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Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
October 20, 2023

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Those commissioning fire risk assessments urged to help drive competence in the sector

Speaking at this year’s Fire Conference on Tuesday 17 October, the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE)’s Steve Hamm urged those in the construction and building safety industry to strongly consider competency when commissioning professionals to carry out fire risk assessments.

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The IFE’s Steve Hamm presenting at this year’s Fire Conference

In his presentation to the sector, IFE CEO Steve Hamm highlighted several challenges the fire risk assessment sector was facing at present. Alongside the questions around third-party accreditation and Professional Indemnity Insurance, the underlying concern regards the lack of supply of assessors compared to the growing demand for their services.

In particular, it is the “massive gap between the number of demonstrable competent fire risk assessors and the number of buildings out there”, Hamm explained.

Competency frameworks for fire risk assessors

While the numbers gap between overall supply and demand is one part of this problem, the focus of the presentation very much centred around competency.

Defining competency of course, isn’t always easy. The Fire Sector Federation (FSF), however, has set benchmarks around levels of complexity and competency requirements, and this process is said to be “on a journey” to become a British Standard.

Assessment processes are available from the likes of the IFE and other bodies, with professionals measured against the FSF benchmarks.

However, Hamm expressed his concern that were simply not enough fire risk assessors coming through assessments, despite knowing many more professionals are practicing in the industry.

“There are lots of individuals and organisations out there practicing fire risk assessment without any real heed to this concept of demonstrable third-party assurance of competence and conduct. This is a worry because if we’re going to underpin our regulatory regime with fire risk assessments, then we need to make sure our assessors do have that demonstrable third-party verification.”

Competence, as Hamm explained, is not just about technical knowledge, but also about a demonstrable commitment to ethical standards and continuing personal and professional development.

The IFE acknowledges that there is much still to do to combat these challenges. Work is ongoing to expand a publicly facing register to support the likes of building safety managers, landlords, responsible persons and others when searching for competent assessors, while other plans for the future include:

  • Developing and promoting the professional standards framework for fire risk assessors
  • Embedding Engineering Council and UKAS third party accreditation into processes
  • Recognition and accreditation of training courses tailored to fire risk assessment
  • Ensuring availability of relevant qualifications
  • Support to career development pathways with employer partners
  • International development

“Ask for proof of competence”

But the message to those commissioning fire risk assessors to carry out assessments in their buildings was clear. They have a key role to play now in the drive towards competent, professional standards in the sector, and can do so by asking for proof of competence from those they are commissioning.

As Hamm concluded: “If you commission fire risk assessments, please make sure you’re asking for a fire risk assessor who is professional registered with a demonstrable competence and commitment to their ethical and technical conduct.”

 

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