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Demonstrating competency

The Interim report from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt, released in mid-December 2017, recommended a change in culture within the UK construction industry and significant reform of the UK fire safety regulatory system.

It came as no surprise to the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) that the report identified a lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities throughout a building’s lifecycle, from design and construction to maintenance during occupation; and inadequate means of assessing and ensuring adequate levels of competency throughout the process. The report also recognised the vital role of installers, noting that ‘the integrity and efficacy of products and systems is highly dependent on correct installation by competent and knowledgeable persons’.

Along with many others in the sector, the ASFP has long been campaigning for formal competency requirements for fire professionals; mandatory third party certification of products and installers; and a system that more clearly sets out the requirements and responsibilities at each stage of construction.

We have often questioned why there are no mandatory requirements for individuals who are responsible for the design, installation and assessment of life safety systems to be trained and licensed or have their competency evaluated in any way. This is certainly not the case for other professionals such as lawyers and doctors; and even plumbers, electricians and gas fitters are required to pass exams and have their competency evaluated.

In general construction there has been an apparent race to the bottom, with contracts awarded mainly on the basis of price, and apparently very little thought given to quality or even to ensuring that a job is specified and executed correctly to ensure the end product – namely, the building – is fit for purpose. Dame Judith is right to say that there needs to be a change in culture within the UK construction industry but can we really lay the blame entirely at their feet?

Demand-led competency

Yes, the fire sector has long highlighted the issue of competence; we have called on the construction industry to use only third party certificated products and installers, seeing this as at least addressing part of the problem. But have we moved to define what a suitable level of competence would look like? Have we developed guidance and qualifications that can give clients and building owners the assurance they seek?

Some time ago the ASFP came to the conclusion that such definitions and qualifications were somewhat wanting, particularly in the passive fire protection sector. We recognised that while we called for people to employ competent professionals there was, in reality, no way of proving an individual’s competence and while short courses and CPD hours were in abundance there were few routes to gaining a formal qualification in passive fire protection.

So, the Association got to work. In collaboration with the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), the Association has been developing a passive fire protection training programme which will allow trainees to demonstrate competency, while also offering a route for progression and academic recognition in this key fire protection specialism.

Candidates will work to obtain an IFE Level 2 or Level 3 Certificate in passive fire protection. IFE qualifications are recognised by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and successful Level 3 candidates will be eligible to apply for IFE membership at Technician Grade (TIFireE).

The scheme is suitable for all involved in the construction industry as well as building owner occupiers and offers an introduction to fire safety and fire science as well as modules on different forms of passive fire protection. And, with IFE agreement and the collaboration of other fire protection specialists, the scheme could be expanded to cover all aspects of fire protection from fire alarms to fire suppression systems.

While many may argue that our campaigns and complaints about quality and competency apparently fell on deaf ears within the construction industry, there is now growing demand from all. There currently appears to be an increasing drive to ensure that competency is adequately defined and that recognised and relevant qualifications are available.

A system of training, competency evaluation and qualification for all the major players in fire protection is long overdue and the ASFP hopes that its efforts will be the first step in raising the bar and improving standards across the board and ensuring the quality and safety of our built environment for future generations to come.

For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk

Image for illustration purposes only and courtesy of Hydrogen Iodide at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13352441

Niall Rowan is Technical Officer at the Association for Specialist Fire Protection

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