City of London

Government legislate on primary authority schemes

Ben Bradford highlights the benefits of Fire Risk Management System Certification when implementing Primary Authority Schemes.

The government will now legislate to extend Primary Authority to fire safety regulation and enforcement from 6 April 2014. The reform is part of the government’s drive to reduce burdens on business by ensuring that necessary regulations are enforced more efficiently. The aim is to ensure consistency of enforcement across fire and rescue geographical boundaries.

How will this be achieved?

If businesses are to benefit from clearer and more consistent enforcement of fire safety legislation then surely Fire Authorities and their partner organisations would benefit from robust national guidance that provides a specification for organisations to implement?

Fortunately, almost two years ago, the British Standards Institution formed a steering group which included representatives from CFOA, The Institution of Fire Engineers, The Fire Sector Federation and the Association of British Insurers, among others, and began drafting PAS 7: 2013 – Fire Risk Management System Specification which was published in 2013. It’s no coincidence that this standard fits hand in glove with governments plans to legislate for Primary Authority to include fire safety regulation and enforcement from 6 April 2014.

Ensuring consistency of enforcement across geographical boundaries

Current fire safety legislation and guidance is based on risk and focuses on individual premises and facilities. It is less specific about managing this risk from fire at an organizational level. In many cases, the person(s) with duties under legislation will be part of a larger organization with multiple sites and facilities with common working practices and procedures.

This can present challenges with regard to translating fire safety policy into effective strategies throughout the organization, where fire safety is unlikely to be the key driver. Although current fire safety legislation provides a legal instrument to prosecute, if it is perceived that inadequate fire safety management in an organization has resulted in an offence being committed, until 2013 there was no definitive guidance that dictates minimum standards, functions and accessibility of fire safety management information across a corporate entity or multiple site organization.

PAS 7 presents requirements for an organizational fire risk management system (FRMS). The system can be applied in organizations that operate on multiple sites, separate management divisions within an organization, or individual premises within a single entity.

A documented FRMS provides a means of demonstrating that fire safety policy is translated into action to ensure that the fire risk to life and business are reduced as far as reasonably practicable, while ensuring that the legislative requirements are met. The extent of the management system should be proportionate to the level of risk arising from the organization’s activities and subsequent level of assurance sought. It should be noted that an organization’s risk tolerance (that is its readiness to bear risk, after risk treatment, in order to achieve its objectives) will be limited by legal or regulatory requirements. A well implemented PAS 7 system will ensure an organisation does not fall below minimum compliance level.

Documentation of the FRMS and its processes will provide an auditable trail that demonstrates an organization’s commitment to fire risk management and legislative compliance. Moreover, it is a means by which an enforcing authority can have the confidence to issue assured advice to an organisation.

Cutting the cost of compliance

If an organisation formalises its fire risk management system in accordance with PAS 7 and maintains the system the organisation will inevitably seek to improve the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the system over time. Ultimately the current practice of spending large sums of money of compliance with fire safety legislation is unsustainable and the improvements in fire safety levels are not proportionate to the amount being spent. PAS 7 provides an opportunity to change that and where possible cut the cost of compliance without lowering safety standards.

Third party certification to PAS 7 can cut the cost of entering a Primary Authority Scheme because no additional audit would be required of an organisation prior to entering a partnership and any initial cost would only be a minimal charge to undertake due diligence to review the audit reports provided by a UKAS accredited certification body and to verify the currency and scope of certification.

Regulation should not be an unnecessary burden on business but should allow safe business to continue without interference. PAS 7 Certificated organisations should not be subject to inspections by a fire authority whether or not they have entered a Primary Authority Scheme. Third party certification of an organisations fire risk management system could be the really big win for Government, business and the fire and rescue service.

Third party certification of fire risk management systems

Sir Ken Knight, Chairman of the BSI fire strategy group BSI FSH/0 recently said “I am delighted that both users and enforcement authorities now have a common consistent standard using PAS 7: 2013 to assist in setting out a framework for organisations wishing to formalise their fire risk management system, demonstrate compliance more holistically and take a more strategic approach to managing the risks posed by the threat of fire.

An organisation that has formalised its fire risk management policy, strategy and procedures in accordance with PAS 7: 2013, is in a very strong position whereby PAS 7 certification schemes provide a robust means by which fire and rescue services can re-evaluate their fire safety audit regimes and integrated risk management plans.” .

When organisations gain UKAS accredited third party certification, it should significantly reduce the time the fire service take to complete an audit, meaning enforcing authorities have more time for other higher risk businesses. Regulation does not need to be an unnecessary burden on business. Organisations that make a voluntary declaration of compliance with PAS 7, and go on to achieve third party certification of conformity to PAS 7 should allow for a robust means to allow compliant organisations to continue without undue interference..

Ben Bradford
Managing Director