Why do gas engineers need to become Gas Safe Registered? Why do heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers need to have an advanced driving license? We all know the answers to these questions: To determine competency and reduce risk. Because they are mandatory, it is simply expected.

Premises managers expect the same competency from their fire safety providers; however, there are no mandatory measures in place to ensure a particular level of competency is met. But there should be, says Stephen Adams, Chief Executive of BAFE, an independent registration body for third party certified protection companies across the United Kingdom.

Advocating certification of fire safety competency

Third party certification (or any system to monitor competency) is not mandatory in the fire safety industry at present, which presents unnecessary risk, says Adams. Third Party Certification (or any system to monitor competency) is not mandatory in the fire safety industry at present, which presents unnecessary risk

There is a benefit to the customer of using a provider that is independently and regularly assessed by a UKAS Accredited Certification Body to ensure they are competent to deliver the specific required service. Sourcing a provider who holds the appropriate third-party certification will also provide strong evidence of acting with due diligence in following fire safety legislation.

Certainly for high-risk premises, not just those above a certain height but those where the occupants or function demands strong fire protection, there needs to be mandated third party certification of the competence of all those involved,” says Adams.

This is not just at the initial construction stage, but throughout the building life cycle as use, occupancy and technology change. The end user and those responsible for building safety have the key responsibility, together with input from the Fire and Rescue Services, providers and public authorities to ensure ongoing compliance and recording of actions.”

Determining competency for fire safety services

BAFE was first established in 1984 within FETA (Fire Extinguishing Trades Association) and the British Fire Protection Systems Association (BFPSA). Since 2009, however, BAFE has been independent and has evolved into developing and monitoring schemes to determine competency for multiple fire safety services.

BAFE develops schemes based on defined quality standards and industry best practice for fire safety service providers to achieve and become Third Party Certificated.

These assessments are performed by UKAS Accredited Certification Bodies (licensed by BAFE). Only when a company holds appropriate and valid Third Party Certification are they permitted to become BAFE Registered and appear on the national register available free to view at on their website.

BAFE’s competency schemes

BAFE offer competency schemes for the following areas:

  • Fire extinguisher servicing/maintenance (BAFE SP101)
  • Fire risk assessment (BAFE SP205)
  • Kitchen fire protection systems (BAFE SP206)
  • Dry and wet riser/falling installations servicing/maintenance (BAFE SP105)

The SP203 suite of schemes is modular and offers competency criteria for the design, installation, commissioning and/or maintenance of:

  • Fire detection and alarms systems (BAFE SP203-1)
  • Fixed gaseous fire extinguishing systems (BAFE SP203-3)
  • Emergency lighting systems (BAFE SP203-4)

BAFE has dedicated monitoring groups for each scheme that meet regularly to ensure they continue to represent the highest levels of competency within the industry.

Supporting UK fire safety

BAFE has been active in efforts to influence and support fire safety for the UK. This includes work with the appropriate Competence Steering Group (CSG) working groups established since the publication of the Hackitt review (“Building a Safer Future”).

Chris Auger, Head of Schemes – BAFE, is currently Secretary to WG2 (Installers) and WG4 is continuing to develop competence standards for Fire Risk Assessors to meet the requirements of high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs).

BAFE also has close working relationships with organisations including UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service), FSF (Fire Sector Federation), FIA (Fire Industry Association), FPA (Fire Protection Association), IFEDA (Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association), Construction Industry Council (CIC) and multiple Certification Bodies.

Raising the bar

BAFE exists to help raise the bar of competency within the fire safety industry across the United Kingdom, says Adams. Their ethos is in a strong belief in Third Party Certification. BAFE exists to help raise the bar of competency within the fire safety industry across the United Kingdom

Whilst we strongly believe the BAFE schemes offer a quality, independent method of determining competency for a specific service though a range of Certification Bodies, we purely want Third Party Certification to be the baseline absolute requirement for any fire safety work (where it is available),” says Adams.

BAFE stands with FPA Managing Director Jonathan O'Neill’s request to Government to mandate Third Party Certification. The more providers that hold Third Party Certification, and the more end users that request it, the stronger the argument to Government to mandate this requirement for a better regulated industry.

Addressing the misconceptions

A misconception about fire safety Third Party Certification from end users (e.g. premises management) is that it covers all fire safety services offered. BAFE this year have launched a new campaign, “Don’t Just Specify, Verify!,” to highlight this issue.

Before awarding any contract, we are trying to educate people to verify their chosen contractor’s Third Party Certification to ensure it is appropriate for the work they require,” says Adams.

Whilst most customers understand that they should have fire protection systems, they do not adequately understand the need for a full and competent Fire Risk Assessment. There are still “assessors” who will offer one for ridiculously low prices, often without even entering the building.

The need for fire risk assessments

The Fire Risk Assessment is a mandatory requirement and forms the basis for all other activity – and must be kept up to date. By not using a competent provider, the responsible person is leaving themselves open to prosecution and serious loss of life and property.

The horrific Grenfell fire that unfolded on 14th June 2017 raised interest and awareness of fire safety measures, their relationship to the whole construction and what should be in place to keep any premises safe.

raised interest and awareness of fire safety measures
The horrific Grenfell fire that unfolded on 14th June 2017 raised interest and awareness of fire safety measures

Adams says BAFE saw an increase in companies gaining Third Party Certification, especially to the Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment (SP205) scheme.

This is a skill that needs greater emphasis and some mandatory measures introduced to ensure competent persons are completing this vital action,” says Adams. “We welcome any stronger measures following the Hackitt Review to introduce robust methods of logging activity across the whole building life cycle (the ‘Golden Thread’ of information) in the interest of acting will due diligence creating safer buildings from fire.”

The Fire Risk Assessment is a mandatory requirement and forms the basis for all other activity – and must be kept up to date

A year from now, we anticipate that the Hackitt requirements will be built into legislation and the Building Regulations across all parts of the UK,” says Adams.

By 2023 BAFE and the industry would like to see mandatory measures in place to monitor and determine competency of providers offering specific services. Most notable are services such as fire risk assessment, both commercial and domestic fire detection and alarm systems plus multiple other areas including many passive fire protection design and installation services. Certificated services should extend across all aspects of fire safety, passive and active, and include greater monitoring of individual as well as company competence.”

Trade associations such as FIA and IFEDA demand third party certification as a core membership requirement, and other important professional bodies such as the FPA are calling out to Government to mandate third party certification, says Adams. “It would shake up the industry dramatically, leaving only the evidentially competent able to provide these works,” he says.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

In case you missed it

Even with Firefighters Retiring Earlier, Pension Costs Remain Manageable
Even with Firefighters Retiring Earlier, Pension Costs Remain Manageable

Because the physical challenges take a toll, firefighters tend to retire at earlier ages than other occupations. There is also a greater likelihood of workplace disability. Firefighter pension plans are often more generous to offset a lack of Social Security eligibility for some public safety employees. Also, more years of retirement translate into an overall increase in medical care costs for fire service retirees. Therefore, pension benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those for other government employees, according to an analysis by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE). Even so, retirement costs for firefighters and police officers represent only a small percentage of total expenditures for city, county and school district jurisdictions – around 2%. Even if you focus on jurisdictions in which public safety costs are most significant—the city and county levels – the burden is still small, averaging only 4.9% of aggregate spending for cities and 1.9% for counties. Pension Changes Could Impact Firefighter Recruitment Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge. For example, shifting the retirement age would reduce total employee compensation, which could negatively affect retention. A wage increase to offset the change would maintain total compensation at previous levels. In 2016, the costs of pension benefits earned for police and fire personnel made up 15% of the payroll, compared with only 8% for non-public safety local employees. Annual retiree health care benefits made up 6% of payroll, compared to 4% for other employees. Analyzing Retirement Benefits Earlier retirement ages translate into longer retirement periods for these workers, which impact higher pension costs. Public safety employees are eligible for their benefits at younger ages than other groups, even though the average expected lifespans at retirement are similar. Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees, a difference that offsets the lack of Social Security coverage for some public safety employees. Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge “Local governments across the country are continually analyzing the retirement benefits provided to the public safety workforce, along with associated costs,” says Joshua Franzel, PhD., President and CEO of SLGE. “This research provides government leaders and policymakers with a national snapshot so they can make informed decisions.” Outdated Assumptions? Some evidence suggests that assumptions about earlier retirement ages for police and firefighters may be outdated. Despite the physical demands of the jobs, some local governments have sought to retain experienced employees using a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which allows employees to claim pensions while continuing to work. Higher DROP participation rates – with some public safety employees working five years longer – suggest that employees may be able to stay on the job until later ages. Also, the U.S. Army (whose jobs can also be physically demanding) has raised its mandatory retirement age for active duty soldiers from 55 to 62.  emphasizing employee health and fitness Use of technology can help to ease the physical burdens of public safety jobs, and an emphasis on employee health and fitness can also improve the picture. The analysis was conducted by CPR researchers Jean-Pierre Aubry, Associate Director of State and Local Research; and Kevin Wandrei, Research Associate. The research assesses the size of public safety retiree benefit costs using public safety employee data from the Public Plans Database, the U.S. Census Bureau, and government actuarial valuations.

Volunteer Departments Face Grim Finances As Pandemic Eliminates Fundraisers
Volunteer Departments Face Grim Finances As Pandemic Eliminates Fundraisers

Among volunteer fire departments, spring is a prime season for fundraising. But not in 2020. Concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus have ruled out the possibility of large public gatherings. A consequence of the coronavirus shutdown is cancellation of hundreds of volunteer fire department fundraisers across the United States – from fish fries to bingo to hog roasts to chicken barbecues. No more carnivals or spaghetti suppers or gun raffles. And departments are losing thousands of dollars. The resulting financial burden is a momentous and imminent threat to the operation of volunteer fire departments, some of which do not receive any government funding. With two months or more of fundraising lost forever, the economic stability of volunteer fire departments is called into doubt. Underlying the problem is another sobering reality: Fires don’t stop just because of coronavirus. However, overall calls are down for some departments, which provides some level of relief.   Virtual And Online Fundraising Hope springs eternal that some variation of fundraising can resume if things get back to “normal” in June or later this summer. If not, in a worst-case scenario if stay-at-home orders remain in place for several more months, some volunteer departments could be forced to shut down. Raising money may not get any easier for months to come. Underlying the problem is a sobering reality: Fires don’t stop just because of coronavirus Some departments have experimented with virtual and online fundraisers, with mixed results, although the efforts are unlikely to replace the lost revenue from events canceled because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Examples include Facebook Live raffles and various types of electronic donation collections. Some volunteer departments operate social halls and rent them out for a variety of public events. With those events cancelled, too, another possible source of revenue is eliminated, at least for the near term. Volunteer Fire Department Costs Some departments have experimented with virtual and online fundraisers, with mixed results Department costs are unrelenting – and varied. They have to pay basic utilities such as electricity, heat and internet, as well as buy fuel for their trucks. Some have loan payments on fire trucks and other equipment, and various maintenance costs, not to mention insurance on equipment and supplemental insurance for firefighters. Just as many households are reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic, many fire departments also find themselves suddenly thrust into uncertain times facing a downwardly spiraling budget and little way to make up the deficit. Rather than living paycheck-to-paycheck, they are accustomed to working fundraiser-to-fundraiser. In general, donations dwindle in a down economy. Some departments are having to slash up to half their spending, addressing the dilemma with a brutal reevaluation of their department’s finances. They are separating “needs” that can’t be ignored from “wants” that can be delayed or eliminated.  For example, purchase of replacement equipment may need to be delayed for a period of time. Navigating Uncharted Waters Volunteer fire departments were already facing challenges such as recruitment and retention declines, and a dearth of funds aggravates the existing challenges. State and municipal governments provide funding to volunteer fire departments in some locales, but can those funds be counted on as governments face their own shortfalls? Tax support and municipal funds may not be a sure thing in the era of COVID-19. The fact is, we are all in uncharted territory.

How Can We Better Ensure Firefighter Health And Wellness?
How Can We Better Ensure Firefighter Health And Wellness?

Ensuring the health and wellness of firefighters is a burden shared among equipment manufacturers as well as the fire departments and individual firefighters. Thoughtful design of equipment and other products used in the fire service can be a positive factor as firefighters and other first responders face dangerous situations every day. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What steps can we take to better ensure firefighter health and wellness?

vfd