforcing authority or other assessor to understand how conclusions were reached.
Assessors need to have the ability to communicate effectively with the appropriate interpersonal skills to explain their reasonings and proposed solutions in public forums.
The value of competencies in any professional or safety environment depends equally on the quality of how the individuals are themselves assessed, which is why the new framework provides extensive guidance designed to assist in deciding how best to assess the practical demonstration of skills, both on the job and in the teaching environment.
Those who mentor or conduct assessments must be appropriately qualified to do so. The evidence used in the assessment must be authentic and the person submitting their work must be directly involved. All of the assessments must reflect the core knowledge and criteria outlined in the Code of Practice in terms of skills, knowledge and practice.
Of course, competency is not a moment in time. It continues to develop to meet the evolution of new risks born of technological advancement and innovation in building design, along with new legislation and standards.
The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has taken forward matters of competency by proposing extended legislation and standards to introduce a new building safety regime to include buildings where failure could put many lives at risk.
Proposals have recently been made by the Secretary of State for MHCLG regarding building safety and by the Home Office to clarify the Fire Safety Order. These include consultation to progressively introduce improvements in fire safety that require adherence to competency requirements for all risk assessors. The changes will include specification and standards produced by the British Standards Institute. The Fire Sector Federation’s Code of Practice provides one element in building a strong foundation for those changes.
For more information, go to www.firesectorfedration.co.uk