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Professional and ethical standards in fire safety

Ben Bradford highlights the importance of professional and ethical standards in the fire safety profession.

A profession arises when an occupation transforms itself through the development of formal qualifications based upon education, examinations, and the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and regulate members.In many respects the fire safety profession is in its infancy and the constituent base is very fragmented i.e. there are those that describe themselves as Fire Engineers, Fire Officers, Fire Safety Managers, Fire Risk Assessors and many niches within those niches i.e. Structural Fire Engineers or Fire Risk Management Auditors, or Fire Systems Engineers.

Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, 2005, we’ve seen the whole competency debate come to the fore and those involved with Fire Risk Management within the built environment have spent the last few years tackling the cowboy market, considering competencies and developing certification schemes and professional registers. Some of those staking a claim to the moral high ground do not always fill one with confidence that their professional integrity remains intact.

Sadly this has had a damaging effect on the reputation of fire safety profession as a whole, and now in Fire Engineering there is a renewed focus on issues such as, the real or perceived conflict of interest that exists when Approved Inspectors or Building Control Bodies offer fire safety design and engineering advice, whilst correspondingly determining compliance with the Building Regulations. The notion that establishing a sister company in an attempt to separate financial interest leaves many in the profession unconvinced and therefore the conflict of interest is at best perceived and worst it is real. Now even the Fire and Rescue Services are offering Fire Risk Assessments, Fire Strategies, Training and even products via sister companies.

Professionalism and ethics are twins, inseparably bound together in the concept that professional status and recognition of that status is wholly reliant upon trust. We must maintain the confidence of the public and our peers regarding the reliability and high standards they can expect when using the services of a Chartered Fire Engineer or Third Party Certificated Fire Risk Assessor, be they a member of the Institution of Fire Engineers or representative of an FIA member firm.

Why is it important to adopt an ethical approach within the fire safety profession?

Behaving ethically is at the heart of what it means to be a professional; it distinguishes professionals from others in the marketplace. It’s the acts of the worst in the profession that the rest are judged by and as fire safety professionals we are the custodians of our profession. By tarnishing one’s own reputation you are tarnishing the profession itself.

We must act with integrity, always provide a high standard of service, act in a way that promotes trust in the profession, and treat others with respect. It’s also about taking responsibility.

As a professional one must take responsibility not only to understand the professional and ethical standards expected of them, but if they see others doing things that are unethical, they must act on that. You may be uncertain or unsure if the code of conduct has been violated, but you must question. The reputation of the profession is at stake and it is crucial to the fire safety professions credibility among other disciplines and the wider public that standards improve.

How can our institutions and trade associations provide governance over the behaviour of individuals and firms?

Codes of conduct are a key feature of professions. They vary in content and degree of detail depending on the nature of the sector. The Institution of Fire Engineers has an established Code of Professional Conduct which lays down the ethical standards by which its members must abide and there are a set of guidance documents that help interpret the rules that apply. This code applies to all members of the Institution regardless of their grade, the professional role they fulfil, and the countries in which they practice. The code recognises that the fire safety profession encompasses a broad range of individuals as members of the profession and many of whom are, in fact, employed by corporate bodies or organisations.

The Fire Industry Association is the trade association representing the interests of companies operating in the sector and its member companies have signed a declaration to comply with the FIA’s Leadership Statement and the governing principles contained within this document that relate to economic, employee, quality, environmental and social responsibility issues.

I believe that adopting common professional and ethical standards across the land, property and construction sector professions would be in the public interest. The benefits would include:

  • A better understanding among professionals, their clients, and the wider public, of the essence of professional behaviour

  • Improved professional conduct as a result of clearer parameters and client / public expectation

  • Increased client confidence.

Professionalism and ethics are twins, inseparably bound together in the concept that professional status and recognition of that status is wholly reliant upon trust.

What should I do if I suspect a violation of either the Institutions Code of Conduct or Associations Leadership Statement or membership criteria?

If you know or suspect a violation of the code has taken place, or that a firm is acting, or has acted in a manner that contravenes their professional obligations, then this should be reported to both the membership department at the Institution of Fire Engineers, and/or the FIA’s compliance manager. The Institution may put the matter to the board and ask for guidance and ultimately a decision as to whether the code has been violated. The FIA may form an independent panel to consider the matter and make recommendations to their board.

The FIA’s professional standards working group and the Institution of Fire Engineers, Professional Ethics and Competency group, have begun working more closely on these issues with a view to achieving a joined up approach on the emerging challenges facing the fire safety profession. It is expected that further guidance will be provided within the coming year and those seeking clarification are encouraged to make contact.

Ben Bradford
Managing Director