4.1 Demand for and benefits of a scheme
All groups (stakeholders, Local Authorities and contractors) interviewed highlighted that the building failures in Scotland and the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, followed by the subsequent inquiries and reviews in Scotland have significantly raised awareness of fire safety.
They were largely in agreement on the potential overarching benefits of a new fire-stopping certification scheme. Stakeholders and Local Authorities were more in favour
This research has revealed, however, that professionals and experts are, at present, divided on other key questions related to the introduction of a fire-stopping certification scheme.
These issues relate to a lack of clarity to the scope of a potential scheme, whether there are widespread skills gaps (in the existing workforce) and skills shortages generally in the industry. There was also disagreement amongst Local Authorities whether a new scheme could potentially result in the benefit of reducing pressure in and having a reduced workload from the introduction of a new certification scheme.
Contractors could see positive and negative outcomes of introducing a fire-stopping certification scheme. The positives being an increase in customer confidence; improving safety therefore saving lives; improving the quality of workmanship; ensuring higher standards; and greater awareness of fire safety. They were wary however of 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.
Some voiced doubts as to whether having certifier status would ensure all fire-stopping measures are installed as this is something, they pointed out, that already exists in the construction certification scheme and therefore should already be adhered to and installed properly. There were underlying concerns around duplication with other schemes and how this would be managed.
Insurers confirmed that being certified could have a positive impact on insurance premiums on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, they felt that the related impact of a new scheme would be minimal as work related to active and passive fire safety is regarded generally as high risk for insurers. Insurance products are available across the UK and not split according to schemes or nations. On the other hand, insurance premiums would not be adversely affected, and insurers, naturally, saw the potential public safety benefits of any such scheme. Insurance premiums should not therefore pose a major obstacle to a new scheme. Insurers confirmed that a national UK scheme could have a positive impact on premiums and confidence.
An estimate of between 5,000 and 7,000 companies involved directly in the design and installation of fire-related systems would not be unreasonable.
4.2 Rationale and scope of a fire-stopping certification scheme
- Deficiencies in active and passive fire safety installations have played a key role in a number of high-profile building failures;
Expert stakeholders, in line with several official reports, believe that much of the responsibility for such deficiencies lies with less-than optimal education and training of management and workforce. On the other hand, Local Authorities and contractors have not voiced strong concerns over current fire safety qualifications and related training provided through existing certification schemes;
- Certification schemes offer many benefits such as; helping develop trust and respect between clients and building professionals, greater flexibility, more efficient design and installation, reduction of risk of errors due to lack of expert knowledge, reduction in the volume and cost of defective or incomplete work issues associated with warrantable work;
- The majority of Stakeholders, Local Authorities and some contractors see value in introducing certification for active and passive fire safety measures and expect related benefits to be increased public safety and customer confidence, improved work quality and competence as well as due diligence;
- Some stakeholders feel that a scheme for fire-stopping should be mandatory. This assumption was not shared by the majority of contractors, who were not sure how such a scheme would be policed. Local authorities were also more in favour of a voluntary scheme, which in their view would be consistent with the existing certification schemes;
- If the scheme becomes mandatory, a registration agency or body would need to be established or the role be given to an existing body;
- Similarly, contractors and Local Authorities were divided on the question if a new scheme should be relevant to design and construction elements of a project. They were also uncertain about the technical scope of the scheme, and were generally reluctant to specify details.
- In terms of financing the scheme, contractors and LAs were in favour of financing the scheme through fees charged for the certification and auditing process. If the scheme would be applied to smaller domestic work, this would significantly impact contractors. This potential concern was also voiced by several Local Authorities.
4.3 Fire safety qualifications, skills, competence and training
- There is a lack of consensus between contractors and stakeholders on whether there is limited knowledge of fire-stopping and a lack of competence within the industry. For instance, the majority of contractors interviewed felt that the training provided by, for example SELECT, covers this sufficiently but others including the stakeholders made a strong case that there are inconsistencies and a lack of required knowledge. This situation may be an indicator that fire safety is understood differently between industries and that greater knowledge and awareness is required.
- Most Local Authorities felt that the present qualification system does not provide enough practical competence.
- Similarly, several stakeholders highlighted that there are weaknesses in the qualifications currently in place serving as proof of fire safety competence. A stakeholder recommended that the existing qualifications are revised and related systems of proving competence are strengthened.
- The insurers interviewed stated that construction work related to fire safety and risk are generally deemed a risk, due to the recent building failures. They did not, however, explicitly state that skills shortages and/or deficiencies in qualifications and training could be attributed to this risk calculation. Therefore, it is possible that even with reforms of qualifications an outcome leads to decreasing insurance premiums over the next few years. Insurance companies were keen to point out, however, that lower insurance premiums are unlikely and should not be the driver for contractors seeking to become certified in fire-stopping.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback