What is competency and are we ever truly competent in our chosen profession? This raises the question – are we consciously ignoring our mistakes or overlooking things we know not to be correct, or are we all in some way unconsciously incompetent?
The procurement of passive fire protection products and their related performance in-line with the required standards has in recent years become more reassuring due to an increase in standards being aligned with a third party certification scheme. This is where someone more qualified and independent of the manufacturer agrees the product was tested in accordance with the relevant test method and that it performed to, or in excess of, the defined pass / fail criteria and was correctly classified. Although, considering recent statements from witnesses at the Grenfell Inquiry, there is some way to go in terms of creating full understanding and reassurance.
Furthermore, it can be argued that one could procure the best performing and certified product on the market but if it is not installed in-line with how the product was installed during testing, or following the manufacturer’s guidelines (which should be one and the same), then the product will not perform as specified or required.
The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) recognises that resolving the installation issue is a major contributing factor in improving fire and life safety within building design and construction. But how can the competency of the installer be assured?
The May 2018 report ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire safety – Final Report’ by Dame Judith Hackett highlighted this concern:
“While there are many instances of competent people, there is no consistent way to assess or verify their competence. The current approach to levels of competence is disjointed and in places not rigorous enough. This allows individuals to practice with questionable qualifications or without a requirement for competence to be assessed, accredited and reaccredited.”
So, what is the definition of a competent installer? Is it the possession of a CSCS card, a certificate of training by a manufacturer, accrued CPD points, third party certification or a recognised qualification? To understand the challenge of setting the standard for passive fire installation best practice and competency, one first must understand the complexities of the passive fire industry. The short answer is there is no silver bullet.
The ASFP observes through its experience of working with the BSI, test laboratories and certifying bodies, plus manufacturers and installers alike, that many third party certification schemes for products and their specification of materials and performance contain no associated best practice requirements for application, installation, maintenance and fault finding.
An example of a British Standard that does accommodate a best practice installation method would be BS 8524, the British Standard for Active Fire Curtain Barrier Assemblies, which is broken down into two parts:
• BS 8524-1: 2013. Active Fire Curtain Barrier Assemblies – Specification
• BS 8524-2: 2013. Active Fire Curtain Barrier Assemblies, Code of Practice for Application, Installation and Maintenance
Part 2 was created at the same time as the product standard to give best practice guidance on the application and method of installation. It is generic guidance created by a multitude of (competing) manufacturers, specialist installers, plus other significant stakeholders such as test laboratories and certifying bodies and so is not directly associated to the idiosyncrasies of different manufacturers, products and systems.
The ASFP considers every passive fire product standard should have an accompanying standard or code of practice for the application, installation, maintenance and fault finding of the product concerned. It would go without saying that such a standard would be underpinned by a third party approved certification scheme.
It must be accepted that the diverse nature of the passive fire industry would not be accommodated by pre-existing measures of compliance or competency, the diversification of materials, products and application variables is too broad and too deep. Therefore, this leads the ASFP to conclude competency is unlikely to be accommodated and captured in a CSCS card or by attending a one-hour presentation, it must be broken down by product and installation application.
The ASFP concludes the only way to create and maintain credible competency for the application and installation of passive fire products is by way of third-party certified training for the application, installation and maintenance of all passive fire products. The ASFP already provides its Foundation Course in Passive Fire Protection, enabling learners to study towards Level 2 and 3 qualifications, awarded by the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE). A further step would be to work with its peers on creating a practical ‘hands-on’ course to improve and maintain measurable application and installation competence.
As the training develops, this could be supported by a programme of Continuous Professional Development. So that once the foundation exam is passed, competency can be maintained and refreshed over and above the initial learning. Again, this would need to be included in any third-party scheme as a requirement to maintain a level of accrued CPD points on an annual basis.
For true generic competency to exist in a sector as diverse as the passive fire protection industry, education cannot be restricted by manufacturer type or associated installation method. It has to have a measurable pass / fail criteria in the initial stages, plus it has to show continuous development to future proof competency. Most of all it has to be measurable, auditable and evidenced by way of a third party.
For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk