Studying up on your fire safety

BAFE Fire Safety Register explains the importance of competence when it comes to meeting your fire safety obligations – both in terms of your ‘responsible person’ and the suppliers you use

Fire safety provisions are paramount and a legal obligation in many buildings but for educational facilities this is of huge importance. These buildings contain numerous types of people of all ages, from students and staff to a multitude of visitors that do not know the buildings layout.
In the fallout of the Grenfell Tower fire, this has highlighted several discussions including the subject of competence and the use of competent providers for all works, including fire safety. This need for quality assurance is covered in HM Government fire safety advice available online: “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.
“Third-party quality assurance can offer comfort, 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.” (Fire safety risk assessment: educational premises).
What exactly is third party certification?

Third party certification offers independent verification and evidence that a company or provider is competent, and working to the appropriate standards and best practice for the services you require.
‘First party’ referral is simply a self-endorsement, telling the potential customer (the person responsible for fire safety) that they are competent, with no evidence of this.
‘Second party’ referral involves someone else, for instance another customer or a membership body/trade association (without third party certification criteria for joining) who states that they are competent.
UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification takes this to another level completely. This is when an independent Certification Body which is accredited by UKAS (the national accreditation body for the UK appointed by government) sends trained assessors to assess the provider. They confirm the provider is working to the latest appropriate standards and best practice for the specific service they deliver. They check and verify the required competencies and management systems to ensure that the provider can categorically do what they say – and are checked annually.
The Third Party Certification is earned through rigorous assessment that must be adhered to at all times to remain certificated. It is important to state here that this certification does not cover all services, and the person responsible for fire safety and sourcing providers must check their chosen providers certification covers the scope of work that is required.
This responsibility for sourcing competent persons is noted in national fire legislation, with England and Wales legislation stating:
“The responsible person must, where necessary nominate competent persons to implement those measures and ensure that the number of such persons, their training and the equipment available to them are adequate, taking into account the size of, and the specific hazards involved in, the premises concerned” (The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 Part 2, Article 13. (3) (b).
It also notes that “a person is to be regarded as competent for the purposes of paragraph (3)(b) where he has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable him properly to implement the measures referred to in that paragraph.” UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification will satisfy all the criteria required f it covers the scope of the work needed.

It all begins with a fire risk assessment

Whether it is a new or long-standing building, a quality fire risk assessment will highlight both everything you are doing correctly but also anything that may require attention to be compliant with UK fire safety legislation.
Educational facilities may have multiple purposes for the same area, industrial kitchens, laboratories/workshops and other areas that should be addressed and reviewed regularly within your fire risk assessment. Third party certification is available for providers offering this service and having this will demonstrate they are competent to fulfil this work. The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) also state you should follow steps “to help verify the competence and suitability of a prospective contractor” with one step being: “Be satisfied that the fire risk assessor who carries out the work is competent. This can be demonstrated by them providing evidence of compliance with the competency criteria set down by the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council.”

Another important step NFCC note is to “check that they have experience of working for your kind of business and premises.”

A competent provider will be able to stress if they are capable to complete an assessment for your building, helping you as the appointed “responsible person” be confident in your choice of provider.

Maintaining your fire safety provisions

Maintenance of your fire safety provisions and systems is also listed in national fire safety legislation to ensure they remain “in efficient working order and in good repair”.
Unlike security systems which are regularly switched off when the premises are opened and switched on again when leaving, fire detection and alarm systems are on all the time – and sometimes overlooked. By making sure that everything is in order there will be a much-reduced risk of false fire alarm activations and that they will work at the most critical times to protect life and property.     
This is a vital requirement for educational premises as the earlier you can detect the source of a fire the more time you will have to safely evacuate people in a calm and controlled manner. Emergency lighting can be overlooked also but is important to be maintained regularly to ensure a clear exit in the event of any emergency, not just fire.
Regular ongoing maintenance also ensures that if the fire is small enough to be extinguished by someone on site, that the equipment provided will work as intended. Failure to source and regularly maintain quality fire extinguishers for example potentially runs the risk of a small controllable fire escalating into something far more dangerous, unnecessarily endangering lives and damage to the building itself.

Provide a safe environment

Ultimately, the complete responsibility of fire safety falls on your shoulders and with this, the legal obligations and consequences if this is not performed correctly. It is therefore in your best interest to source competent providers who are third party certificated to ensure this.     
There are multiple organisations that offer UKAS accredited third party certification, but a useful register is provided by BAFE that combines these into one place to search for competent contractors. It must be stressed that it is important your chosen provider is third party certificated for the specific service you require, and it is your responsibility to check this. In the instance that you require specific services that the BAFE schemes do not cover, it is still strongly advised to check if your chosen provider is third party certificated for these via another organisation. No one should have to be concerned with fire safety in an educational facility where people reside to teach and learn. Provide a safe environment, ready to act in the event of any fire or emergency.

This information is provided by the BAFE Fire Safety Register, an independent register of quality fire safety service providers, third party certificated to ensure competence and service excellence to help meet your fire safety obligations.


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