Our company has been carrying out fire risk assessments since 2012. Over the last ten years, we have made substantial changes to develop the standard of our assessments and improve the overall service. The feedback we have received from our clients, assessors and enforcing authorities has helped focus on the most relevant areas relevant to all our stakeholders. The improvements we make are always with the aim to ensure we are providing a product that works for everyone.
Fire safety has also changed and developed considerably over the ten years. The biggest changes have happened as a direct result of the Grenfell Tower fire, with the subsequent changes to fire safety legislation based on recommendations made from the ensuing inquiry. These positive changes are designed to make buildings safer and ultimately save lives.
Due to all the new requirements for the Responsible Person to ensure they engage ‘Competent Persons’ to carry out their fire safety assessments, the logical step for our company was to establish that we are competent. As individuals, our assessors can achieve various levels of competency. However, as a company, there are few accreditations that we can gain that will give our clients confidence in our ability.
BAFE SP205 is a UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) scheme that covers fire risk assessments for life safety. The scheme exists to deliver quality and independent evidence that providers (from sole traders to larger organisations with appointed fire risk assessors) are competent to provide quality fire risk assessment services.
What did we do?
Initially, we joined up with FIA, who would help guide us through the whole process. This involved all of the following:
Our first step was to conduct a review of all our company processes. The review helped us to identify areas where we did not consistently meet the BAFE criteria, as well as areas for improvement. One of the key areas was to clearly communicate the scope of our service to clients. This includes a clear definition of what the client can expect from us, what is included in the service and what isn’t (and why!). Having documented processes for employees and assessors clearly communicates what is expected from them and gives them a framework to help guide them, maintaining a consistent approach.
It has always been our practice to proofread reports. Under the BAFE scheme, recommendations made by the assessor must also be validated by another qualified assessor. Double-checking reports is a key way to ensure the consistency and quality of the recommendations.
The initial check involves proofreading the report for spelling and grammar, in addition to ensuring clarity for the reader. The second check looks at the actual recommendations within the report. This verifies that the advice given falls within the relevant guidance for the type of premises and legislation; if it doesn’t, the assessor must give a sufficient explanation. Both checks ensure that there is uniformity throughout.
Again, whilst this was a process we already had in place for our Safe Contractor accreditation, reviewing the process allowed us to identify areas of improvement. The auditing needed to be more rigorous and regular. We now check the level of qualifications and experience our assessors have, as this determines the type of premises they are capable of assessing. We review each assessor annually to ensure that maintain their competency level and that they are keeping up to date with the ever-changing legislation and guidance. Each assessor also has an annual onsite audit, observing their method of carrying out a fire risk assessment. The audit records how the assessment was carried out, engagement with the client or their representative and if the relevant areas of concern were detailed within the subsequent report. The results are fed back to the assessor to give them the opportunity to develop.
Impact on stakeholders
When the decision was made to invest in the BAFE SP205 process, the impact on the stakeholders of the business was considered. While the majority of the changes are positive, there would also be some challenges.
Overall, defining a business structure, detailing the processes and recording them, and having clear guidelines of working methods is a very positive approach for a small business which has grown over time.
Often a small business starting out requires employees to cover multiple roles. As the company grows, employees move into distinct roles in which they can develop and specialise. To meet BAFE SP205 standards, we have introduced an organisation chart that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of staff members. The organisation chart is then tied into the individual processes with specific roles made accountable. These clearly defined roles benefit both new and existing employees. It improves efficiency and accountability, and gives employees the opportunity to develop in their specific roles, which in turn helps the company to improve as employees take ownership of their departments.
In addition to reviewing employee roles, we defined and documented the role of our assessors. The documentation will be used in the following three ways:
- Communicated to new and current assessors so that they know what is expected of them.
- Clients will be provided with a visual representation of the assessor’s role so they can understand the assessment process and what to expect.
- Validators will use it as a guide for auditing assessors to ensure they are working within the process.
During the review of this process, we established the competency levels for our assessors. Different types of premises will have different guidance and requirements. They will also come with varying levels of life safety risks; therefore, defining a level of competency-based on qualifications and experience gives us the relevant information to allocate the right assessor, with the right level of competency required for the premises.
There are many advantages for clients engaging the services of a company that is BAFE SP205 accredited. They can be confident that all the above areas have been implemented, as it is the minimum required to achieve the standard. Legislation updates require that the Responsible Person must engage a competent person to undertake their fire risk assessments. The advantage of using a company with the BAFE SP205 accreditation illustrates that due diligence has been used when engaging a fire risk assessor. Unfortunately, these additional processes do impact the overall cost of producing a fire risk assessment report, which means our service is not the cheapest on the market; however, you will get a competent one. Most of our existing clients have recognised the added value to our service following the introduction of the new processes.
When the company was formed in 2012, fire safety legislation was very different. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was enacted in October 2006, which brought nearly all premises (except single private dwellings) under one regulation. This meant that all Responsible Persons were now required to take control of the fire safety of their premises, identify problems with a fire risk assessment and take action to rectify them. The fire service would no longer carry out the assessments but would be enforcing the legislation. Within those six years, the private fire risk assessor sector increased. However, it was still a relatively new service, and there was no guidance for the Responsible Person to establish the competency of a fire risk assessor.
Since 2017 with the Grenfell fire investigations, subsequent inquiry and the introduction of new legislation, fire safety has rightly been the focus of attention and change. As a company trading in the fire safety industry, obtaining an accreditation demonstrating our competency helps us remain relevant and competitive. Many companies and individuals are offering a fire risk assessment service. Having an accreditation that evidences our abilities should assist clients in identifying us as a competent contractor.
The accreditation process has been challenging. It has involved a lot of investment, not only for the business but also from the staff and assessors engaging with the new processes and helping to implement them. It has, however, been a really positive change.
The initial decision to apply for BAFE SP205 was primarily for marketing and business continuity reasons. During the process, we discovered further surprising benefits, such as how developing new processes will help the business grow with much stronger foundations.