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Simon Ince Q&A: Prospects of a Fire-Safe Register and Sharing Best Practice Across Borders

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Simon-ince-profileSimon Ince spoke to IFSEC Global about the imminent prospect of an equivalent to the successful Gas Safe Register.

The strategic alliance and partnership manager for Warrington Certification (recently named among the most influential people in the fire industry) also discusses his work in definining competence criteria for fire-safety managers the challenges involved in sharing best practice across borders.

IG: Do you ever expect to see a Fire Safe Register, an equivalent to the Gas Safe Register?

SI: Yes, I do think we will see one in the next 18 months; I know there is a proposal being put forward to the Fire Sector Federation which has credibility and could allow the register be administered by an independent organization.

The idea is to make the register into a search engine for fire safety products and services; this register would only feature products or service providers that have accredited third party approvals.  When I looked for a gas fitter recently using an internet search engine, the first person I found in my area had a gas-safe logo on his website, however when I did a cross reference check on the gas safe register  (which not a lot of people do)  he wasn’t listed on there.

The fire safe register will need to be ‘the’ place to go to specify or procure fire safety products and services; a sort of Amazon with quality assurance of those listed.

The compliance assurance that a register like this would offer, would raise standards of fire safety almost overnight, because if you’re a social housing provider, NHS trust or care provider you would need a really good excuse for not using the fire safe register as your procurement directory.

IG: Anything else in the pipeline?

SI: One of the major work areas of the Fire-Sector Federation has started looking at the competence of those who manage fire safety in UK properties. This is in response to several multi-fatality fires here in the UK, where fire safety management failures were a contributory factor.

Part of the work we are doing is to define the competence criteria for fire safety managers; the A, B, C of what they need to know and the X,Y,Z of what they need to do. These criteria will then be used to inform employers of the technical requirements their managers should have, it will be used by training providers as a syllabus and possibly by third party certification bodies for assessment.

Good fire safety management and methodology is the next big area the sector has to address; hopefully we can do enough to avoid the next big multi fatality fire.

We made a new guidance document available at FIREX this year. It is entitled ‘Fire safety and due diligence’, which will hopefully be of use to fire safety managers who attended the show.

IFSEC Global: There must be some examples where good fire safety knowledge has been shared across borders…

SI: There are lots and lots of harmonized European fire standards for products/systems, for testing and for operating third party certification. However there is very little in the way of sharing good fire safety practice in the same way as we share standards.

There must be some good case studies, research and guidance documents that are being produced in other countries, which don’t seem to be filtering down to the fire sector in the UK.

Even when it does flow this way we are slow on the uptake or we don’t even bother to apply it. For example in 2010 the European hotel and restaurant group HOTREC released a guide to good fire safety practice in hotels. This standard to our knowledge has been widely ignored by the UK hotel sector.

There is a now a scheme by which hotel operators can demonstrate they are complying with this European industry standard; not one UK hotel has signed up to this initiative.  If you look at the presentations for Firex International this year, there was very little if anything from any other country apart from the UK.

In an attempt to address this at this year’s FRACS seminar in October, we hope to include some international case studies so delegates can learn from a different perspective.

IG: Why do you think there is little crossover between different countries?

There are still so many differences between countries that often a specific problem in one would have been addressed through building regulations or fire regulations in another, so it would never be a problem in that country. Cultural differences and enforcement differences also play a part too.

Take the Kiss nightclub disaster in Brazil for example; many people believe that something like that couldn’t happen here because of the UK licensing laws and because we have a structured fire service enforcement regime.

However, there was a night club in Bolton closed down by the Fire and Rescue Service during the early hours of the morning in late November 2013. The risk to life in the event of a fire being so great, that the clubs owners were served an immediate prohibition notice.

Presumably that club was dangerous the night before, the week before the month before; who knows how many young people had been exposed to that risk during a night out with friends.

I do feel that the UK to some extent is leading much of the world in fire safety and the flow of information from the UK out is very good, but there are many common problems here that we haven’t been able to address which are repeated all over the world. So it stands to reason there should be some common answers to fire safety issues too.

The sharing of good practice isn’t something that happens naturally, someone has to coordinate it and disseminate it. Hopefully through the Fire Sector Federation, the global issue of fire safety can start to be addressed and by developing a global sharing network for strategy, guidance and policy, many common failures which often lead to fire loss could be addressed more successfully.

Read Simon Ince’s previous interview: “Proper Fire Safety Costs Money – and Everyone Wants a Bargain”

Simon was also interviewed by FIREX TV at FIREX International 2014

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    11 comments
    Simon Ince
    Simon Ince

    Over the top fear selling does give the fire risk industry a bad name I fully agree. However when buildings don't meet basic fire risk requirements more needs to be done. It is a bit like saying speeding is absolutely fine as long as you don't have an accident or don't get caught doing it. There are basic requirements that are just not being met and when fires occur those basics not being met can and do lead to greater fire loss.

    Simon Ince
    Simon Ince

    The only burden on business is compliance and compliance saves lives saves property and saves a business. In many many many cases of fire in the UK the business has been lacking in compliance. Is an MOT a burden on moterists? Is legionella testing a burden on business? Is airplane maintenance a burden on flight operators?

    There are certain given fire safety standards that should be in place to protect life. The FRS enforcement figures confirm that many businesses inspected don't meet these standards. How is that ever acceptable

    Alan Cox
    Alan Cox

    I believe that Simon’s comments are very valid both in respect of  improving the imagine of Fire Risk Assessors and for sharing Best Practice across borders, but unfortunately, this is only part of a much wider problem.

    Anyone that read my article on the RRO – Order or Chaos http://www.ifsecglobal.com/rro-order-of-chaos/ would note that I stated  I think that we first have to look closer to home. In my experience, we are not very good ambassadors for our own profession, and I include under this heading local authority fire officers, consultants, fire safety companies and the myriad of other job titles that earn a living in this sector. I am also including the ubiquitous safety officers who now find themselves involved in the fire safety process. Clearly we all have an important role in making our buildings safer from fire and protecting those who occupy them, so we need to be more open, honest and more transparent in our dealings.” I still believe that this is the case and unless we look at the bigger picture we are unlikely to move forward.

    Improving the way that Fire Risk Assessors work and the standard of Fire Risk Assessments is an important aspect but unless we have an open, honest and transparent approach from the enforcers then this will only be of limited value because if there is no clear guidance and cooperation in this area there is no way in which the assessment process can be validated.

    Sharing best practice across borders is another important area and one that I have tried to do over many years but unfortunately the will to change from our present system and to learn from others does not appear to be a high priority either in the UK or in Europe. I have been trying for some time to get the EU to adopt the Fire Safe Hotel Scheme in Europe that they use in the US  see http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/hotel.shtm but I am being informed that suggesting schemes from the US is not a good idea. If this is not a good idea why can’t we implement something like the Food Hygiene Ratings see http://ratings.food.gov.uk for buildings or the  Buy with Confidence Scheme http://www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk/sitepages/bwchome.aspx which promotes companies approved by Trading Standards?

    If other enforcement agencies can get these schemes off the ground why can’t this happen in the UK? In my opinion looking at the buildings and users has to be a fundamental part of any fire safety strategy and ignoring this is putting the “cart before the horse.”

    Mister Littlebit
    Mister Littlebit

    Of course I forgot to mention my mindset is on the backbone of the UK i.e 'the nation of shopkeepers' in other words the small to medium businesses fighting to survive in the real world. As Colin Todd said recently at Firex the large companies always had management systems etc in place and would comply anyway whatever the legislation. I'm referring to the small factory with 20 staff who has been sold extinguishers every 5 metres and wall coverings of safety signs! or the over zealous fire officer who recently insisted a top floor of a small 2 storey building had double door lobby protection installed at a cost of £1000. Third party registered? yes they are. Accredited auditors? yes they are?  

    Mister Littlebit
    Mister Littlebit

    I don't disagree with you Simon, but may I quote some other phrases in the RRO (and guidance suite books) 'where necessary' and 'reasonable fire precautions' and 'flexibility'  There is an awful amount of  over the top fear selling in my opinion, the RRO if used properly as a risk based approach can achieve compliance without compromising safety. 

    Simon Ince
    Simon Ince

    The only burden on business is compliance and compliance saves lives saves property and saves a business. In many many many cases of fire in the UK the business has been lacking in compliance. Is an MOT a burden on moterists? Is legionella testing a burden on business? Is airplane maintenance a burden on flight operators?

    There are certain given fire safety standards that should be in place to protect life. The FRS enforcement figures confirm that many businesses inspected don't meet these standards. How is that ever exceptible

    Mister Littlebit
    Mister Littlebit

    Agree with both comments from BEN and Neil, nearly 10 years on and the ethos of the RRO 'cost neutral' 'not a burden on business' ha ha, too many 'fear sellers' in the fire industry for that to happen.  

    L A A
    L A A

    I agree with Ben, this seems to be the start of a fire industry cartel, making money out of 3rd party certification. As a former enforcement officer with a local authority fire brigade, I have seen and heard stories of the abuses when the client has called in a fire company to tell them what they need. Would you go into a car sales room and ask them to decide what car you should buy? No! Because, in some cases, you would be sold a pup.

    Unfortunately, resources for enforcement by fire authorities are being stretched and poor fire risk assessments are not being picked up. But the client is trying to do the right thing and I think the current approach will work, albeit slowly, as clients learn and start to realise what they are getting for their money.

    Something is working though, fire deaths and injuries are reducing, according to the latest statistics .

    There is a place for 3rd party certification, particularly in relation to active fire safety systems, but it should be voluntary, so that fire safety is not priced out of the small and medium business budget. Nothing is gained by making fire risk assessments so expensive, they don't get done.

    B E N
    B E N

    Legislation , legislation , paperwork , paperwork .Its no wonder companies have to charge more than is reasonable . The proposed Fire safe Register is just another another attempt by the "big boys" to put pressure on small companies to give up , so the "big boys" have the monopoly . I ran a very successful small fire protection company for 15 years , in the early days we were BSI/BAFFE approved but opted out due the silly amounts of paperwork , the cost and stupid requirements . We never lost one customer and they included H M prisons , NHS Authorities , Stately Homes and many large organisations . In the time my company operated , we never had one extinguisher fail or failures in any of the other equipment we serviced and supplied . . Unlike most companies, we never had a sales target, because I really do believe that targets lead to bad practice and the replacing of perfectly good equipment .  Companies , both large and small can do without extra burdens of more legislation, admittedly there are cowboys out there and there always will be. 

    Who are these people , who keep inventing these silly ideas just to justify their existance , instead of sitting on their backsides and no doubt earning huge amounts of money , they could be out there getting their hands dirty and checking the work done by companies , large and small . Turn up anywhere without notice and by doing so they could check both the suppliers of services and products and also the end user , 


    i would point out , i would still be in business if it hadnt been attacked by cancer , i miss the work and the customers and I suppose I always will , with hindsight I should have taken on someone to look after the business until i recovered , which hopefully is in the near future .


    B E N 

    B E N
    B E N

    @Mister Littlebit Too many so called approved people use the legislation to scare people and as a tool to sell where not needed 

    Neil Ashdown
    Neil Ashdown

    @B E N Hope you recover soon B E N and get back to the world of fire safety services. High standards of integrity, workmanship, best practice, correct selection of products and installation as fire performance test etc will always be paramount whether third party certificated or not.


    Just one thing though.............Simon isn't suggesting that there should be legislation so that only third party certificated companies can offer fire safety related services and products. He's talking about a website at which building owners/operators could find fire safety contractors and suppliers. The user of this web based service would have the assurance that all listed service providers / suppliers have third party certification which of course most people accept provides a higher level of quality assurance than self-certification.


    Legislation would have to come from central government rather than the industry itself or indeed companies providing  certification services...................and I don't see that happening any time soon.


    So don't worry, you don't have to be third party accredited to provide the best service and workmanship. High standards of workmanship and service will always win through in the end, always has, always will.

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