Becoming qualified is a vital process in demonstrating competence in the fire industry, writes Ian Moore. Fire safety has to be taken seriously, as we’ve seen from the many devastating fires in the news over the last year or two (Grenfell Tower immediately springs to mind for many, certainly). The subsequent report emanating from Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety certainly highlights the need for competency.
Some readers of Risk Xtra may remember when the Gas Safe (replacing Corgi Registered in old money in 2009) Register was brought in, and what a difference that made. It’s now illegal for anyone not registered to carry out the work of a gas engineer. The reason? To define competency. The biggest risk with incorrectly installed and/or poorly maintained central heating boilers is exposure to carbon monoxide (CO).
Just like gas, fire safety is a high risk area. Any failure to deliver correctly installed or maintained fire detection and alarm systems could potentially result in the system failing to activate in the event of a fire. Annoying and costly, but less serious, is the added potential for creating far too many false fire alarms.
Around 50 people die every year of CO poisoning (half of which is accredited to exposure to smoke, fire and flames). 350-400 people die every year from fire-related incidents.
Time for a Fire Safe Register?
The Fire Industry Association (FIA) firmly believes in competency and in practitioners being able to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and expertise. It might be ambitious to say it, but shouldn’t there be a Fire Safe Register as well? A list of fully-qualified individuals and companies that can 100% prove their expertise in the discipline?
It’s vital that companies encourage their staff to achieve a full qualification in fire detection and alarms (we have a range of them focused on design, installation, maintaining systems and commissioning) thus defining competency. The more individuals that are qualified, the closer we are as an industry to realising the ambition of our own Fire Safe Register.
We should be setting the bar high, as requested by the industry when we set upon this course of setting up an Awarding Organisation using the FIA qualifications to help define competency. The FIA has been working hard to ensure that those at Government level, as well as consultants, construction companies and members of the general public are all astutely aware of our qualifications and the importance of achieving competency.
Even if the Government doesn’t mandate a Fire Safe Register, Westminster will be looking to ensure that individuals carrying out their job roles within the fire protection industry are competent. As such, we as an industry have both an ethical and moral obligation to ensure competency.
Foundation Unit and beyond
The FIA offers a series of qualifications developed by our own nationally-regulated Awarding Organisation for the fire detection and alarm sector, namely the Fire Industry Association Awarding Organisation.
If you’ve passed the Foundation course in fire detection and alarms, or you have booked your staff on to the Foundation course but haven’t moved on to the later stages of the qualification, you could be missing out on the benefits it brings.
If you need a reminder of how our qualification structure works, the Foundation course is the ‘starter’ unit comprising the extensive generic information needed for all disciplines of fire detection and alarm work. Three other units need to be completed in order to gain the full qualification. Following the Foundation Unit, learners can study the Health and Safety Unit and the Environmental Unit and then one of four specialist units (Advanced Design, Installation, Maintenance or Commissioning).
Our qualifications have been produced in consultation with industry leaders and employers. They match the needs of the industry with what learners really do need to understand.
We’ve worked with reference to the National Occupational Standards and current UK legislation and published standards, along with Codes of Practice and industry Best Practice to give learners the opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding in a format that’s in-depth and delivered under expert guidance.
Support material provided
We provide a number of support materials to ensure success in the qualifications, from pre-learning videos through to a new ‘Access to Foundation’ course. These have been improved and extended as students have been clearly surprised by the high level of the training and the difficulty of the examinations (conducted, as you would expect, under strict conditions).
The FIA’s trainers have many years of experience in the industry and are well placed to teach attendees the necessary information such that they can become competent. Competency comes through years of experience of doing the job and by completing the final specialist unit as part of the full qualification. Competency is ultimately defined by passing the examinations.
Becoming qualified will render staff members experts within their chosen field, whether that’s fire detection and alarm design, installation, maintenance or commissioning. That fact then needs to be promoted to contractors, consultants and end users, etc to differentiate the business.
Benefits of gaining the full qualification
Aside from raising the level of professionalism in our industry, gaining full qualification leads to Return on Investment. Putting staff all the way through the qualification is certainly a big investment in terms of both time and money. We’re aware that candidates need to complete a number of units before being completely qualified but, as previously stated, the wider industry – Government, consultants, construction companies and the general public – are all being made aware of the need for more stringent fire safety measures. By making sure your staff are qualified, you’re helping to demonstrate competency not just at a company level (by having third party certification, for example), but also through the individuals employed.
More than ever, the Government seems to be aware of the need for fire technician competency. The Hackitt Report states that there’s a ‘lack of competency’ throughout the industry in almost every discipline and at every stage of the construction and maintenance of a building. As a result, it may not be long before we see further Government movement towards ensuring that technicians and engineers are competent in their work.
Yes, the bar has indeed been set high, but as previously stated, this was at the request of the industry to keep the ‘cowboys’ away from working on life safety systems. We need to define the right level of competency now, and make sure that our people are qualified now, such that we’re fully prepared for the time when a Fire Safe Register may come into force.
It’s vital that fire alarm system installers begin preparing for the time when the Government does start mandating on this issue. We cannot say for certain what will happen next after the Hackitt Report, but one thing is clear: the Government will be looking for ways in which to improve competency within the industry.
Make sure teams are qualified
If your members of staff have completed the Foundation Unit and not moved on to the next set of units in the qualification, you could be missing out. Remember that we only send out certificates to those that have obtained the full qualification, not just for one unit, so in order to gain that all important certificate, it’s vital to book the next course. The FIA can help your team become qualified to install, maintain, commission and design fire alarm systems.
Ian Moore is CEO of the Fire Industry Association