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14 October 2014
When many people think of Third Party Certification (TPC), they think it’s complicated and difficult. However that can be because those involved in TPC dive into the detail when discussing it, using words and phrases that most of us don’t understand.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Fire Industry Association (FIA) is striving to not only make TPC easy to understand but also more achievable for the fire industry through help and guidance for those companies seeking to become certified.
The FIA has long supported Third Party Certification as a way for the fire industry to raise its standards. The Association also strongly encourages the Responsible Person to use certified companies for the added reassurance that their fire safety protection has been carried out by a competent individual/company.
Certification audits are carried out by a Third Party Certification Body (CB). They visit an organisation’s premises and sites at which they’ve worked to compare their activities with a recognised Standard, such as a Code of Practice or scheme document. If the CB is happy that the organisation complies with the Standard, they will issue a certificate to confirm this. This would then be repeated at intervals, which could be six monthly or annually, with a surveillance audit. All European Union and developed countries around the world have a national body whose job it is to accredit Certification Bodies (CBs); in the UK this body is the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).
The Standards used by CBs are normally those produced by national or international bodies, reputable trade bodies or the CB. Part of the UKAS accreditation of CBs ensures that only schemes that are fair, impartial and effective are used by the CBs.
Many trade body Standards are aimed at certain activities and often set specific requirements for key areas of those activities. For example, BAFE SP101 recognises that competency of service technicians is vital and requires all technicians to be assessed to another standard, ST104. Some CBs own Standards, such as LPCB’s LPS1014, which set specific performance criteria for the supplier organisation. Standards aimed at specific trades (eg those produced by BAFE or LPCB) have an advantage over more general standards (eg ISO9001), as they are held in high regard by the Fire Authorities and insurers. There are usually readily accepted by the authorities as proof that the customer has selected competent organisations.
There are many different CBs offering a range of certification in all sorts of trades and industries. Many trade associations are strong advocates of TPC and often list appropriate schemes for different areas of work. Some Trade Associations, such as the FIA, go as far as making TPC a prerequisite for membership as a mark of quality.
Benefits of Certification
Most certified companies have invested heavily in their certification and are proud of it. They are generally very willing to provide copies of their certificates. Quality Management Systems (QMS) prove a company’s competence and organisation structure to deliver a better service.
QMSs make organisations plan and think ahead; preparing for good outcomes and working to prevent poor ones. QMS requires companies to analyse the way they are run and quite often reveal areas of waste, potential business risks and previously untapped revenue streams.
There are some critics of TPC and there are many myths surrounding it, such as:
It’s just a badge, it doesn’t prove anything. UKAS is very clear that any TPC scheme must have a demonstrable need and it must be fair and impartial. You can’t just buy a credible TPC badge.
It’s just jobs for the boys. It is true that quite often people involved in audit work and in the development of schemes have been in the industry for a long time. Their knowledge and expertise is necessary for the scheme’s success.
TPC doesn't eliminate poor quality. This has some truth to it. TPC can’t totally prevent things from going wrong in the same way that driving licenses don’t prevent road accidents. TPC is only available to the competent individual and provides a framework to help them improve.
It makes the product/service expensive. The direct costs associated with TPC are small when compared with the costs of providing a product or service. TPC should not substantially influence the price to the customer. It’s organisations cutting corners elsewhere that make non-certificated products and services cheap.
Despite the myths and debate about the need for TPC, the FIA continues to encourage the fire industry to work towards certification so that they can offer the Responsible Persons peace of mind that they are competent, helping them to comply with their duties under fire legislation.
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