FPA competency pillars

By Claire Wright, Head of Training at the FPA

What competency means to one person can mean something entirely different to another. This is the case with many areas in the design, construction, and management of buildings. But in the fire safety sector in particular, it is a life-or-death issue.  If those carrying out a fire safety task – such as a risk assessment or installing or maintaining a fire protection product – aren’t qualified and competent, lives and livelihoods are jeopardised.

Until recently there hasn’t been a universally accepted definition of what competency for fire risk assessors and building managers looks like, and there remains work to be done regarding installers and maintainers of life safety equipment. Without a consistent and clear definition and guide, we leave room for shoddy or inadequate practice. Is enough being done at present to get us to where we need to be?

The FPA’s position is that the only way to gauge whether a person is competent to do a job is to ask if they are third-party accredited. Third-party accreditation is defined, administered and audited between professional trade bodies and experienced regulatory bodies, and can be issued to an individual, company or a product (such as fire doors).

If universal third-party accreditation is the goal, what is the current reality? Let’s take fire risk assessors as an example. The FPA estimates that over 135 companies in the UK are offering fire risk assessments which are third-party accredited. While this gives hope for a safer future if the trend continues, it also shows that there is still a long way to go. With over 1,100 fire risk assessors trained every year in the UK, but not all becoming third-party certified, how are we meant to choose a competent person?

When we look at the role of building safety managers, or those responsible for fire safety in a building, there are gaps too. Research carried out by the FPA shows that almost a quarter of those responsible for fire safety in their organisation do not have accredited training or qualifications. While this data was derived from a fully anonymous online survey, we believe the true picture is likely to be much worse, and our experiences certainly testify to this.

Responsibility for fire safety of a building requires a proper understanding of the way that it functions and the systems and processes that are in place to mitigate risk. The role of the responsible person – in whatever form that takes – is no easy task, and it carries the pressure of personal accountability. The FPA’s Know Your Building campaign is all about providing education on this topic so that we make our own contribution to raising standards across the board and help individuals in their fire safety roles.

I’ve already discussed the importance of third-party accreditation, but this forms part of the FPA’s six competency pillars, which are a guide to best practice that people in all roles related to fire safety should follow. These are:

• Third party approved

• Trustworthy

• Self-aware

• Good knowledge and application

• Demonstrable experience

• Committed to and actively engaged in continued professional development.

As ever, continued development and training is vital. In the UK we are about to see the introduction of the largest pieces of fire and building safety legislation in many years, in the form of the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill. When introduced, these will place new requirements on building owners and managers, and it’s essential to keep up to date.

For further insight and to learn more about the vitally important issue of competency, access the FPA’s new mini-paper developed as part of our Know Your Building campaign, here.