Added value
In an industry shrouded in risk, the lack of legal legislation and the requirement for third party certification seems somewhat irrational. How, in an industry that addresses safety and security, is such certification not legislated in order to quantify it? Evidence of competency should not only be demonstrable through experience, but also heightened assurance should be provided by contractors through industry recognised standards, with independent verification from an officially accredited third party certification (TPC) body such as the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB).


Responsible person

The debate around legislation and certification is one that has continued to gain momentum, particularly following Grenfell. The subsequent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety undertaken by Dame Judith Hackitt recognised a significant lack of skills, knowledge and experience within the building and construction industry in relation to fire.

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the FPA, stated in respect to the Hackitt Review: ‘As many people explained to Dame Judith at the very start of these investigations, it is not just the system that is broken – the guidance and regulations themselves are ambiguous, outdated and subject to abuse.’

Currently, all fire safety legislation in England and Wales is gathered under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], to simplify the pre existing requirements. The FSO requires a responsible person in virtually all premises – but this is where fire safety has fallen short. Unfortunately, the definition of the responsible person and a lack of clarity about where responsibility lies in the event of a fire could implicate them.

They may then be liable if they cannot provide evidence that a fire risk assessment and resulting action has been carried out by a competent person. In response, the government issued a consultation on proposals to strengthen the FSO and improve compliance. The first phase report from the Grenfell inquiry required a change in law to place new requirements on building owners or managers of multi occupant residential buildings. Furthermore, the proposal aimed to introduce competence requirements for fire risk assessors, enhance fire risk assessments,  and record and define the identity of the responsible person for all buildings. Additionally, the Fire Sector Federation published an approved code of practice which places third party certification and professional body membership at the very heart of a national framework focused on fire risk assessor competency.

The knowledge, skills, experience and behaviours necessary to satisfy these requirements are detailed, stating that individuals must perform at a given standard to ensure buildings are, and remain, fire safe.


Defining competence

According to Dame Judith, ‘competence is the ability for every director, manager and worker to recognise the risks in operational activities and then apply the right measures to control and manage those risks’. Competence is not binary, but dynamic and must be responsive to change, such as innovation in building design, new legislation and standards.

In any professional or safety environment, the value of competencies depends equally on the quality of individuals’ assessments, a combination of the training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has, and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. TPC will never cover all services a provider may offer.

British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) for example works in a modular format in which contractors can gain individual certification for the design of systems, installation projects or service of sites, along with many other variants. LPCB certification audits all elements of works and ensures that contractors can demonstrate competence
in each of these.

Providers may have TPC for multiple services, but each service offered will have had to undergo independent assessment to provide evidence of their competency for that specific area.

Systems and processes

Requirements for the installation of products and systems are also stipulated by the FSO. For instance, the FSO notes that fire alarm systems must be installed in compliance with British Standards – currently:

  • BS 5839-1: 2017: Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Code of practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises; and
  • BS 5839-6: 2019 + A1: 2020: Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic premises. Part 6: Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic buildings

This is critical for those responsible to be able to demonstrate their competency. They should use a trusted third party approved company, as this will ensure that they are independently audited and certificated for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire alarm systems in compliance with British standards.

Similarly, maintenance by a competent specialist is crucial to ensure the efficiency and functionality of these systems, with regular testing in line with the fire safety code of practice (BS 5839), which determines the need for a preplanned maintenance contract and recurrent servicing.

These tests and service visits should be recorded in a logbook, which can be provided as proof to fire safety officers in the event of a fire to demonstrate due diligence and legal compliance. In any investigation of fire, if you cannot prove that you used a competent service and/or product provider for your fire alarm, it could bring into question whether you went to adequate lengths to secure the building and the people within it.

The FPA’s Know Your Building campaign supports the conclusions and recommendations of the Hackitt Review, which highlighted a general lack of understanding of fire risks, mitigation and management arrangements by building owners and the construction industry. The campaign has a specific focus on sprinkler systems and aims to make them a regulatory requirement for public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Furthermore, it proposes that all businesses have a fire strategy as part of a robust business continuity plan and that TPC should be a regulatory requirement for all fire safety services and products. In any instance, providing certification gives peace of mind that you are purchasing quality products delivered, installed, commissioned and maintained by competent businesses, with the assurance that fire safety is sustained through regular audits and independent reviews.

Certification is not lifelong, and can
be lost if companies fail to demonstrate that they continue to work at a competent and approved standard. Through holding third party certification, contractors can provision for and ensure that checks and audits are carried out by impartial experts of manufacturing processes and services to ensure that they meet international safety, quality and performance standards.

Certification bodies – organisations with government approval (through the United Kingdom Accreditation Service [UKAS]) are critical to the process. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) for example also develops standards and methodologies for the assessing and certifying of building products and services.

Fire resisting products, fire detection and alarm systems and installers are rigorously tested and certified to the relevant standards approved by LPCB and listed in the RedBook directory to instil confidence in clients enlisting the services of certificated providers.

What to look for

TPC provides confidence that products and services will be managed and installed competently. The certification schemes can vary somewhat, but most should include, provide or ensure:

  • verification of the skills and training of management, designers and estimators
  • that responsible persons and contractors are assessed for competence
  • that products are tested to have the appropriate fire performance
  • inspection and audits of sites and staff to monitor the quality of work and ensure provision of an audit trail
  • provision of a certificate of conformity for completed work

Several bodies offer third party fire protection certification to those responsible for the installation and maintenance of firefighting and fire prevention equipment. Additionally, professional bodies offer membership that provides training and industry insights and a ‘stamp of approval’ to allow businesses to show that they are endorsed by a reputable professional body.

Some caution should be exercised when it comes to these memberships, however. Whilst they do inspire confidence and show some depth of knowledge and insight, they do not demonstrate competency and compliance. Nor do they carry the weight, respect and reliability that comes with third party certification. Those that carry both are certainly companies to look out for. Keeping abreast of updated certification, training standards and industry news makes them more reputable and trustworthy than those that do not. BAFE’s Don’t Just Specify, Verify! campaign highlights how imperative it is to verify that TPC is appropriate for the work required.

This verification is extremely important, as BAFE registration or any TPC does not determine evidence of competency for all fire safety services. When sourcing a contractor, you should not only make sure that you specify competent fire safety providers, but also verify that their TPC is appropriate and valid for the work required.

 Certification schemes offered by certification bodies such as LPCB, BAFE and Warringtonfire cover everything from fire alarms and passive fire protection to sprinklers – so it is essential to choose a scheme aligned to your needs. For example, certification schemes for the design and installation of automatic sprinkler systems would be irrelevant for someone looking at TPC for fire alarms.

A TPC scheme provides confidence to regulators, specifiers, industry and more that the provider or contractor has been subject to assessment of their competence against recognised standards and has met these requirements. Projects carried out by them will be independently audited by LPCB, with auditors specifically looking for a demonstrable record keeping system for all areas covered in the standard, and validate a long term track record of performance as well as evidence of reliability and stability.

Safety before costs

Sadly, it is often the case in the construction industry that people seek to cut costs and save money by using companies that are not certificated, because there are no legal stipulations to do so. Whilst hiring a third party certificated company may be more expensive, not doing so could cost more in the long run as a result of poor installation, non compliance and liability when competency cannot be demonstrated. Ultimately, the safety of buildings and occupants should not boil down to price.

Confidence is key

It is critical to have confidence in those responsible for ensuring that buildings are fire safe and to know that they have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience that comes with being third party certificated. With no current legal minimum qualification requirements within the fire industry, by using certificated and competent contractors and products, assurance will come through knowing that you are working within industry best practice and minimising the risk to all involved. The challenge of ensuring compliance is ongoing, but the consequences of failure can be severe.