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Fire Competency – What Facilities Managers Need to Know 

Fire Competency – What Facilities Managers Need to Know 
07 April 2021

Howard Passey, Director of Operations and Principal Consultant at the Fire Protection Association, explains how FMs can ensure they meet competency requirements of the Building Safety Bill.

Passey trained formally as a land surveyor, spending eight years in the construction industry before joining the Fire Protection Association as a Training/Information Officer in 1992. He has a BEng (Hons) in Fire Engineering and is a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), a Fellow of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers (IFSM) and registered on the Nationally Accredited Fire Risk Assessors Register. (NFRAR). He has spent considerable time in the fire advisory division, helping clients with complex and varied projects including fire safety audits, fire strategy development and reviews, inspections and risk assessments. 


What do FMs Need to Know About Fire Competency?


Systemic issues surrounding competency were brought into sharp focus following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The subsequent Hackitt Review identified substantial weaknesses in systems and processes involved in the provision of fire safety and made a number of recommendations, especially with regards to higher risk buildings including residential tower blocks. The resulting Building Safety Bill places day-to-day responsibility over fire safety upon Building Safety Managers (BSMs) – a newly created role anticipated to be met in large part by facilities managers. So how can facilities managers ensure they meet competency requirements?


Competency and The Law 


Recently, several major fires, including those at Grenfell Tower and Lakanal House, have raised questions about what competency looks like for those responsible for fire safety. 

Currently, there is no universally accepted definition of competency, despite the Hackitt Review highlighting the lack of a coherent and comprehensive approach to competence and the potential of this to compromise safety. For facilities managers, with a myriad of responsibilities and with new priorities relating to the BSM role, it may be difficult to know where to start, but there are several steps they can take to act within best practice.


Howard passey

Picture: a photograph of Howard Passey


Undertaking a Fire Risk and DSEAR Assessment 


To meet legislative requirements, the "responsible person" or Duty Holder (usually the owner or occupier of the premises) must make a "suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks" in a building and implement safety measures appropriate to the circumstances. More than ever, it is critical that all those involved in the provision of fire safety understand their building, including any changes made since its construction which could impact on the spread of a fire, effective evacuation and also the premises’ resilience.

Among the wider factors reviewed and considered, a competent fire risk assessor will need to identify potentially combustible and flammable materials within the building, from cooking oil in kitchens to excess amounts of combustible storage or fuel used for back-up generators or plant.  Depending on what is found, these specific issues may highlight the need for a DSEAR (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002) assessment, which itself is a legal requirement.

Facilities managers should therefore be seeking out additional education and training to help them understand the challenges and process involved in the risk assessment process itself, and assist in acting on recommendations. Should a facilities manager find themselves responsible for undertaking a fire risk assessment, it’s important they seek appropriate approved training and preferably qualifications which will equip them to understand the risks, mitigations, procedures and legal requirements. 


Always Seek Third-Party Accreditation


When implementing any form of fire safety measure, the best means of ensuring that decisions are futureproofed is to seek third-party certification for products and services. Certification can be sought for services such as fire risk assessments or installation work, and products including fire doors, alarm and detection systems, and sprinklers.

Despite this, the FPA’s research tells us that building managers and those responsible for fire safety often don't insist on using third-party certified individuals and products. Whatever the reason for this, third-party certification is the principal way to ensure traceability and suitability and means that the building owner or manager will be able to demonstrate due diligence was taken in the event of a fire. In addition to ensuring the safety of building occupants, certification should also be seen as a fundamental requirement towards ensuring business resilience, rather than an option. 


“Third-party certification is the principal way to ensure traceability and suitability, and crucially, it means that the building owner will not be responsible for any failures in the event of a fire.”


Develop a Fire Strategy


Establishing and implementing a thorough fire strategy is essential in maximising fire protection and business resilience. Fire strategies underpin both the fire risk assessment and a business impact analysis and ensure that the makeup of the premises, the fire safety facilities provided and management of the premises act cohesively to protect life and essential property in the event of a fire. 

But, in our experience, there isn’t always a robust strategy in place. The standard PAS911 published by BSI, "Fire strategies - guidance and framework for their formulation", referred to a fire strategy as providing "a clear set of measures encompassing fire precautions, management of fire safety and fire protection." It involves the development and implementation of systems, policies and procedures that address relevant risks, with an aim to reduce life risk while also protecting business procedures and assets. Fire strategies are not one-size-fits-all but must be developed in alignment with the specific way an organisation operates, and the design, construction and use of its buildings.

A thorough fire strategy will also recognise the fire evacuation plan for premises. This should consider, by way of both principal procedures and person-centred assessments, the people at risk, where they are in the building, the risks that cannot be removed or reduced any further, the size and layout of the building and the processes that occur within it. 

Competent fire safety management is more than just a tick box procedure. It’s an integral part of ensuring that lives are protected and that buildings, and the communities that rely on them, have the resilience to overcome the effects of fire. 

Effective fire safety management will also become a legal responsibility for those who are appointed as a BSM once the Building Safety Bill is passed into law. Facilities managers must ensure they are taking the appropriate action to minimise the risk of fire in the workplace, but they aren’t expected to know all the answers without guidance. Our best advice is to seek out, as necessary, support from certified third-party professionals now to help understand changing responsibilities as a duty holder and evidence good practice. 

Picture: a photograph of a wall-mounted hose and fire extinguisher

Article written by Howard Passey | Published 07 April 2021


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