Moving away from a tick box approach to competence

Industry experts agreed that competence is key to improvement but an over simplistic approach to determining what good looks like will hold the fire industry back.

Gill Kernick, author of Catastrophe and a consultant working in high hazard industries was speaking at London Build Expo, a two-day industry event held in Olympia. She said that competence is critical but worried that the view on competence was overly simplistic and was no more than a tick box exercise. This view was echoed by Andrea White, an experienced fire engineer who runs her own fire consultancy, who also spoke on the Fire Safety stage.

As part of a wide-ranging discussion about competence, the speakers on day two of London Build Expo explored the topic of how the competence of the client to recognise competence of suppliers was a barrier to improved outcomes.

Andrea White said that third party certification may go some way to reassure clients but it can’t end with that. “Just because they are on a register, doesn’t mean that a fire risk assessor can do the assessment for every building type.” Keith Todd agreed. He heads up fire safety for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and said there needs to be a way of distinguishing what sectors people work in and have experience that can be applied to specific building types.

Panelists also talked about routes to competence and, as illustrated by one of the questions from the floor, what was the right route for fire risk assessor who is new to the industry?

Holli Willis is the Fire Risk manager for Paradigm Housing. She said that everyone’s journey to competence is different and it is hard for people looking for fire risk assessment services to assure themselves that one route is as valid as another. Keith Todd agreed that ‘one size does not fit all.’

The Fire Safety Stage drew large audiences at London Build Expo and heard Andrea White talk about her passion for competence and training. She argued that training for those working in the fire safety industry should be a constant and not an afterthought. She added that maintaining a development plan was a crucial way to help those in the industry to ‘know their limitations.’ She was concerned that this point about limitations had been lost over the years with too much emphasis on skills, knowledge, and experience.

Ben Ralph is the Head of Fire Safety at Foster Architects. He expanded on this point and added that behaviour should be prioritised as part of a route to competence although Gill Kernick argued that that this was ‘too reductionist’ and should be about attitude instead.