Third party reassurance

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has long chosen to set its sights on increasing the standard of fire protection installations in the UK so that they are raised to the highest possible level and become the automatic choice for clients and specifiers.

But what does it take to be a fire protection company? Well, perhaps surprisingly, anybody can set themselves up as a supplier and installer of fire protection systems. All you have to do is get yourself a white van; access to the job; a credit card to purchase products and you’re in business. The one other thing that you will need, of course, is a computer so that you can print your own certificates that infer your work is of the highest standard.

But how do you assure that the fire protection systems in healthcare premises are of the highest standard? In the UK there is Third Party Certification for suppliers, installers and maintainers of fire protection systems.

Third Party Approval
The government acknowledges these and says in Approved Document B (the Fire Safety guidance document) of the Building Regulations of such schemes: ‘Building Control Bodies may accept the certification of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard. Similarly, Building Control Bodies may accept the certification of the installation or maintenance of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard.’

What is more, within the government guidance documents for existing buildings, published in support of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it stipulates: ‘Third-party certification schemes for fire protection products and related services are an effective means of providing the fullest possible assurances, offering a level of quality, reliability and safety that non-certificated products may lack. This does not mean goods and services that are not third-party approved are less reliable, but there is no obvious way in which this can be demonstrated.

Third-party quality assurance can offer great comfort to employers, both as a means of satisfying you that goods and services you have purchased are fit for purpose, and as a means of demonstrating that you have complied with the law.’

Under these schemes the competence of the companies and its operatives to supply, install, and maintain a particular type of fire protection system is assessed.

For new construction work at the end of the installation, the fire protection contractor supplies a ‘Certificate of Conformity’ to his client along with the specification and details of the work done. The FIA believes that any Certificate of Conformity that is not backed by a third party certification scheme should be treated with some caution.

Check the paper work
Since April 2007, this supply of information has been formalised in Building Regulation 38 (formerly 16B); the rationale being that the information can then be used by the Responsible Person as designated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to operate and maintain the building in reasonable safety.

For routine maintenance work you, as the Responsible Person, should look carefully at the documentation supplied by the fire protection company to see if it references a Third Party Certification Scheme. If it doesn’t then you should ask why not.

As a building gets older, occupiers will make changes and these may mean that the fire safety measures are weakened. A new tenant may, for example, increase the fire load in a certain part of the building or put in new offices that require extra smoke detectors.

In theory all of these changes should be documented in the CDM (Construction, Design and Management) file. This provides a record of all matters to do with the health and safety of those concerned in the construction, management and use of a building.

The FIA doesn’t just believe in the highest standards for the installers and maintainers of fire safety systems. The Fire Safety Order 2005 requires that a ‘competent’ person carries out a fire risk assessment. Therefore the association believes that the Responsible Person should feel confident that anyone/company they contract to carry out their fire risk assessment is competent to do so.

Registers for fire risk assessors
Currently there are a number of registers that deal with fire risk assessors. However, they are for the individual risk assessor and, in my opinion, both the individual and the company needs to prove their competence.

In an effort to maintain the highest standards in this area of fire safety management, the FIA set up the Fire Risk Assessors (FRA) Register for companies (organisations) two years ago. Then, on 1 April 2011, the FIA FRA Council tightened the membership criteria for the FIA Fire Risk Assessors Register. 

The association’s new FRA Register criteria states that all member companies must employ individuals who are competent and registered to, or in the process of joining, one of the existing registers mentioned above.

It was decided that the risk assessment companies on the association’s register must also be assessed on competency because they could put pressure on an individual risk assessor to carry out ‘poor’ work, for example; or the work may be complex and would need individuals with different fire backgrounds.

In the event of a failure, it’s the risk assessment company that would be held responsible; having signed a contract with the Responsible Person they’re working for.

In addition, a company would probably carry higher levels of Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) and a hospital for example, would want this higher amount. Typically an individual might carry up to £1m PII, whereas a company could have £10m.

Low risk premises

If your premises is considered a low fire risk, you will still need to carry out a fire risk assessment; the Responsible Person could either do it themselves using the Government’s Guidance Docs or they could contract a ‘registered’ individual fire risk assessor. If your premises isn’t considered a low risk, you’d be wise to contract a company that can prove its competence such as those on the FIA’s FRA register. 

In summary, the FIA believes that the highest possible standard of fire protection is the only acceptable choice for all involved in the design, construction, maintenance, and risk assessment of the UK’s healthcare premises.

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