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Take No Risk With Fire

11 January 2010

Concern that fire risk assessors can be ‘untrained’ people, RICS and Warrington Fire have developed FRACS, a fire risk assessor accreditation scheme to ensure that fire risk assessors will be competent

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE Regulatory Reform Order (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) changed the face of fire safety in property in England and Wales for ever. Apart from high risk properties, the Fire and Rescue Services will no longer come to your property and give it a fire certificate. Whilst the RRO was welcomed as it consolidated the myriad of fire safety regulations which had grown up over many years, the changes also heralded the obligation for property owners and occupiers as ‘responsible persons’ to undertake a fire risk assessment themselves of their premises.
As Martin Russell-Croucher, Director, Special Projects for RICS Professional Groups and Forums explains, the guidance issued by the Communities and Local Government department (CLG) responsible for the RRO suggested that it was possible for this work to be undertaken ‘without, in most cases, the need for any specialist of formal knowledge or training’ however you can ‘pass this task to some other competent person’.
Whilst undertaking a fire risk assessment for a small, simple premises may not be too difficult it is interesting to note that the CLG have produced no less than 13 guides to fire risk assessment to cover the many different situations that may confront someone undertaking a fire risk assessment and of course the consequences of an inadequate assessment are potentially fatal.
Russell-Croucher explained that RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) was concerned about these requirements for both the public and its members because this was an issue of life safety. It wanted to make sure that the fire risk assessment was correct and was not something that should be undertaken lightly. There was no definition to enable a responsible person to identify who was competent or a list of those deemed competent. This was surprising considering that there are a number of government endorsed competent persons schemes in existence where life safety was of paramount importance, such as Gas Safe for gas installers schemes for electrical contractors and asbestos inspectors.
Most of these are schemes accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), the Government approved accreditation body. It accredits approved organisations that certify people to a international standard for individual competence, ISO17024.
Competent
As RICS members could potentially be in the position of the responsible person or of being asked to provided the competent person role, it was felt that the Institute should establish a competent persons scheme to provide them and other responsible persons with an assurance that a fire risk assessor was competent to a defined standard (ISO17024) and also enable fire risk assessors from the fire and property industry to prove their competence via a third party accreditation scheme.
RICS partnered with Warrington Fire to develop the FRACS scheme as they are recognised independent international experts in all aspects of fire safety, with existing accredited schemes for certifying both products (CERTIFIRE) and installers (FIRAS) under the UKAS banner. Warrington are now licensed by RICS to use the framework the partnership developed to certify fire risk assessors to UKAS accreditation standards.
As this is a competence scheme there is no training involved, just assessment, but it is
recommended that a potential scheme member should undertake training if they are relatively inexperienced. The Awarding Body for the Built Environment (ABBE) has developed a national qualification in this area (For more details see the ABBE website www.abbeqa.co.uk.)
The launch of the scheme has, Russell-Croucher contends, come at a time when fire risk assessment has risen up the Government’s agenda due to the terrible loss of six lives at Lakanal House, Southwark, London in July 2009. The CLG have been investigating how this can best be achieved and the results of the research should have been known by the end of 2009. However, whatever they announce there is a need to ensure that fire risk assessments are carried out by competent persons remains of paramount concern.
Simon Ince, from Warrington Certification is concerned that facilities managers may be paying for a fire risk assessment undertaken by poorly trained and inexperienced assessors, selling themselves as ‘competent’. In the event of a tragic fire, it is the business owner who could potentially receive heavy fines or serve a prison sentence.
“With no controls in place, anyone can set themselves up as a practising fire risk assessor, regardless of knowledge or experience,” explains Ince. “Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the ‘responsible person’ must ensure that any assessor they employ to complete a fire risk assessment on their premises is competent to do so. Merely having a fire risk assessment completed by a ‘professional’ is not enough; its contents have to be suitable and sufficient to ensure life safety in the event of a fire. FRACS is the only nationally accredited scheme for certifying individuals that are competent to conduct fire risk assessments under the RRO to help address this serious problem. Selecting a fire risk assessor should not be driven by price, but by
competence, and third party certification provides a bench mark indicator of a fire risk assessor’s ability to carry out an accurate fire risk assessment of premises for the purpose of life safety”.
FRACS complies with the requirements of BS EN ISO/IEC 17024:2003 – the internationally accepted standard for bodies operating certification of competent persons. A national register of all assessors who are certificated under the requirements of the FRACS Scheme will be maintained between RICS and Warrington Certification.
Certified Assessors are issued with a photo identity card and also listed on the website,
www.warringtonfire.net/riskassessor.


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