by Julian Stanton
1 October 2009
Certification is widely used to demonstrate compliance to set criteria. However, any organisation can issue a certificate for any reason. But for certification to be credible it must operate under the backing of an officially recognised body with public accountability. Organisations such as the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), officially accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, measure contractor performance to documented British and European Standards and Codes of Practice.
Businesses that achieve these requirements are 'approved' and receive certification from the third-party certificated body (TPCB). They can then issue their own customers with certificates produced by the TPCB. The certificates are also recognised by the relevant authorities and insurers.
A typical audit
Usually, an applicant company would have two or three inspections to achieve approval, in NSI's case depending on whether they choose the gold or silver level. Once approved, companies are normally audited twice a year at each approved location.
At NSI, audits are carried out by International Register of Certificated Auditors-qualified fire scheme trained inspectors.
There are two elements to this annual assessment. Part one is a technical audit that concentrates on work conducted by the approved company through visits to customer locations. For example, FD&A systems will be checked to see that they have been designed, installed, commissioned and maintained in line with the relevant standards.
The second part of the assessment will focus on office-based audit procedures. This includes verifying that previous corrective actions have been carried out, checking customer service procedures and identifying that relevant administrative processes are adhered to. All companies are assessed for their quality management system, with gold-approved companies receiving a more rigorous assessment against BS EN ISO9001: 2008.
Fit for purpose
It is important to understand and implement the changes that have been taking place in fire safety. They have implications for all business, public and multi-tenanted buildings. In October 2006, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) and the Fire Scotland Act 2005 came into effect. These acts place a greater emphasis on fire prevention.
In addition, the Chief Fire Officers' Association (CFOA) policy, The Reduction of False Fire Alarms & Unwanted Fire Signals, is approaching implementation. This deals with false alarms from remotely monitored systems. Responsibility for fire safety lies with the owners and occupiers of premises who must designate a 'responsible person' ('duty holder' in Scotland).
The responsible person must make certain that all fire protection measures, products and systems are fit for purpose. Those responsible for onward maintenance must also ensure that all fire protective measures remain continuously fit for purpose.
Fire certificates are no longer to be issued by Fire & Rescue Services. This will place increased accountability on the responsible person. Risk assessments must now be conducted and fire protection systems will feature as a key component of fire risk management in almost every circumstance.
Furthermore, the relevant authorities will require evidence that systems are fit for purpose and properly installed and maintained in accordance with relevant British standards.
Risks of non-compliance
FD&A systems that haven't been designed, installed and commissioned correctly put staff at risk. Individuals in the organisation could be prosecuted in the event of fire. In June 2009, a director of Maureen O'Brien Limited was ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling £5,500 by Inner London Crown Court for 11 contraventions of the RRO, following inspection at a retail chain headquarters. There had been no fatalities, however, fire prevention and protection need to be taken seriously.
The CFOA policy also recommends the use of TPC contractors to demonstrate compliance for the design, commissioning and installation of FD&A systems.
Business owners and employers must use companies approved through officially recognised TPCBs. After all, fire safety issues do not go away in a recession - even empty premises need to be protected from arson. Fire in a populated building can be financially crippling and risk the welfare of staff and others who could be victims of negligence. The only real way to prove that a fire protection system is fit for purpose is through TPC.
Julian Stanton is marketing manager at the National Security Inspectorate
Why go third party?
Why choose third-party certificated bodies (TPCB)?
Your contractor will perform to at least a minimum standard (NSI actually exceeeds the minimum)
It proves you are genuinely committed to quality and continued improvement
You provide reassurance that the requirements of police, fire authorities and insurance companies are met
It will drive up industry standards and protect against cowboy installers
You give proof to relevant authorities that your FD&A is fit for purpose and that the system will perform properly