Fire competency - a guide for safety officers

By Howard Passey, Director of Operations and Principal Consultant at the Fire Protection Association

Since the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, the issue of fire safety competency has been at the forefront of discussion. The Hackitt Review which followed highlighted a lack of competency around the management of fire safety in buildings, yet there is still no concrete legal definition of what it means to be truly competent.

With the subsequent Building Safety Bill set to create a new Building Safety Manager (BSM) role to ensure greater organisational accountability, how can safety officers ensure they have the right skills and competencies to perform this new and essential role?

1. Assess your risk  

The ‘responsible person’ or ‘duty holder’ as outlined by new legislation needs to make a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment of risks’ and ensure safety measures are in place. This role will be essential in ensuring that fire risk assessments are made which are relevant to a specific premises. In some cases this will include identifying materials with potential to cause harm, from anything such as small amounts of kitchen cooking oil, to large amounts of fuel used for plant – which will in turn result in the need for a DSEAR (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002) assessment. Training and further education is a vital part of being competent, and will allow safety officers to develop and maintain a sound knowledge over crucial fire safety aspects . One simple way safety officers can stay up to date on these key changes is by reading industry publications, such as The FPA’s Fire & Risk Management Journal.

 

2. Consult an accredited third party

Seeking third party accreditation for products and services is an essential step towards ensuring that fire safety systems are fit for purpose, and gives the safety manager the reassurance of knowing they have acted in the appropriate and responsible manner. Third-party certified individuals will work with you to identify risks and how best to control them, and this should be viewed as a worthwhile investment in the safety of the occupants as well as the resilience of the business. The FPA advises that if an individual, in the role of the fire safety officer, aims to carry out a risk assessment themselves, they should seek to undertake appropriate training and preferably gain the correct qualification to do so.

 

3. Establish and implement a thorough fire strategy

Ensuring you have the correct fire strategy tailored to your building’s needs is vital.  The fire strategy plays an essential role in protecting life and property to the highest standard, in the event of a fire. It should consider a range of factors such as where building users are typically located, which risks can/cannot be reduced any further and the size and layout of the building. This analysis can then be used to assess the fastest route of safely evacuating the building. 

Fire safety competency is more than having the basic risk assessments in place. By ensuring that you actively seek third party accreditation, and by employing the help of qualified professionals, you can give yourself peace of mind over choices made that are essential to protecting life and property.

For more information on the FPA’s Know Your Building campaign, visit https://www.thefpa.co.uk/know-your-building