Head of European Regulatory Affairs, Tyco International

Author Bio ▼

Martin Harvey has been involved with the fire and security industry for over 40 years. Initially he started work with the AFA Minerva R&D department working on new security and fire detection control equipment and detectors. This progressed into an operations role, designing fire and gas detection systems for marine and offshore. Martin then project managed the development and introduction of the Minerva analogue addressable fire detection system for Thorn security. In 2006 Martin moved back to London to head up TYCO fire detection business in Europe, which provided him with a European insight of the different product and systems requirements across Europe. Recently he has seen a further involvement in codes and standards work, and is now a committee member of a number of BSI and CENLEC security standards. In the past fire and security have been seen a different systems, although in many ways aligned the standards development and application have taken different paths. In today’s new digital world Martin sees these, together with other information based systems starting to merge for the benefit of all.
February 1, 2017

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Finally: a fire-safety standard that defines ‘competence’ – now we need a qualification

A new fire standard has just been published, but unlike other standards, it does not specify technical aspects such as how a fire safety product should be designed or maintained.

Instead, the new standard, EN 16763 ‘Services for Fire Safety and Security Systems’, focuses purely on service delivery.

It has been almost five years in the making, but the new standard explores every part of the service – from planning, through to design, commission, installation, and handover to the client.  The standard clarifies what should be the expected level of service at each stage, bringing a new benchmark of quality to the fore of the fire industry.

Although this new standard isn’t mandatory by law, it is incredibly necessary: at this moment in time, there is no way of determining the quality of service that a company currently provides prior to purchasing.

This standard aims to improve the quality of service delivery by specifying the level of competence, knowledge, and understanding of a company and the individuals employed by that company.  The idea is that by having certain service levels specified, it gives buyers greater confidence in what they are purchasing.

Education

But why would it be necessary to specify the minimum levels of service that should be expected?

It’s all linked to education – across the whole of Europe and in particular the level of education required to do the jobs we do in the fire industry. The standard sets out the minimum level of education and experience that should be required in order to service a life safety system – something that has never been specified before.

There is currently no formal qualification for the UK fire industry. So if a postman with a liking for DIY suddenly decided that he could commission a sprinkler system or install a fire alarm, there is no education requirement to stop him from doing so.

There are no guidelines or even an expected education baseline. The only vague hint at anything in that direction is where the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that the individual must be ‘competent’ – but nothing exists that defines what ‘competent’ means.

By law, there is no minimum education requirement, and no formal guidelines on what ‘competent’ looks like in each area of the fire industry, particularly in the services sector.

When that notion is the same all across all of Europe, there is a real need to create a uniform achievable baseline from which everyone can work.

Raising standards

This new standard effectively aims to push those without appropriate education and experience out of the industry in order to raise standards and professionalism in the industry even higher. This not only gives buyers confidence in what they are getting, it also gives them a better idea of what level of service to expect.

In a nutshell, EN16763 lays out a Europe-wide benchmark of quality that should be expected and maintained throughout the industry.  It sets out all pre-requisites for the level of skills, knowledge, and education that should be expected.

It’s all about hitting quality standards for fire safety systems surrounding who is actually doing the work and whether they are doing it correctly.  With a life safety system, it really isn’t acceptable that in 2017, people are able to claim that they are able to do the job without a certain level of expertise behind them.  But that is what this standard aims to define.  And the message is clear – education is key.

This is a real opportunity to raise the quality of services in the fire and security industries across the whole of Europe. And while there isn’t yet a formal qualification in the UK for fire, this is an important first step towards formalising the industry in this way.

And it’s really needed. That’s why the FIA and many other industry professionals have strived to create this new standard: to set out the level of education and experience that individuals need in order to do the jobs that they say they can do.

Impact on BAFE certification

As for the impact on companies right now, there’s now a huge need for companies to comply with this standard as it may become written into the BAFE certification schemes in time. If BAFE and the certification bodies do adopt this standard (all signs point to yes, they probably will), then they will have to turn up and inspect the business.

However, that inspection will have to change to cover the criteria in this new standard, which calls for a higher level of knowledge, skills, and understanding.

There’s two obvious ways of doing that kind of inspection, but they’re both very time-consuming: an hour-long written test of each individual’s knowledge, or an interview process in which the auditor asks about their experience in the industry and every job they’ve done over the past 20 years. When some companies have hundreds of employees, it really seems neither a viable nor efficient option.

Why need a qualification

A much more efficient way of proving your competence would be through a qualification. Then auditors could simply check that everyone has the correct qualifications for the jobs they’re doing and simply check them off – much quicker, much easier.

What the industry really needs now is to launch a qualification.  It’s the best thing for the industry to move forward like this.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many people that have gained their skills, knowledge, and competence over many years.  You can’t say everyone out there without formal training is bad – but there are those out there without training who have done some fairly shocking things (breaching the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in the process).

Having a qualification would help solve this issue.  It would help uniform the level of service across the whole of the UK – the whole of Europe, perhaps.

It would even out the field and increase the knowledge of our service engineers, allowing them to perform their jobs better, and give them confidence in the decisions they need to make on a daily basis.

Certainly, when we’re dealing with life-safety equipment, one failure is one failure too many.

Careers roadmap

On top of that, a formal qualification would help companies meet this new standard, while giving employers more confidence about the quality of the engineer they are employing. And for job seekers and school leavers, EN16763 provides a clear careers roadmap by signposting minimum criteria that individuals must meet to enter the industry.

It has been said time and again that few new faces are entering the industry.  That’s because our industry is so invisible and it’s quite hard to find out how to start and where a career might lead.

This new standard demands the introduction of a formal qualification to start filling this huge skills gap and get companies up to the new required standard as set out in EN 16763.

Combine this roadmap set out in ‘Services for Fire Safety and Security Systems’ with an actual qualification and suddenly the door will open.  People will see a career path before them.

EN16763 is the breath of fresh air that we need for 2017.  Hitting high levels of customer satisfaction through specifying minimum levels of service, it sets out a roadmap of the education required for each job role.

It’s now down to the industry to embark on this road and get their staff through formal training, if and when it becomes available.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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