Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants


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Fire Safety, Competency Considerations

Fire safety is the same as any other discipline, in that reliance is placed on professionals to be competent and equally importantly to maintain their competence to achieve continued success.  However, defining / classifying those persons who are deemed to be competent presents a number of difficulties.

A competent person can be defined as:

“A competent person is someone with enough training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to be able to implement these measures properly.”

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) states that one (or more) competent person must be appointed to assist the nominated Responsible Person in undertaking the preventative and protection measures.  This does not necessarily mean one has to appoint an external consultant / professional to act as a competent person as sufficiently trained staff may be able to undertake this role in certain circumstances.  A competent person could be a fire marshal that has received adequate training and instruction, this is likely to be the case in smaller, simple premises.  However, in larger, more complex premises it is likely that some external advice / appointment will be required.

It is understood that a number of organisations struggle to appoint a competent person, this is partly due to the fact that the regulations / guidance leave an element of subjectivity and unfortunately, this is necessary.  A fire safety practitioner with a basic level of training, qualifications and experience may be competent to advise on the former building example, however, their competence may not extend to the larger, more complex building.  Several other factors will have an effect also, the size / complexity of the building is an easy differentiation.  A small, simple building that houses an industrial process risk will require a different level of competency than the same building used as an office. For this reason, it would be difficult for any legislation to state the exact competency requirements in the vast number of permutations possible.

It is considered that not one element of competence can be solely covered to be deemed competent in fire safety, it must be a combination of the three key areas, i.e. adequate formal (academic) qualification(s), fire safety (vocational) training and experience.  Should any of these elements be lacking, the question of competency should be asked.

Competency Considerations

To be considered competent, it is likely that you will need to achieve a minimum of the following:

• Understanding of the principles of risk assessment
• Understanding of fire hazards, fire risks and causes of fire
• Ability to consider fire and smoke spread (time dependant)
• Knowledge of building design, materials and their reaction to fire
• Knowledge of fire safety systems (active and passive)
• Knowledge of human behaviour in fire
• Ability to consider the intricate details of fire precautions, e.g. precautions working in synergy.

The above list is not deemed to be exhaustive, however, does provide some of the key considerations.

In theory, competence should be easily defined and quantifiable, we adopt this approach within our everyday lives, for example only using appropriately qualified engineers to undertake work on our gas installation, however, the number of variables that influence fire and fire safety make the question of competence harder to define.

Lawrence Webster Forrest employ a range of staff to ensure competency is achieved in the varying scenarios presented.  Staff have received degree level and post graduate academic qualifications, vocational qualifications, UK Fire Service experience / qualifications and have extensive experience.  Where necessary, LWF utilise a combination of personnel to ensure that the needs of the building / client are met in full.  It must be acknowledged that the field of ‘fire safety’ is vast and it is unlikely that any individual holds all of the answers, in fact, knowing where your limits of expertise stop and where additional specialist advice is necessary must be another element of competence.  Failure to identify limitations is likely to lead to inadequate advice and ultimately failure.

We are all aware of the dangers of fire and it is this element that must focus our minds on ensuring we are getting the correct advice.  It must also be noted that competency may be argued in a court of law, should enforcement proceedings be taken or the fire safety provisions fail to adequately protect.  It is for this reason, that when considering the source of the advice received, the question of competency should always be asked.

If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663.

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