COVID-19 has shaped and altered the fire protection industry in recent months, and the Fire Industry Association (FIA) in the United Kingdom has published a survey report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey, conducted by FIA, sought to gain a greater understanding of how organizations have been impacted by COVID-19 and of the impact on the wider fire industry now and in the future.

Resilience is a recurring theme in the FIA report. At the time of the survey (when the United Kingdom was just past the coronavirus peak), a total of 81% of respondents expected they could continue operating under current circumstances for three months or more. Roughly a fourth expected their business could continue for six months (23.4%), and another quarter of respondents expected they could last a year (23.4%).

alternative learning models

Although not offered as an option in the survey, some respondents commented that they could last longer than a year. It is unclear whether answers were provided before or after respondents had made organizational changes to adapt to COVID-19.  The companies surveyed by FIA appeared to be adaptable as well as resilient. In short, COVID-19 has changed how organizations work.

More than 50% planned flexible working (55.9%) and/or remote working (50%) initiatives

More than 50% planned flexible working (55.9%) and/or remote working (50%) initiatives. Other adaptation approaches include restructuring (45.4%), alternative learning models (36.9%), cross-training and knowledge transfer (33.3%), and reskilling or upskilling employees on new ways of working (32.1%).

continuous professional development

The United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has allowed companies to keep their staff whilst they assess the impact of COVID-19 and not be forced into premature decisions on redundancies. Outside the survey, the FIA reports seeing many companies within the fire industry demonstrate their flexibility by engaging with the association’s new online training and exams.

More than 450 fire professionals have been trained online since April 1, and over 100 online exams were completed since June 1. Over 2,000 fire safety professionals have embraced online continuous professional development (CPD) sessions from FIA as a way to invest time when not on the road or visiting customers.

high financial impact

The largest group of FIA survey respondents (47.6%) observed that COVID-19 had a high financial impact on their business, and another 39.3% noted a moderate impact. Only 10.7% saw a low financial impact on their business. COVID-19 has also had an impact on the management, retention and hiring of staff. Some 40% of survey respondents said they had placed 25% or less of their staff on furlough.

Required access of fire professionals to customer premises was an issue during lockdown, and in the FIA survey

However, at the other extreme, 27.7% reported they had placed 75-100% of staff on furlough. In the middle, 13.8% reported they had placed 25-50% on furlough, and 18.5% reported the number at 50-75%. On the optimistic side, 57.6% of respondents expect 75-100% of workers to return from furlough. Another 28.8% expect only 0-25% of employees to return from furlough. Required access of fire professionals to customer premises was an issue during lockdown, and in the FIA survey.

fire safety professionals

Some 72.5% of respondents reported they require access to customer premises. As the lockdown progressed, 75% saw improvement in access to customer premises. About 46.4% of respondents reported that 50% or more of site visits have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19. Arguably, even more site visits would have been cancelled or postponed if fire safety professionals had not been classified as key workers.

The survey included respondents from the Fire Detection and Alarm (FD&A) sector (41%), as well as Fire Risk Assessors (26%) and the Extinguishing sector (13%). An “other” category (20% of respondents) included Housing Associations, Local Government, Insurers, and Quality and Competency Approval Bodies. There were 84 respondents.

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Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

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