Dr Bob Docherty

Fire Safety Consultant

Author Bio ▼

Dr Bob Docherty is a fire safety consultant and fire engineer. He joined the Fire Service in 1968 and started his own business in 2001 after a 33-year tenure in the service. Bob was honoured in the New Years Honours in 2001 with the award of the Queen's Fire Service Medal for his contribution to the Fire Service. He has delivered many papers at conferences and seminars throughout the world and has contributed articles to many technical journals. He has also written the book, Airports and Aircraft, Fire Protection, Firefighting and Rescue Techniques. Bob continues to be active in the field of fire safety/engineering and is the Secretary General for the Institute of Fire Safety Managers. He is involved in the education of fire safety engineers in the UK and abroad, especially at a higher educational level, and he sits on various committees that are linked to this subject. He is also a verifier and contributor to training in industrial fire brigades through JOIFF and lectures to the MSc course in fire safety engineering at the University of Central Lancashire, with particular reference to qualitative risk assessments.
August 16, 2018

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COMPETENCE AND A CAREER PATHWAY

Why we need a unified, tiered, national register of fire risk assessors

Competency is the word on everyone’s lips – right across the fire industry, from installers to fire risk assessors.

I am sitting on a number of national working groups whose whole aim is to look towards accrediting/certifying/registering (call it what you want for now!) fire risk assessors who will be competent to carry out fire risk assessments on higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs), and maybe other defined higher risk buildings.

Amid this swirl of activity and some uncertainty, I thought I might share some of my views on the subject of a national fire risk assessors’ register.

I have heard one or two mutterings about the fire risk assessors registers of IFE, IFSM and IFPO. Warren Spencer mentioned to me recently, and it was put to me at a recent IFE North West Branch meeting, that we’d be a more powerful and effective group if there were one register with 300 plus on it rather than three or more registers.

The proliferation of registers just shows up the splits within the sector – which got me thinking.

The IFSM is the only one which recognises UKAS third-party certification as a criterion for entry

I think the combined totals of all three registers is around 300. The IFSM is the only one which recognises UKAS third-party certification as a criterion for entry onto its register.

On top of that, there are individuals and companies who are part of the FRACS scheme, BAFE SP205 and IFC scheme who are not on any of the professional bodies’ registers. Add them and I estimate a number of around 400 (and from our IFSM experience, the number applying for third-party accreditation is growing – which suggests the message might be getting through).

Three tiers

I believe we can get the industry to coalesce around one national fire risk assessors register. All we need to do is tier the register into third-party accredited, second-party accredited (internally) and a third tier registered via a level 2-3 qualification.

The first level (third-party accredited) would be registered to carry out all types of FRAs including HRRBs and other high risk complex and specialist FRAs. The second tier (second party or internally certificated) could carry out FRAs on medium risk buildings/premises and the third tier (similar to apprentices) are qualified to carry out FRAs on simple and less complex buildings.

There are definitions already for these types of buildings, or they can be produced as an operational outline. The bonus here is this new structure would also form a career pathway for young professionals to gain experience as they move through the tiers.

It’s always in the back of my mind that the assessor must be the final arbiter of their own level of competency (or incompetency) when taking on a contract. But if nothing else, at least the tiered approach will inform the responsible person about who they should choose as a fire risk assessor.

I would like to think the IFSM membership could be persuaded to move in this direction quickly (especially as there would be a home on the register for the ‘less competent’).

The legwork could be done by the professional bodies forwarding names for inclusion on the register

The logistics and finance are a little less clear. However, if we appointed an organisation like BAFE or FPA to hold and administer the register, then the legwork could be done by the professional bodies forwarding names for inclusion on the register.

The other alternative could be to form a separate company that would hold the register. But if professional bodies don’t want to relinquish their individual registers, they could still adopt the three-tiered concept on their own registers.

There would have to be some ‘read across’ standards, but we already have the national standard for fire risk assessors and the institute is developing the standard/qualification for tier three level entry.

My personal view is that there should be one national register with three tiers of competency for fire risk assessors.  I think that with cooperation and agreement between the professional bodies involved, this vision could easily be realised and, maybe, the thorny issue of competent fire risk assessors might be resolved.

It would also give a career pathway to young professionals and as a combined ‘force’, we could be more powerful and effective in dealing with future challenges.

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Simon InceMike BuckleyIan RobertsonBob DochertyJohn Smith Recent comment authors
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John Smith
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John Smith

Hello Bob,
I agree that it is a bit of a mess at the moment. The trouble is when some of the big organisations get involved they just seem to be interested in the money. This adds expense to the consultant who must then pass it on to the customer. Some of the courses that the big organisations advertise are also very basic but give the appearance that someone is competent after a few days training. I think any register should rest with the IFE.

Bob Docherty
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Bob Docherty

Hi John, thanks for the reply, maybe rest with the IFSM or combination of IFE and IFSM jointly so is independent? I am not precious about it or where it should be held. Along time ago FIRECO offered to hold a national register of fire risk assessments and would run it for free! Just need a bit of free thinking on this one!

Ian Robertson
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Ian Robertson

Hi John, Curious as to how you reckon that an tiered register for competent fire risk assessors should be left in the hands solely of the IFE? The IFE certifying its own members would be Second Party, which as we know is not the criteria recommended for fire safety products or services. IMO any such register will definitely require input from the IFE but must be an independent body with the assistance of leading members of the IFE & IFSM etc. This way a truly Third Party Accredited register of fire risk assessors can be compiled and certified as an… Read more »

Mike Buckley
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Mike Buckley

Hello Bob, Yes, it is a mess but the register is only part of the problem. Whist there is no requirement for a risk assessor to be on a register then anyone can and will carry out risk assessments, particularly when cost is a ruling factor. The general drift of the legislation is against forcing clients to use registered assessors under the general Health and Safety concept that anyone should be able to carry out a basic risk assessment. I believe this is a faulty assumption in the case of fire. I would suggest that a licensing system similar to… Read more »

Simon Ince
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Simon Ince

Hi Bob In a recent freedom of information survey of local authority housing providers less than half of those questioned about the use of certificated fire risk assessors said they used them. The lack of insistance is one issue especially from housing who should know better. The second issue is robustness of the schemes; to provide a good assurance for the responsible person the schemes should be tough to get on and even tougher to stay on. Currently I don’t believe they are tough enough or have enough surveilance. the industry in my opionion won’t support schemes that are robust… Read more »