19 August 2014

Selecting a competent fire risk assessor has become easier, thanks to the publication of two key guidance documents, as Martin Duggan reports.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council is a work stream that works within the wider Fire Sector Federation. The council has published a set of criteria against which the competency of those undertaking fire risk assessments can be judged.

There is no legislative requirement for the fire risk assessment to be carried out by a competent person. This is to avoid an implication that, under the legislation, every duty holder needs to employ the services of a fire safety specialist, such as a consultant, to carry out their fire risk assessment.  

However, for many premises, the duty holder seeks the services of an external consultant (‘a fire risk assessor’). In the case of larger, more complex or high risk premises, this is often appropriate as the task might well be beyond the ability of the duty holder. 

Some members of the business community feel that it would be helpful to be able to access information on fire risk assessors with an appropriate level of competency to help them comply with the legislation. There has been growing concern regarding the competence of those who provide fire risk assessments on a commercial basis (i.e. for a fee). Data from the English fire and rescue services suggests that the main compliance failure leading to enforcement action is a failure by duty holders to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. This is coupled with the emergence of inadequate fire risk assessments for premises that have suffered multiple fatality fires. 

As a result of these concerns, the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council, made up of a broad range of relevant fire sector stakeholders, including the Fire Industry Association, emerged with the encouragement of government. Its objective has been to establish agreed, industry-wide, criteria against which the competence of a fire risk assessor can be judged. It is anticipated that these criteria will be used by professional bodies and third party certification bodies who register or certificate fire risk assessors, and by commercial companies providing fire risk assessment services. The ‘competency criteria’ was published in December 2011.

In February last year, the Competency Council published A Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor. This guide is provided to help those with this responsibility decide who should carry out a fire risk assessment so that the premises comply with the applicable fire safety legislation.

Appointing a specialist 

No matter who carries out the fire risk assessment, the duty holder retains the responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of that assessment. If you are employing a specialist to undertake your fire risk assessment, while you are not expected to be an expert in fire safety, you should make reasonable checks to ensure that they are competent to do the job properly.

It is important that the person who carries out the fire risk assessment is competent. There are two principal methods by which people can demonstrate their competence:

Professional body registration schemes

Certification by a certification body that is UKAS accredited for the activity.

It is also important that the company for whom the fire risk assessor works has adequate management systems in place, even if the fire risk assessor is self-employed. Competence of a company to deliver fire risk assessments can be demonstrated by third party certification of the company by a UKAS accredited certification body.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council recommends the use of fire risk assessment companies, including sole traders, which are third party certificated to appropriate schemes, operated by certification bodies which have been UKAS accredited to certificate against such schemes.

What next?

With two documents published already, the work of the Competency Council may be over; or is it? The proof of competency of fire and rescue services’ inspecting officers is now being discussed. What criteria should be used to check and how will this be measured are obvious questions. Could the Competency Council rise again to help?