Fire Risk Assessors, together with the building owners and safety managers who employ them, face additional challenges in satisfying new legal requirements to meet fire-safety competency standards that have come into force with commencement of the Fire Safety Act 2021, and which will increase further now the Building Safety Act 2022 has achieved Royal Assent.
The Fire Safety Act, now in force, saw a significant change to require that a building’s external walls be considered as part of any assessment, a change that has been much debated. The Building Safety Act goes further, placing a clear duty on Accountable and Responsible Persons to confirm the competency of any fire-risk assessor that they appoint to assist them to undertake a building fire-risk assessment.
Unfortunately, there remains a lack of detailed definition of what is competent, which puts these ‘duty holders’ under considerable pressure to make the correct choices. The Act has no action to stop the unsatisfactory practice of allowing unqualified persons to assess fire risk.
This is why the Fire Sector Federation has called this ‘an opportunity missed’ – given a more robust approach to competence could have been stated. Simply mandating fire-risk assessors to measure up to assured industry standards, or specifying third-party assurance as a practical way to guide building owners and safety managers in their selection of fire-risk assessors with appropriate competence, remain omitted as public safeguards.
Just how long should a situation that allows those ‘fire-risk assessors’ who are not part of any third-party scheme or professional body, and therefore unable to adequately demonstrate competence to a client, be allowed to continue?
Significant capacity and capability concerns are also being voiced across the housing and building sectors. Meeting likely demands arising from new legislation is already upon us at a time when practising fire-risk assessors face problems with personal indemnity insurance. In some cases, it is so bad that assessors say they are leaving the market because of premium increases linked to constraints on cover.
Dennis Davis, Executive Director, Fire Sector Federation, said: ‘Those accountable for building and fire safety, including fire-risk assessors operating without clearly demonstrable competency, need to get ready now. They must fully understand the implications of demonstrating compliance with their obligations under the new legislation. Using existing third-party assurance schemes that demonstrate fire-risk assessors are competent is a practical way forward for clients. Joining such schemes or engaging with organisations that are developing standards, will allow qualified professionals to show they are competent, and is a way forward for contractors.
“We need to face up to these challenges to avoid a perfect storm in the fire risk assessor sector which could undermine fire safety in our buildings.
‘The Federation has committed to developing a range of resources to support the continued development of competency in this area, helping the sector meet its obligations. We will soon publish a new industry standard for the general fire-risk assessor that establishes three competency levels for assessors that are matched to three generic types of building risk. We will be encouraging wide adoption to mitigate the negative impacts that continue within an unsatisfactory unregulated situation.’
Working with members The Fire Sector Federation has developed guidance designed for fire-risk assessors and building owners that is free to download on its website. This includes ‘A Guide to Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor’, ‘Advice for Fire Safety Managers’, ‘Approved Code of Practice for Fire Risk Assessors Competency’ and a ‘Safe Escape Checklist’. A free-to-access national list of fire-risk assessors who are qualified to industry standards is also available on the website.