Exploring the potential for a certification scheme for fire stopping: report

Research to take forward the proposal from the final report from the Review Panel on Building Standards Compliance and Enforcement and identify if there is a demand for a certification scheme for fire-stopping within the current Scottish building warrant process.

This document is part of 2 collections

3. The need and requirements for a new certification scheme for Fire-Stopping

For Phases 2 to 5 the following types of bodies participated in the research:

  • Stakeholders in the industry (including fire safety installers and fire-stopping experts, local authorities and certification bodies).
  • Local Authorities.
  • Contractors.
  • Insurance companies.

The main focus of this phase of the research was to gain insight on the introduction of a scheme for a certification scheme for fire-stopping within the current Scottish building warrant process and to identify the impact it might have on the building standards system.

The views have been collated under the following headings:

  • appetite and demand;
  • knowledge, skills and qualifications requirements;
  • training supply and demand;
  • the technical scope of a new scheme;
  • certification considerations including delivery organisations; and
  • potential impacts and benefits.

All the organisations interviewed for this research volunteered the viewpoint that the Scottish inquiries and review reports and, of course, the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in 2017 have significantly increased awareness of fire safety and the importance of fire protection.

All views discussed and set out below are from the small sample of interviews conducted as explained in 1.4.

3.1 Appetite and demand

Overall, organisations interviewed are open to the introduction of a potential certification scheme for active and passive fire safety measures.

  • In particular, stakeholders and Local Authorities are strongly in support of a scheme that has as its aim to reinforce and enhance quality in active and passive fire safety measures.
  • The majority of stakeholders, Local Authorities and some contractors believe a new certification scheme for fire-stopping would lead to improved knowledge and a better quality of fire safety installers as well as related quality assurance on site.
  • A scheme, they felt, would improve fire safety and installation, therefore promoting public safety and potentially saving lives. In addition, it would increase customer confidence.
  • Plus, an inherent benefit would be the introduction of clear guidelines for fire-stopping and fire safety as well as improved building regulation compliance and due diligence.
  • Although this was not on the table for discussion, it was worthy of note that the majority of Local Authorities and contractors commented that they had doubts about the feasibility of introducing a mandatory scheme because of the need to police it effectively. Rather, they felt, a voluntary scheme, consistent with the already existing voluntary certification schemes was seen as more practical.
  • One stakeholder remarked that, from an employer’s point of view, the appetite for such a scheme is already there, as increasingly employers are asked to put their names against work they have undertaken. A scheme would bring confidence in the work their employees are carrying out.
  • Perceived positive outcomes offered by contractors included an increase in customer confidence; improving safety therefore saving lives; improving the quality of workmanship; ensuring higher standards; greater awareness of fire safety and fire transfer and concluding that a building certificate could only be granted until all work has been checked.
  • Perceived negative outcomes of introducing a fire-stopping certification scheme include additional costs and further bureaucracy; the need for further education to improve knowledge and unnecessary increase in paperwork, especially for those who already hold other certificates. There are doubts as to whether having certifier status would ensure all fire-stopping measure are installed as this is something that already exists in the construction certification scheme and therefore should already be adhered to and installed properly.
  • There was uncertainty amongst contractors as to the extent that a fire-stopping scheme would overlap with other certification schemes.
  • Stakeholders highlighted the opportunity to initiate and increase the new scheme’s take-up and buy-in if the scheme was promoted by Scottish Government and cascaded down through the industry, the view was that a top-down approach would work best.

3.2 Knowledge, skills, qualification requirements

There seems to be a general consensus amongst stakeholders and Local Authorities that, in any case fire-safety training provision and related qualifications have to be improved and the construction workforce upskilled in fire safety.

  • There is a strong theme across the interviews that expanded training and improved qualifications would be of general benefit to the industry and promote fire safety.
  • Local Authorities confirmed that fire safety training lacks a practical focus and will need to be enhanced or expanded for a certification scheme.
  • Additionally, stakeholders said that, individuals in the field are simply either not up to the educational attainment of the industry or lack general adequate knowledge of the tasks they are required to perform.
  • Contractors, however, were divided on this issue, with several stating that the certification processes offered by SELECT and NICEIC sufficiently covered fire safety training.
  • One situation that warrants improvement, via training or other means, is construction site coordination between contractors. There was general agreement that this can be a serious problem. Contractors separate out tasks, often in sequence according to their specialism, but often lack full understanding of the implications of previously completed tasks/jobs, by other contractors, on fire safety. Encouraging the retention of evidence of such instances to share with the verifier should take place by contractors.
  • General upskilling in active and passive fire safety knowledge and related awareness raising was therefore seen as a crucial step forward.
  • A number of stakeholders explicitly called for an overhaul of existing qualifications.
  • Three stakeholders, for example, suggested the need for an overhaul of fire safety qualifications including the Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Associated Industrial Services Occupations (Construction) – Passive Fire Protection (QCF) and the Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Occupational Work Supervision (Construction) (QCF) which are seen as insufficient proof of fire safety competence. Underlying reasons for this are inconsistent links between theoretical and practical training as well as perceived ‘misleading proof of competence schemes like the CSCS card’.
  • Added to this, training is seen as insufficient in terms of which materials should be used and why.

“The NVQ [alone] is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

  • A fire safety installer outlined the importance of holding critical knowledge of compartmentation and how this works. Additionally, why certain elements perform in certain ways including:
    • why fire travels,
    • why firestop every twenty metres,
    • why a particular solution is used, and the reasons for not mixing and matching products.
    • the level of protection buildings are required to have e.g. at 30, 60, 120 minutes.
  • Several stakeholder/interviewees pointed out that contractors in certain situations are allowed to not complete all modules of the NVQs and still list fire safety as a competence on their CSCS card, which may be misleading to clients and customers.
  • Reiterating the need for general upskilling across trades, a dedicated apprenticeship covering active and passive fire safety should also be introduced to provide a clear route of entry to fire-stopping.
  • Contractors asked why, when they attend courses to update their knowledge, there is not explicit provision of fire-stopping training within existing courses. Currently, contractors explain that they are able to train their own fire safety installers in-house, so they could not comment on or are not experiencing many related skills gaps in their fire safety installer workforce. Contractors acknowledge there is a general lack of qualified electricians as well as plumbers and joiners.

“No, we train our own electricians in fire safety and BS5839”

  • The necessary skills and experience contractors believe fire safety installers should typically hold, as a minimum, include:
    • qualification in BS5839;
    • experience of conducting risk assessments;
    • awareness of building regulations;
    • understanding how fire spreads from different floors/apartments;
    • understanding building fabrics;
    • knowledge of building exits and escape routes;
    • knowledge of fire extinguishers – testing and using;
    • knowledge of ventilation;
    • knowledge of how to recognise faults;
    • knowledge of where to install alarms and fire barriers;, and
    • general electrical and fire safety knowledge.

Another stakeholder wished to add:

  • the rationale of installing specific materials;
  • key principles such as robustness of materials, insulation or lifecycle of materials.

3.3 Training supply and demand[30]

Local Authorities and contractors did not specifically address this issue in detail. Many contractors rely on SELECT and NICEIC for any fire safety training, which was generally seen as adequate for current purposes. There were some opposing views however.

  • Stakeholders pointed out that, in general, training in the field, taken to be active and passive fire-safety measures, is regarded as ‘basic’. Their worries concerned the opportunity for training to be undertaken on-the-job. Fire installers noted that on-the-job training can be inadequate and not a viable way to achieve fire-stopping certification.
  • Whilst two contractors believed that the current training provision was sufficient and BS5839 was enough to meet the demands of a new scheme, others felt that the current training provision is insufficient for the demands of a new fire-stopping scheme, more training would be needed to improve knowledge.
  • A number of interviewees suggested that short courses and a new fire-stopping syllabus should be created. According to one contractor there is a skills shortage in this area and more experienced installers were needed.
  • The availability and quality of training provision could be strengthened through offering online courses and a number of contractors recommended that fire-stopping training should be included in apprenticeship schemes.

“I think it would be good if manufacturers are involved more. In order to get the best out of each of the products, you need to be able to install them properly, and this is something that manufacturers should teach. Also, manufacturers should get more involved with SELECT.”

  • The opportunity to make use of the growth of digital technology in training was pointed out, for example the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in order to increase the breadth of knowledge and virtual experience of fires in buildings.
  • This research revealed that there are three relevant Modern Apprenticeships (MA) that cover fire safety in some form. These include an MA offered by North Lanarkshire College in cooperation with SELECT in Electronic Fire and Security Systems (see Appendix 5). Other MAs are in Electrical Installation as well as Electronic Security Systems, both of which include basic fire safety training.
  • In addition, the BRE academy provides CPD training in fire safety including online seminars and classroom training of between 1 and 7 days up to
    Level 4.
  • At degree level, there is a BEngHons in Fire Engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University, but a stakeholder has suggested that the programme is likely to be discontinued due to low demand.
  • These research results seem to confirm a lack of availability of dedicated and specialised training, and the suggestion that training provision and content will have to be expanded to upskill the construction workforce and expand the pool of fire safety specialists. This would be a central requirement for a Certification Scheme in fire-stopping.

3.4 Technical Scope of a new Scheme

All respondents generally found it difficult to know what the technical scope of a new scheme should look like or what it should include. The consensus was that the considerations are too many and too complex for them to be able to map out a scheme.

This included which fire safety related knowledge should be certified and audited. The responses varied depending on the interviewees: be they a contractor, electrical, general construction or industrial/commercial or high rise buildings. A minority suggested that a new scheme was not necessary for domestic property.

  • Stakeholders viewed the technical scope for a new certification scheme as a challenge due to the existence of different elements, with specific mentions being given to the variance in, for example, compartment walls and floors products to make them fire protected (such as linear gap heads and wall heads).
  • They also noted the difficulty of the content of the scope due to the many different trades and aspects of construction.
  • Local Authorities were divided on the question as to whether such a Certification scheme should cover Design and Construction. While some supported this approach, others felt that focusing on construction would be more appropriate and relevant for active and passive fire safety.
  • In addition, Local Authorities felt that the new certification scheme should cover all aspects of fire safety measure and risk level, including suitable products and materials, different levels relating to the extent of certifying own work, and the coverage of building complexity.
  • They also pointed out that, beyond those technical aspects, the scheme should ensure people have a holistic understanding - the purpose of active and passive fire safety and why it needs to be done correctly.
  • Contractors generally believed that the technical scope for a new certification scheme should cover both design and construction as many professionals have design and construction roles. In fact, the majority of contractors felt that a new scheme should cover all buildings’ fire safety and risk level wise, however others thought that it should only need to cover high rise commercial and industrial buildings and exclude domestic buildings.
  • Stakeholders indicated a willingness for experts to collaborate/assist with the design of such a certification scheme and that there would be definite interest in its delivery. BSD had only to request applications from prospective scheme providers in order to judge interest in that side of it.

3.5 Certification scheme implementation considerations

In terms of scheme implementation, respondents focused on the key themes of legislative changes, scheme provision and funding as well as fire safety inspection practices. In addition, it was repeatedly highlighted that such a scheme would need to be manageable and the operation of such a certification scheme would need to be limited to maximise any overall benefit.

  • There was wide support amongst respondents for a single code [standard] for fire-stopping which relates to all trades and areas of construction. This could underpin a certification scheme for active and passive fire safety. From the perspective of contractors and Local Authorities, the scope of a single code and its correlation with existing building regulations would need to be clearly defined, though. In addition, the code would need to be clearly aligned with training, testing regimes and skills tests.
  • Contractors and Local Authorities were uncertain if the new legislation for fire and smoke detection that comes into force in February 2021 (see section 2.5) in Scotland would be in scope of the scheme. Many contractors felt that this new legislation would have an impact (positively and negatively) on service demand and workload.
  • Across respondent types, they generally confirmed the need of a transition period in which the scheme and related infrastructure could be set up and sufficient professionals completing the certification process.
  • Respondents suggested that the new scheme should be financed by certification fees as is done for the existing certification schemes. Stakeholders pointed out that a scheme would need to be economically viable. Initial financial support by the Scottish Government could be considered.
  • Inspection was felt to be a key element of implementing the scheme. But respondents were divided as to the likely impact a certification scheme on active and passive fire safety would have on inspections.
  • Stakeholders consider inspections to be highly problematic due to skills shortages and with only a limited group of people with relevant and sufficient competence and inspection knowledge.

“The fire-stopping trade is fragmented as different parts are undertaken by different people – electricians, plumbers, contractors. How it all comes together is the issue. It’s a jigsaw puzzle. A scheme to look at it holistically would be good.”

  • Local Authorities felt that the introduction of a scheme would not impact one way or the other on their responsibilities or those of construction professionals.
  • In terms of workload, Local Authorities were divided on what kind of impact the introduction of a scheme may have on the volume of inspections carried out and if such a certification scheme would in effect reduce the need for inspections. This was partly due to the view that even if a task had been completed by somebody certified, this would not provide a guarantee that everything had been done appropriately.

3.6 Potential organisations for delivery of Certification in Scotland

Besides the Scottish Government itself, suggestions made by interviewees include the organisations that are already operating in Fire-stopping such as the list below. Other suggestions included manufacturers or a separate body entirely that understands the necessary skills-set.

BAFE[31] - A BAFE scheme is a set of requirements that have been developed to incorporate the high-quality standards and competences for services or products within the fire protection industry. By using a Third Party Certified BAFE registered company, as the Responsible Person (Duty Holder in Scotland) this can assist in providing proof of due diligence in fire safety requirements.

BAFE schemes are assessed through UKAS accredited Certification Bodies so that customers can be assured that BAFE registered companies are of the quality standard that you require when looking for your fire protection needs. UKAS accredited Certification Bodies ensure independent Third-Party Certification for organisations. These organisations are then subject to ongoing surveillance audits to ensure they are complying with the BAFE scheme requirements.

BMTrada[32] - BM TRADA’s certification team of engaged experts provide a wide range of certification to services to a diverse range of industry sectors. Gaining and maintaining certification can help business get better at what it does, lower its costs and win more business. It acts as a ‘passport to trade’. They claim their experts have a long history and wealth of experience in the industry.

NICEIC[33] - NICEIC Certification is a brand of Certsure LLP, a leading Certification body accredited by UKAS. Since 1998, NICEIC Certification has provided industry-recognised assessments to the building services sector, including plumbing and heating engineers. They aim to provide the highest levels of service to installer customers through a network of NICEIC approved training and assessment centres across the UK, and they are a scheme provider for Certification in Construction.

SELECT[34] - SELECT is the trade association for the electrical contracting industry in Scotland. SELECT provides a broad range of services and benefits to Members including advice on technical issues, health & safety and employment law. As the authoritative trade association for the electrotechnical industry in Scotland, SELECT helps to shape the market environment. In addition, they are involved in setting and monitoring industry standards and are a scheme provider for Certification in Construction.

3.7 Insurance considerations

Insurance premiums cannot be expected to decline significantly for fire-stopping certified professionals and any discounts in warrant fees and insurance premiums, etc. may be offset by the costs associated with completing the certification process. There was also uncertainty as to how a certification scheme would prompt business opportunities while insurance premiums are expected to remain high.

  • Insurers interviewed, while not being able to comment on the technical aspects of fire safety and related qualifications, confirmed that insurance premiums, particularly for professional indemnity, are likely to remain high.
  • They also pointed out that PII has a ‘claims made’ nature. This means that the policy responding to a claim is the one in place at the time the claim is notified to Insurers – not the policy in place when work was carried out. This has particular relevance to legacy risk. For to be covered, the insured must maintain a policy into the future and that policy must continue to provide protection in respect of the services carried out.
  • One other issue they pointed out is that insurers, generally, do not offer products other than UK-wide, instead they tailor their products to specific industries such as ‘construction’. Similarly, risks related to insurance are calculated on the basis of the UK construction industry as a whole. In this context, works related to fire safety and cladding are deemed as high risk, especially after the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. Thus, while confirming that certified professionals may get a premium discount on a case by case basis, this would generally not have an impact on premiums overall, thus contradicting any voiced hopes of contractors that insurance premiums may be reduced as a result of a certification scheme.

“Whilst we recognise it is positive for construction professionals to be certified as meeting a certain standard, given the uncertainty regarding building safety, all enquiries involving cladding and/or fire safety are perceived as very high risk by insurers and are difficult to place in current market conditions.”

  • One insurer operating specifically in the construction and building standards market explained that, the messages emanating from the various reports (see section 2) combined with insurers’ own experiences, are influencing underwriters’ perception and appetite, as they question whether they will be left to carry the legacy risk, thus disrupting the insurance and PII market in particular.

3.8 Potential impacts/benefits

There was general acknowledgement that there were benefits to be had of a certification scheme in active and passive fire safety, with the main one focusing on public safety and upskilling. In general, contractors saw fewer immediate benefits to them as a commercial business.

  • Respondents generally identified non-monetary benefits for the introduction of the scheme including:
    • raising compliance and provide greater clarity;
    • positive impact on quality, public safety and due diligence;
    • applicant or customer guaranteed that the individual will be qualified and competent in their work;
    • more confidence, control and clarity;
    • consistent approach;
    • upskilling in installation work;
    • improving training provision, and, ultimately,
    • the potential for more certified workers.
  • The consensus from stakeholders was that if training and qualifications were improved this would benefit the field enormously as it would raise the standard internally.
  • A general upskilling effect was also perceived by contractors and Local Authorities.
  • On the other hand, respondents were less certain about immediate financial benefits related to the introduction of a certification scheme for active and passive fire safety, though there were hopes that certification may lead to more business for contractors.
  • Similarly, contractors and Local Authorities saw the potential costs associated with getting a certification scheme set-up and implemented as a barrier.
  • There was also uncertainty on how the scope of a certification scheme may impact on smaller electrical installations and similar jobs related to fire safety. These included concerns about commercial opportunities still being available to contractors without being certified (e.g. if they already have BS7671 certification) therefore prompting little economic incentive for certification.
  • Local Authorities were divided on the potential reduction of workload for inspections by the introduction of a certification scheme for active and passive fire safety. While this was confirmed by some Local Authorities and denied by others, there was a general consensus that the responsibilities for Local Authorities in terms of verification and inspections would not be eased by the introduction of a certification scheme for fire-stopping. This may be a reflection of the current system of certification (of design and of construction), as it is a voluntary route and it has been noted that several scheme providers have noted a downward trend in the number of applications to become an Approved Certifier[35].


Email: buildingstandards@gov.scot

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